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Our history

Creating long-lasting business relationships since 1964

With over 50 years of support for the independent retail industry we’ve witnessed everything from the highs of rocketing growth, to the lows of recession. Let’s face it, retail can be a rollercoaster, but we’re proud to have stood by your side through it all.

But for now let’s just focus on the elements that saw real growth and development.

bira direct, formerly known as The Direct Company, was originally established by the retailers of BHF-BSSA Group as The Hardware Federation Merchandising Company Limited. At the time we were unique. We were the only organisation out there created specifically to broker better deals for individual retailers by using the collective buying power of our members.


The company was renamed BHF Direct Limited. New management focused on

negotiating special terms for members with a new emphasis on working in partnership with promoted suppliers to achieve mutual goals. Paul Woolley joined the company as buyer and went from a role that highlighted the benefits of large multiples at the expense of independents, to fighting to make sure the independents survived and thrived.


The first ever Direct Buyers Guide was launched, providing promoted supplier details to retail members in one handy little book twice a year.


The Direct Company supplier base was expanding fast and with turnover growing faster, we celebrated the first ever £1million turnover month in October.


Our Away Day saw the first ever Direct Diamond Supplier Awards being presented as part of the proceedings at the Heritage Motor Museum, Gaydon.


The Direct Buyers Guide went to full colour production. We were achieving £1million turnover per month and the company was growing faster than ever expected with regular increases in excess of 20%.

As the name BHF Direct was excluding other sectors of BHF-BSSA Group, we began to trade as The Direct Company.


In the year that Paul Woolley was appointed as the new managing director, we also held a series of five free seminars around the country for supplier reps to learn more about BHF-BSSA Group and The Direct Company.


Sarah Golden and John Collins were appointed directors of the company, and another new record was set with the first ever supplier to break £2million turnover per annum.

To cope with the sheer volume of promotions from suppliers a new magazine insert service was launched. This allowed supplier offers to be included within the divisional magazines.


We celebrated 10 years of trading under the current name with a special Direct Suppliers Away Day & Diamond Supplier Awards. It was an event full of glitz and glamour and help at the Heart of England Conference Centre.


Although the economic climate was very difficult this year, The Direct Company still managed to increase its turnover by 12.5%.

The Direct Company and many of its suppliers sponsored The Federation of International Hardware and Housewares Associations (IHA) Centenary Congress.  Hosted by BHF Group in London, it celebrated its 100th year in the Hardware and Home industries.

This year also saw Direct Company’s parent organisation, BHF Group, historically merge with the British Shops and Stores Association to form the 7500 member strong, BHF-BSSA Group.


Economic conditions were still making for a tough trading environment for independent retailers. As members sought out the best terms and promotions, turnover increased for The Direct Company by over 7%, which was a strong performance against budget.

The Suppliers Away Day and Diamond Awards attracted one of the biggest audiences ever, and took place at Stratford Manor Hotel near Stratford-upon-Avon.


The Direct Company’s parent organisation, BHF-BSSA Group, was renamed the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) and all three limited trading subsidiaries are renamed in line with the new organisation name. BHF Direct Limited trading as The Direct Company became bira direct Limited.


bira direct celebrates 50 years of delivering independent retailers extra competitive terms.


Paul Woolley, MD of bira direct retires from the business at the Highstreet National Conference in front of the members and suppliers he has worked with over the years, and receives a truly well-deserved, emotional farewell.