BUFAB UK on its new warehouse, new ERP system and making its mark on the UK fastener market

Bufab UK boss Liam Wheeler has been one of a six skeleton crew that has been working in the High Wycombe office since the lockdowns first struck over a year ago in March 2020.

Most of the team has been working remotely, confirms Wheeler, speaking to Torque Magazine by video from the Buckinghamshire HQ: “It has worked well, but there is a nice dynamic you get in person, and a level of interaction when everyone is on‐site. Salespeople are social animals by nature.

“We want everyone back safely. The place for me is too quiet – I don’t like it. But as for ‘normal’ that ship has sailed and I wouldn’t want to go back to it. We have learned a lot in the last year. You don’t have to fly as much or drive to every branch each week. People will still do business essential journeys, but if you are talking about bringing 200 people together just for a conference… maybe that is a bit frivolous?

“It’s made everyone think more about sustainability, about people and the environment. There is an opportunity here. Let’s not go back to normal.”


Liam Wheeler is a long termer at the business, having joined back in 2005 at Montrose Group, 11 years before it was acquired by Bufab. A legacy of Bufab’s  acquisitions in the UK, also including Thunderbolt and Altiplas, has meant there has been scope for consolidation, to bring systems in line with each other and to boost efficiency.

Making good on that promise, Bufab UK is now one legal entity. The opportunity was also taken to bring ERP systems in line with each other and adopt Bufab’s own system. Work on that project was completed in Q1 2020, Wheeler explains: “We got Montrose on the Bufab system on 1 March and then after three weeks on the new system we had to send everyone home due to the lockdown!”

It was an operational challenge to complete the consolidation while training personnel on the new ERP system, forcing the firm to bring more staff on site while the system became live. “Using a different system is always going to be a learning curve. Some bits are faster, some aren’t, but it gave us new functionality and the full set of Bufab tools. Now we have the full repertoire; VMI tools, RFID scanners, vending machines… the full toolbox. And we managed to send out goods from day one.”

Despite the difficulties of the lockdown and the major operational changes, Bufab globally put in a strong pandemic performance: “Fundamentally we had a good year in terms of performance. The share price tells you everything. Earnings up to Q3 were great – we adjusted quite quickly.”

Some parts of the market suffered more than others – and the UK suffered more than many other parts of the EU – but DIY retailers and merchants had “an unbelievable year” notes Wheeler. “The challenge 12 months later is price inflation. We need to work on education. We need to show that price rises are down to market conditions, material prices are up, China Steel is increasing prices, containers are more expensive…”

So why did Bufab UK pick the pandemic year to drastically update the business? “We all sat down as a board and discussed what should the business look like in five years. Things were already planned but they probably were not all scheduled to happen in 2020. We simply took the opportunity.

“We accelerated elements to get the pain out of the way. Also, we were in suppressed market conditions so we were left with some capacity to do these things. We weren’t exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel for business, but it certainly wasn’t ‘100 miles an hour’. We felt we had the capacity, however by October I don’t think anyone felt like that. By that point it was brutally busy… it was all hands to the pump.

“Businesses are more resilient than you think. We are adaptable – there was an opportunity to get ourselves ready so we could be in a better position in 2021 than we were at start of 2020. We now have the form, the structure and the platform to grow.”

Bufab UK also squeezed a warehouse move into its busy 2020, Wheeler explains: “We had a combined warehouse, with space for raw material of stainless‐steel bar as well as a pallet warehouse. So, we took on an additional 25,000 ft² warehouse and separated these functions. We got the floor skimmed and created a new pallet installation, adding 3,000 pallet spaces to our capacity, all optimally configurated.”

Bufab UK also managed to pick up some big‐name clients in 2020: “I can’t name drop, but we acquired some nice customers that are already growing with us. It has been a combined effort and we’ve been proactive in the marketplace. We are trying to take some market share.”

Bufab UK also picked up an internal award for its efforts, honouring its transformation and leadership in the recent period.


Recent events have thrown the spotlight on its employees. “We are looking forward to welcoming staff back. Remote working will not be a long‐term strategy for us. You miss that hive mind mentality. We want to get everyone back safely.”

Sustainability is firmly on the agenda too, including a green car policy and environmentally focused measures (such as installing LED lighting throughout Bufab UK buildings): “We’re trying to be a bit more pragmatic.”

Naturally, health and safety is high on the agenda, and Bufab UK is seeking ISO accreditations. “It’s not about just having the piece of paper,” says the Bufab UK boss. “It’s what else you do on top of that. We are thinking about corporate responsibility, working within the community – even things like supporting local charities.”

That aside, the business is also focused on making good its recent consolidation and investments – as well as the Bufab name. “We want to establish ourselves more thoroughly in the UK. Bufab has an excellent global reputation but our representation in the UK is not proportionate to that.”

It sounds like the firm has set itself a number of big challenges, argues Torque. “I enjoy this kind of thing. We have done the hard part. The UK is a massive fastener market, and we want to be there when the buyer is looking for a category C supply chain partner. We need to be in the front of people’s minds.”


This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Torque Magazine, which you can read in its entirety online. If you are part of the fastener, tool and related industries you can subscribe to the magazine or sign up to our weekly newsletter.