Large brands should get behind Independent Retailer Month

Large brands understand the influence that a network of good, proactive independent retailers can have on customer perception of their brands, and they have the marketing clout to really throw their weight behind initiatives like Independent Retailer Month (running throughout July) to help drive home to the consumer the unique, exclusive benefits that shopping locally can offer, writes Retail Champion Clare Rayner.

Clare Rayner

Peoples Champion Clare Rayner

The past two years have seen us get some real power-houses behind us, and we’re urging other brands to follow their lead and join the revolution, encouraging people to think twice about turning to out-of-town shopping centres, and to instead support their local independents.

The support Independent Retailer Month gets from big brands has a massive impact on the awareness surrounding it. While I have been urging consumers to make an effort to take 20 per cent of their shopping budget and support their local high street, there is far more reason for them to do so if they have added incentives like these to take advantage of.

Only through continued support and awareness can the campaign continue to gather momentum and turn the perception of the British High Street around to make it great once more.

Retail Champion Clare Rayner launched Independent Retailer Month in 2011. With Independent Retailer Month running throughout July, the driving force behind the initiative is calling on brands to recognize the opportunities available to engage with a consumer base and support the campaign.

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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. 

A good news budget

KBSA CEO Graham Ball has welcomed this week’s budget as one that will help KBB retailers and encourage small businesses to invest.

Graham Ball, CEO of the KBSA

Graham Ball, CEO of the KBSA

We asked for some good news and this time the Chancellor delivered, “says Graham Ball CEO of the KBSA.

The creation of an employer’s allowance which will mean small businesses will not have to pay NICs under£2,000 is surprisingly good news. This measure reflects the fact that SME support is finally being recognised as significant and key part of the economy that needs nurturing if we are to get growth back.

The reduction in corporation tax to 20% will also help existing businesses and hopefully start to encourage new businesses as this tax regime starts to become business friendly, at last.

The Help to Buy housing scheme has come in for some criticism already as all of the details of how each element will work are not known but it does appear to be quite innovative and different from previous schemes and if successful could give a timely boost to the sector.

As the equity loans are not solely aimed at first time buyers but aimed at new homes it should encourage movement in the housing chain creating opportunities for new kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms to be required – great news for the KBB sector.

There was also good news for the motorist and businesses that have delivery vans on the road. The cancellation of the 3p rise in fuel duty will not increase costs, one of the main causes of rising overheads for many SME.

We did not get our long called for cut in VAT on repair maintenance and improvement works but overall a welcome budget for business.

Graham Ball is the CEO of The Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association (KBSA) . The Association brings together over 300 fully accredited, UK based independent, retailers. Each KBSA member provides all the expertise required to design and install a new or updated fitted kitchen, bathroom, bedroom or home office.

Independent retailers offer honest pricing

Having watched Secret Shopper on Channel 4 – where a consumer ‘allegedly’ bought a kitchen from a well know national retailer of kitchens at a knockdown price of £5,500 – when the spec priced it originally at over £12,000 – merely reflects pricing activities of many high street/on line retailers/etailers, writes Graham Ball, CEO of the KBSA.

Graham Ball, CEO of the KBSA

Graham Ball, CEO of the KBSA

Those of us long enough in the tooth are aware of these practices, learning over the years when to buy from outlets and when not to! I believe it not only ‘cheapens’ the offer, as we currently live in an age of a more open and transparent society – these pricing practices seem destined to be consigned to the ark – or more relatively Room 101.

The new kitchen-compare comparison website is now letting more people see how ridiculous these pricing offers are, as on one foray into their ether, I actually found one of their standard kitchens was cheaper at John Lewis – with a single price quoted, rather than any of those well-known national tin sheds with more than one price.

Our members have horror stories about how consumers are duped with spurious pricing offers and unbelievable installation costs – but the problem will only continue as long as such pricing practices are not outlawed.

What is has proved to me, yet again, is that the independent specialist can compete against this by continuing to take a more honest approach to their offer and promoting the excellence – and completeness – of their service, which is essentially a ‘cradle-to-grave’ for the whole project. A recent independent survey of KBSA retailers projects indicated a satisfaction level of 100% – which to me is living proof that the independent’s claim to professionalism is alive and kicking.

