Screen and shout

22 Jul, 15

Leanne McCaffrey investigates whether bath screens need to follow enclosure trends to make sales?

Despite so much media focus on large walk-in enclosures and panels, showering manufacturers will state the majority of showering still happens over the bath. We reported last year that with 65% of showering this was the case, and the consensus suggests the status remains the same. Bath screens remain a common feature in many UK bathrooms, with multiple bathrooms and resulting smaller spaces meaning space saving solutions are in demand. David Osborne, managing director of Roman, comments, “With UK bathrooms continuing to shrink in size and with the growing popularity of multiple bathrooms in the family home, bathroom fittings that are efficient with space are increasingly becoming the popular choice.”

Edel Nicholson, marketing manager for Merlyn, believes bath screen popularity is on the up, with more design options meaning customers opt for a screen rather than a curtain. He states to have seen “more interest and appetite for bath screens, which are definitely no longer seen as the poor relation of the bathroom market.” However, rather than seeing this as a result of the smaller bathroom sizes, Eden Nicholson argues bath screens “benefit from manufacturers investment both in terms of specification and styling,’ leading to  consumers and developers being keen to include them.

And Fraser Holmes, commercial manager at Simpsons, concurs “current styles are far more desirable, whereas originally, there had been a limited choice in the market.” This has clearly had an effect on sales at Simpsons; “bath screens account for 15% of our overall sales, with a larger increase in the past 12 months on the high-end and minimal design products.”

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In the fold

So what styles should designers and retailers consider to meet the tastes of discerning customers? A folding screen remains a popular option. Aqata, Simpsons and Roman all report good sales in their folding screens, citing practical reasons, such as allowing more space for bathing and easy access for bathing children.

Having a screen that folds back can also create the illusion of space in a small bathroom. David Osborne from Roman remarks “the growth of bathroom furniture means outward folding bath screens that lock at 90° are the perfect option” and Jayne Barnes, managing director at Aqata, says they have “seen a demand for larger bath screens such as the Spectra SP493, which has a triple folding panel, to offer an even larger area for showering,” so less risk of water landing outside the bathtub.  Merlyn’s Edel Nicholson says their “Series 8 and Series 9 2 and 3 panel folding screens offer 180° swing to deflect water spray.”

Rich and frameless

And as well as folding screens, there remains the trend for customers to choose frameless designs to cohere to the fashion for minimalism. Michael Sammon, sales and marketing director at Frontline Bathrooms, believes the fashion cues for bath screens are still influenced by the trends for shower enclosures, which have been “dominated by a preference for minimalism.” The minimalist trend correlates with the need to save space, as Sammon argues “slim glass, minimalist fittings, frameless designs and sliding doors, rather than folding, have all increased in popularity for this reason.” And Jayne Barnes from Aqata agrees, stating “aesthetically, frameless shower enclosures are the preferred design choice, with consumers still aspiring to minimal contemporary styling. This also applies to bath screens – spans of clear glass create the illusion of more space.” Industry experts seem to agree that frameless is a popular trend that shows no sign of ending soon.

However, in addition to minimalism, luxury finishes are becoming a trend for the bath screen, and Michael Sammon from Frontline Bathrooms comments that “luxurious spa and hotel-inspired looks which have influenced showers have also reached bath screens which now incorporate designer touches such as statement vertical handles and polished silver finishes.” Fraser Holmes from Simpsons also acknowledges this; “making a style statement in the bathroom is a current trend that screens can make, especially with the range of coloured glass, profile options and handles on offer.” As well as being a way of making a statement, additional features can also add to the screen’s practicality, Frontline Bathrooms has screens which also feature towel rails or shelves, making them multi-functional and tying in to the need to save space in the UK’s small bathrooms.  

No show

So with interest still high in bath screens, why is it they continue to be rarely displayed in showrooms? David Osborne of Roman comments; “shower enclosures are 35% of showering and they get a massive emphasis in showrooms, yet many retailers do very little to address the 65% of over the bath showers, this can be due to the low height of walls or intricate bath edge detail but they really should find at least one or two good spaces for bath screens.” He adds that “where we display good screens well we sell an equal number to enclosures,” and “a high specification bath screen could be one of the most valuable displays in the showroom.”

However, Fraser Holmes from Simpsons disagrees, he has seen a large amount of bath screens being displayed; “we are fortunate that our customers are committed to displaying a range of options from our portfolio. We had a display drive in early 2014 with our customers, where our focus was on bath screens. Our biggest success was the commitment to the Design Dual Folding Screen – DBVSC1060, now our number one selling bath screen!”

Trade up

So if designers and retailers have more options on display, how can they encourage clients to trade up? Jayne Barnes from Aqata suggests “bathroom designers and retailers can encourage clients to trade up by not only comparing quality and added value, but also by highlighting the benefits of buying from the manufacturer.”

So what is it that customers need convincing of? The obvious differences between lower-end and top-end bath screens are glass thickness and finish, and mid-to-top end screens should be power shower approved. Edel Nicholson from Merlyn notes that “these qualities dramatically improve the durability and longevity of a product which historically has been seen as not particularly long-lasting.” Jayne Barnes states that for high-end models, “glass should be toughened to EN12150-1 and doors should feel solid, not wobble and close tightly to prevent water escaping.”

What’s to come?

So whether they are following the trends set by shower enclosures, or aiming to develop their own based on practicality and space-saving, bath screens appear to be set to remain a common feature in the UK bathroom. But what does the future hold for bath screen styling? Michael Sammon from Frontline Bathrooms comments that “in the next two to three years bath screens will catch up [to shower enclosure trends] and coloured glass and mirrors will be seen in more models. The growth will not only be driven by consumer desire to introduce statement pieces regardless of space, but also the multi-functional solutions these offer, such as creating the illusion of extra space and adding privacy.”

David Osborne of Roman expects to see “increased recognition of the value of selling higher specification bath screens” and Aqata’s Jayne Barnes notes that “the increasing prevalence of made to measure personalised products is certainly growing in the premium end of the market, particularly with frameless styles.”

So take another look at the screen market, because you could be missing out not only on stylish showering solutions, but bath sales too.

This feature first appeared in Kitchens & Bathrooms News June 2015 issue