The inevitability of the Internet

Despite all the comments we hear about the Internet on a daily basis, when I am out and about seeing my loyal customers, I have the feeling of an inevitability about the changes that are going to happen in the whole selling process, which we can hold back as effectively as King Canute holding back the tide, writes Barrie Cutchie of BC Designs.

Barrie Cutchie of BC Designs

Barrie Cutchie of BC Designs

Instantaneous information is always at hand on Ipads and smartphones, with the ability to find product prices at the touch of a button, where and whenever you want them.

I sometimes feel a lot of the bathroom industry is like a guy who has just opened a new candle factory as Edison switched on his new-fangled light bulbs in Coney Island. Is it going to happen?

Sooner or later we will see virtual showrooms online where you don a pair of 3D glasses and are walked through the ‘displays’ of bathroom products, by a very slick salesman.

Very real

Not possible? Have you seen the quality of graphics on the latest Playstation games or the almost surreal animation in the last Tintin movie? (I saw it twice actually). Unreal but in a year or so this could be very real. No need for expensive premises and no heating and lighting bills.

The great advantage that those people with their own quality showrooms have is the opportunity to sell face to face with the customer. Customers want to see the products, especially baths. They want to try them and see if they fit their body shape and see if they are comfortable.

You have to close them there and then. At least get a deposit so you are not doing all the design work and suggestion of products so they can say “thanks very much” and get it cheaper online.

Add on sales

Train the staff professionally to close, to get those add on sales, at least the brassware as well as the accessories. It is all part of the package, if some of the salespeople we see in bathroom showrooms were working in a car showroom, the car would leave the showroom without a steering wheel, seats and hub caps.

It is all part of a package. Every bathroom has a toilet roll holder and therefore a towel rail or ring, get one and you get the rest. There are also lights in every room, unless they are going to bathe and shave in the dark!

These add-on sales can make the difference between a decent profit for your efforts and basic subsistence – and you don’t always have to discount these add-ons so much.

Internet technology

Make no mistake, there are a lot of showrooms who are embracing Internet technology, their Internet departments have more people in them than their showroom staff.

However you still get the problem with price comparison and you are accepting the probability of being compared if you have a high profile on the web, it is inevitable. Where there is exact like-for like comparison of products facing the determined internet trawler, the winner is likely to be the one who is willing to accept the least profit margin. Lose too much and it becomes a slow death.

So how can you beat the system? Have exclusive products to you; you can make it appear like this by giving minimum information to the showroom browser, change the codes or the names of the products you are supporting so it frustrates the surfer, and then they are not sure if it is the same as they have seen online.

Exclusive to you

Sourcing and designing your own products so they actually are exclusive to you requires a good eye and the ability to stock the product. You may get this wrong though, and be stuck with a lot of stock you cannot sell if the trend changes.

Most of the big internet companies source products you cannot get anywhere else, so there is no name to compare and no quality to compare. It may look the same as better quality products in the showrooms and on other websites but the customer does not know if, for example a bath is Acrylic all over or has a gel-coat. Has the tap got brass all the way through? What about the longevity of the cartridge in the shower valve? There is always free cheese in a mousetrap!

So they can take a product, they mark it up 3-4 times to get their own retail price, and then discount it 40-50% to make it look a real bargain but they still make a very healthy margin indeed.

Healthy margin

There is nothing wrong with making a healthy margin but it is these online discounts which set expectations in regards to discounting in the buyers head, therefore they expect to get it everywhere.

I am not saying the products are all bad or will fall apart but direct buying and selling bypasses the distributor profit margin, because they don’t buy through a distributor and have that extra margin to give away immediately.

It is this area of the bathroom business, the distributors, who I worry about the most. Can they survive? I hope so, because there is some real experience and expertise out there which may be lost if we are not careful.

Barrie Cutchie made his first move into the bathroom industry selling old telephone type taps from his stand in Bermondsey Antique Market. His love of bathrooms saw him involved in the start-up of two major bathroom brands BC Sanitan and Imperial Bathroom Company, where he was also designing products. In 1998 Barrie Cutchie started BC Designs; the company was initially renowned for its traditional style, but in subsequent years Barrie has added to its product portfolio by designing some striking contemporary baths that utilise its very own Cian solid surface material. 

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