Buying a kitchen is a very infrequent but major purchase – so there is no ‘routine’ for consumers to follow – meaning it can be and often is a nightmare purchase. There is little inbuilt knowledge how to start, where to go for the best service, what questions to ask.  The KBSA plays its part in helping to educate the consumer with advice and information on the website, the free buyers guide and attendance at several live home interest shows every year.

We also try to help our members highlight the key strengths of the independents’ offer- a personal service, second to none, to help guide you through the buying minefield and bring you safely out on the other side , usually completely satisfied and willing to recommend that service to others – that’s the way it works.

You won’t find misleading price offers, you will find installation costs visible (unless you are looking for supply only), you will find excellence in design, receive professional project management and you will know the person you deal with will be living the project with you – isn’t that all anyone could ask for?

Graham Ball is the CEO of The Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association (KBSA) . The Association brings together over 300 fully accredited, UK based independent, retailers. Each KBSA member provides all the expertise required to design and install a new or updated fitted kitchen, bathroom, bedroom or home office.

Material gains

Sarah Holey of Laufen

Sarah Holey of Laufen

With flexibility being the key to successful bathroom design,writes Laufen’s marketing and communications manager Sarah Holey, particularly in these modern times when the demands placed on this space, whether large or small, are ever-growing, manufacturers have had to raise their game in terms of the materials they use in order to meet the needs of designers and homeowners.

Just as life would be boring if we were all the same size and shape, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for bathroom design either. Whether domestically or commercially, designers will be challenged by some of the spaces they have to work with and being able to choose between a variety of materials, all of which have their own merits, will mean they can more than meet these challenges head on.

One material that is fast winning the hearts and minds of many in the bathroom world is solid surface. Laufen recently introduced its first solid surface bath into its Palomba Collection and as well as offering a whole new world of comfort to the bather, this material also has many aesthetic and practical benefits that acrylic alone simply can’t match.

Due to its thermal insulation qualities, the water in a solid surface bath stays hotter for longer. Solid surface also has a lower sound transmission than with cast iron or acrylic, a particular selling point in open-plan bathrooms where there will be less disturbance to others from the noise of the bath being filled.

Ceramic’s edge

For washbasins though, ceramic still has the edge over solid surface in terms of practicality, in many instances, not least as it offers very high scratch, chemical and heat resistance. And as it can be manufactured in various colour finishes including warm grey and black, ceramic enables designers to experiment with colour in the bathroom too.

Just as the bathroom has evolved from being a purely functional space to one of relaxation and tranquility, so ceramic too is evolving. Laufen is pioneering a new ceramic material, SaphirKeramik, which is 40 per cent lighter than fine fireclay, and produces a distinctive brilliant white finish.

Previously manufacturers had the choice of vitreous china and fine fireclay. Vitreous china excels due to the waterproof qualities of the surface – water absorption is virtually zero – and it therefore meets the highest hygiene requirements for WCs and urinals.

Flowing shapes

Soft, round and flowing shapes can be readily achieved with this material as long as the manufacturer knows what they are doing. However, the arbitrary shrinkage of the material during the drying and firing stage means the manufacturing process is difficult to control.

Fireclay has until now been the ceramic of choice for manufacturing very large ceramic pieces, which of course is a key trend in contemporary bathroom design. Here, the classic ceramic mass (slurry) is stabilised with the addition of pre-fired clay (chamotte) which enables large ceramic pieces such as double washbasins or floorstanding washbasin pedestals to be produced.

SaphirKeramik from Laufen also allows much finer and sharper edges to be created and blurs the aesthetic lines between ceramic and solid surfaces. Able to achieve edge radii of just 1-2 millimetres, compared to the normal 7-8mm possible with conventional ceramic, SaphirKeramik brings a whole new level of luxury and cutting edge design to the bathroom at a time when it is very much needed. The formula of the basic material mix on which the new ceramic is based permits more precise contours and smooth lavish surfaces.

Just as manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of production, so designers too have a huge amount to gain from experimenting with a mixture of materials in order to create that dream bathroom.

For more information on Laufen products call 01530 510007 or visit http://www.uk.laufen.com

 

BMA calculates its ROI for the New Year

Yvonne Orgill, CEO of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association.

Yvonne Orgill, CEO of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association.

To most industrialists the three letter abbreviation ROI goes straight to the heart of their business, writes Yvonne Orgill, Chief Executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA).

