Blurred lines

08 Apr, 14

Crossing the North-South divide, Yorkshire-based Frontline Bathrooms is planning to grow in the Home Counties

When the recession hit and its home turf of the North of England was affected, West Yorkshire-based distributor Frontline Bathrooms extended its business to service the South. Although Frontline Bathrooms is reticent to say how successful its move down South has been, to recoup potential lost sales in Northern England, chief executive Nick Hall says the company has experienced “year-on-year growth”. Whereas Michael Sammon offers a little more in the way of detail “I think we can definitely say we’ve gained market share in new geographical areas. Going into London at the start of the recession has been a key driver for the success of the company.” Certainly it must have been a profitable move, as Frontline Bathrooms now plans to build on its Southern England empire. It aims to expanding outwards from London, around the M25 area.

Suit all tastes

Supporting the growth of its distribution network, Frontline Bathrooms has upped its stock levels and improved its service offering a next-day delivery, with 5pm cut-off. It is also seeking to offer even more choice by adding to its Aqua collection of own-branded products. It currently offers Aquaceramic and Aquaceramic Italian sanitaryware, Aquabathe baths, Aquachic, Aquapure, Aquatrend and Aquatrend Italia furniture, Aquaflow and Aquaflow Italia brassware and Aquaglass designer trays, which as the name suggests is shower trays. “The aim is to have popular, quality mid and high-end bathrooms products, from around the world, to suit everyone’s taste”, explains Sammon. And he adds that Frontline plans “to increase the awareness of our own brand products to create a reputation as a trusted manufacturer to complement our reputation as a trusted distributor.”

”The company plans to add to its seven existing ranges of own-brand Aqua collection which includes sanitaryware, baths, furniture, brassware and shower trays. Sammon says: “The long-term objective is to have a fully-exclusive own brand offering in every product group.” But Hall is keen to point out own brand does not mean lesser quality as he points out “a lot of products come from the same factories as the branded ones”.

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Adding to portfolio

Certainly, ‘less is more’ is not part of this firm’s policy. And alongside its own-brand ranges, it supplies brands from the likes of Merlyn, Grohe, April, Hudson Reed, HSK, RAK and Ideal Standard, bringing its portfolio to more than 6,000 bathroom products. Sammon points out the company has recently taken on the “joint exclusive” distributorship of RAK Ceramics newly-launched Resort range. Hall points out: “We wouldn’t have product in [the catalogue] if we didn’t sell any. It would be gone today.”

Consumer-focused campaign

All of which neatly brings us onto how the business sells and that’s using the established Frontline Bathrooms brochure, a retail catalogue which currently stands at 364 pages of product. Unusually for a firm which only deals with business-to-business transactions, it is targeted at the consumer, as is its Price Crash brochure of discounted product. And this focus on the consumer spans across its entire six-figure marketing mix from its recent 12-month advertising campaign on truck curtains, to build brand awareness in London and Essex. Hall says: “Our brand is hopefully that strong that people go in with a Frontline brochure and say I want that product.”

Capturing consumers online

While there is a lot of focus on print publications, Frontline Bathrooms hasn’t ignore the online consumer, with a website complete with 3D bathroom planner. Sammon says: “Our 3D planner has 3D product moulded around our actual products. It’s a massive USP [for the company]. It’s a big investment.” Once the consumer has planned their bathroom online, their plans can either be emailed to Frontline Bathrooms to pass onto local stockists or the consumer can print the design off and take it into a high street bathroom store. Now Frontline is further refreshing its website. Emma Sturgess, marketing manager, explains: “The current [website] is mainly [about] product. It’s just a flip page PDF, which is no different to the brochure. The new one will be where you can search for products. Users will be able to download technical details and fitting instructions and hopefully help our customer services team because they get a lot of phone calls about the dimensions. So it should be a lot more user- friendly.”

Building brand instore

Frontline has worked hard to promote its brand instore too, with branded brochure dispensing bins for showrooms, tap stands and shower boards. Hall continues: “If you go into a retailer and it’s got shower boards up, tap stand, brochure dispenser – window sticker and a couple of posters up – all of a sudden it’s a Frontline showroom. At the back of their mind, if the consumer walks in – without them even realising it’s a Frontline showroom and that’s where we need to get to.” Emma Sturgess agrees adding: “If consumers have seen the advertising, they’re walking in and seeing something familiar straightaway.”

Upping service levels

But even the very best product and targeted marketing, alone, wouldn’t boost sales without being backed-up by service levels. Hall says: “Retailers want to order something and get it tomorrow – that’s the bottom line.” And that has arguably one of the biggest changes for the Frontline business, to up stockholding and extend order time. Hall explains the distributor has “99% stock holding ready for immediate delivery, with over 35 vehicles”. But it has been the extended deadline for next day delivery, with 2pm cut-off extended to 5pm, which has been instrumental in the company’s continuing success. The change to the business took two months to put into place, but Hall adds: “Those two points have been a massive help [to sales], especially with the recession kicking in. A lot of other companies have really dropped their stockholding. That’s just the feedback we’re getting. We realise you need the products in stock because of continuity and to support retailers.” He continues: “We’re working harder now than we’ve ever done – more products, more service, more people on the phones, to make it easier for [customers].”  But not resting on its laurels, this bathroom distributor is continuing to invest to improve its service, by looking to offer next day service in Scotland instead of its current twice a week delivery. Hall says: “Ideally you’d offer next day service on all our vans, nationwide.” And he offers his prediction of distribution in the future: “I know what the next thing will be – but I’m not bringing it to the table – it will be order in the morning and get it in the afternoon –that will be the next phase.” But he concludes, quite quickly: “Let’s not go down that road. It’s bad enough doing an overnight shift!”