Kind of magic

02 Jul, 13

Merlyn Showering has charmed the UK with its enclosures and customer service. But Philippa Turrell reveals it is now targeting mainland Europe

If the Lonely Planet’s Blue List (/2008) is to be believed, then Ireland is the world’s friendliest place. And if you are in any doubt, then a visit to Merlyn Showering in Kilkenny could help verify its claims. This is a company where the passion for the business is palpable, from the line-up of welcoming handshakes at customer services, through to the enthusiastic, high-fiving CEO Charlie Soden. But that’s not to say they‘re light-hearted about the business. All of the employees are serious about delivering service for their customers, echoed by the company’s chirpy mantra “If it is to be, it is up to me”. And perhaps this is why the founder, of Merlyn Showering, Michael Hoyne can proclaim: “In Ireland we’re number one [in shower enclosures]. We are well in the top three in shower enclosures [in the UK] – and that’s being modest.”

Extending into Europe

Now Merlyn Showering plans to extend its sales into mainland Europe, starting with France. Michael Hoyne says the company chose France because it works similarly to its business model in Ireland and the UK. He explains the potential of the market: “There’s one million pieces of shower enclosures sold every year in France. There’s one main player who has /25% of the market and the rest is very fragmented, as it is in Ireland and England…Things are tough over there, like every market now, but it’s always good to go into a market when things are tough. Again, our expectation is that we have serious plans for other countries in Europe, as well.” Hoyne also cites Germany and Italy sell one million pieces a year and suggests further ambitions of also selling into Eastern Europe, adding: “There’s 500,000 pieces of shower enclosures [sold each year] in Poland, which when we looked at it, surprised us.”

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MIrroring UK success

His goal for France seems to be quite simple, to echo the company’s success in the UK, which is approximately 80% of its business. “We probably would like, within the next three to four years, to be in the top five [shower enclosure manufacturers] and then we have ambitions to get into the top three.” And Charlie Soden is emphatic about their approach to business, which shows no sign of fear of going up against established European players in their home countries: “There’s a saying that goes: ‘It’s not the big that eat the small – it’s the fast that eat the rest.’ That’s how it is.” However, at this current stage the company has no plans to head further afield to emerging markets or China. Hoyne says: “I suppose we’ve been asked twice about dealings in China by different people but it’s very far away. There’s still a lot of business [closer].”

Concentrating on customers

It’s not just its broad span of enclosures which have established Merlyn Showering as a major player in the UK. Its focus on delivering service has been instrumental in assisting retailers to sell its products. At the heart of the service is a lifetime guarantee, as Merlyn holds replacement stock for every product piece, sold over the last 13 years. Hoyne admits: “There’s about 70% of the stock that we’ll never use but that’s the service we offer.” But, isn’t there an inconsistency, as don’t Merlyn Showering want customers to replace their enclosure not repair it? Soden tentatively agrees but adds: “If customers want a part, you’ve got to be able to give them the part. You’ve got to give the customers what they want.” And the part is made available next day by a ‘track and trace’ service. In fact, customers can even take a photo of the required part and text it into Merlyn Showering, along with their mobile number and the company will identify the part and send it out within 48 hours. Customer services manager Kathy Egan explains the philosophy behind delivering this level of service: “The ethos that we work in is in constant review, seeing what we can do better. The problem with good is that you’re the same as everyone else. The journey we are on is how can we move from good to great – what’s the next thing we can do to make it better.”

Train to sell

Continually striving to be better, is reflected in the company’s attitude towards training internal staff and retailers, as well as its marketing and installation support for their retail network. Hoyne believes training is at the core of being able to sell and says not enough retailers know enough about the products they sell, due to too many brands: “A showroom should probably pick a maximum of three [suppliers]. Too many customers just put in the products and hope they will sell. We will be aggressive in the way that we want your business. The message has to be easy and we have to do the training.”

On Europe mission

Merlyn Showering seems to be on a voyage – not of self-discovery, it understands the business of customer service, but of continual improvement and expanding its model into Europe. As Hoyne says: “We’re on a mission and once you get there – there’s still something else to be done. Once you have that [belief] and never lose that, you have a great chance [of success].”