ROI, return on investment, is regarded by many as the formula for evaluating how well a particular injection of cash has benefited their company. It’s an important business measure and my guess is that it just isn’t used quite well enough throughout British industry. I hope I am wrong.

But there is another performance measure with the same abbreviation and we use it a lot here in the BMA offices. ROI – return on Involvement. And for a trade organisation such as the BMA, ROI is crucial. Crucial in two directions.

First the ROI of BMA staff; our five full time people are extremely conscious of their ROI. One of our prime objectives is to represent the membership at UK government and European Commission forums. We are ‘The Voice of the Bathroom Industry’ and we lobby on member’s behalf. We get involved.

The Water Label

One of the most important subjects for discussion in the last few years has been that of sustainability, preserving our precious water and energy resources. The BMA has lobbied hard, with great results, throughout Europe and we were delighted last year when our brainchild, The Water Label, was adopted across the 27 states.

Our staff also represents members in technical standards and regulations development meetings. Forthcoming changes in laws which affect the construction industry are picked up well in advance and BMA members are kept abreast of the changes to give them chance to plan ahead without surprises. So members do benefit from the high ROI of the BMA staf.

Secondly, we must consider the ROI of the BMA membership, itself. Those members who are the most active within the association have a greater influence on the industry’s future.

Active participation

And that is not an exaggeration. Their active participation brings results. They get a great ROI. They benefit from their involvement and gain competitive advantage. Their involvement then passes straight to the bottom line to give a better return on their investments. Its win win.

So for us at the BMA, ROI is a two way street and it’s absolutely true that, as with everything in life, you get out of it as much as you put in to it.

The Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA), based at Keele’s Innovation Centre, is the trade association for bathroom manufacturers operating in the UK. It is the principal ‘Voice of the Bathroom Industry’ and acts as an information highway between industry, government and the consumer on issues that affect the bathroom business.

Promoting energy efficiency

SteveMacdonald

Steve Macdonald, managing director of Hoover Candy UK’s Freestanding Division

Is the industry doing enough to promote energy efficiency and what could/should manufacturers be doing differently, asks Steve Macdonald, the managing director of Hoover Candy UK’s Freestanding Division?

Although the energy label has been a common sight in showrooms since its introduction in 1995 it really only gives the consumer an ‘at-a-glance’ evaluation of how efficient an appliance is. Using this to decide which is the best choice of appliance however, is less straight forward.

Manufacturers can help with clear POS messages that explain what the benefits are and point out that actual energy consumption can differ significantly between products that have the same rating; for example fridge freezers can have the same energy rating but can cost more to run because of their size.

Retailers can do their bit as well, as a one size fits all approach often doesn’t work. Messages need to be tailored to suit individual personal circumstances and finding out about a consumers house, their family and how the product will be used in real life can help with product selection.

The European test standards applied by manufacturers can be very different from the way in which consumers use their appliances; in the case of washing machines the test for energy efficiency is based upon a 6kg 60°C. cottons cycle, when we know that many consumers have larger capacity machines and wash much of their laundry at 40°C. or even 20°C..

Although both manufacturers and consumers are starting to understand the importance of energy efficiency, as an energy-hungry industry, there is always room for improvement. At Hoover Candy for example,we invest a lot of resources into improving our constantly evolving eco-friendly technology and product development.

Education and information

According to a recent study conducted by DEFRA, standby usage is estimated to cost the UK householder £50 to £86 per year.  Manufacturers have a duty to inform consumers about this and encourage them not to leave appliances on standby when not in use.

At Hoover Candy we have a number of products (including our dishwashers for example) that have an audible alarm to signal when a cycle has ended. This provides a reminder to users when the wash is finished, thus encouraging them to switch their machines off.

It is absolutely the responsibility of manufacturers to spread the word about resource consumption as well as the costs that can be incurred by disregarding this issue.

Making it clear

A recent report by Mintel supports the view that consumers are concerned with energy efficiency issues, claiming that 74% of respondents believe that an appliance with an energy rating of A+ is essential.

But when it comes to actually parting with hard cash whether this can be translated into sales of more efficient products is another matter. Undoubtedly some consumers are prepared to pay a bit more for energy efficient appliances but for others affordability at the point of purchase may seem more important than long term payback.

It’s these consumers that need more convincing and it’s here that the retailer can really help by demystifying and explaining what the energy label really means and helping to clarifying what’s good, bad and average and equating this to cash savings