A brief history of construction sales lead providers in the UK


Construction sales leads providers such as Glenigan or Barbour ABI are a gift to the industry’s marketers. The service they offer today is a product of Britain’s planning system, combined with commercial priorities and the power of the internet.

Britain’s town planning system evolved over centuries, but was particularly spurred by the transformation of the industrial revolution. Industry brought people into towns, which experienced rapid growth. Much of this hasty urbanisation was unplanned, with sub-standard housing and unhygienic conditions. Victorian era legislation limited slum developments, prevented overcrowding and raised standards. By 1909 the Town Planning Act was laying the groundwork for modern planning.

A second problem emerged after the First World War. A housing boom saw the invention of the suburbs, and millions of new homes were built on green field sites. Countrywide planning began in the early 30s in order to safeguard the countryside.

It was around this time that the trade association The Builder’s Conference emerged. It was set up in 1935 by John Laing, London-based construction mogul and philanthropist. It operated on a non-profit basis for the benefit of its members, gathering and collating information from the planning processes in and around London. It continues to this day, with over a thousand contractor and affiliate members.

The end of the Second World War brought more changes to construction, this time to rebuild Britain’s bomb-damaged cities and towns. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 was intended to help local authorities to supervise reconstruction efforts, and it also gave us the foundations of the modern planning system, including local plans and planning permission.

Once the information in the planning system became publicly available, the construction industry was able to use it for marketing, and businesses began to develop services around it. These services grew from their regional roots, expanded and merged into the market we have today, which is dominated by the two big firms of Barbour ABI and Glenigan.

The former can trace its roots back around 80 years, with a succession of mergers and acquisitions. It owes its current name to the merger of ABI Building Data with the construction information service Barbour, which had been producing the industry bible The Barbour Index since 1957. Glenigan began as a small planning and contract awards service in Dorset in the early 70s. It grew to a nationwide service, and incorporated a major competitor called Contract Leads in 1987.

The two big firms have changed hands several times between media and business intelligence conglomerates. At one point both ABI Building Data and Glenigan were owned by EMAP, giving them so much of the market that the Competition Commission intervened, and ABI was sold to United Business Media in 2005.

The two giants of the construction sales lead world have gone head-to-head ever since, with both choosing to compete for the high-value end of the market. The internet has supercharged the potential of sales leads, and both companies have developed advanced interfaces for researching and splicing planning and sales data.

As the two big companies secured their position in the market, Paul Graham, a former MD of Glenigan, recognised that they were focusing on higher value contracts and smaller jobs were not a priority. This left a gap in the market for a cheaper service that catered to smaller companies. Planning Pipe was founded in 2009, offering a more flexible service for builders and contractors most interested in local jobs at smaller scale.

Today’s construction marketers can choose from Barbour ABI or Glenigan, Planning Pipe and Builders’ Conference. If you want to know which one would work best for you, have a look at our easy guide.



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