Challenged by competitively-priced imports and glass suppliers, has the landscape changed for shower surround manufacturers and how are they continuing to meet shower enclosure trends for retail?
With showering surrounds reduced to a bare minimum, practically a sheet of glass, it may have created some issues for enclosure manufacturers. There has been little for consumers to differentiate between a quality and cost-effective surround, particularly when researching online.
And with the focus on glazing, there has also seen a broadening of the market with glass suppliers vying for business with dedicated shower enclosure suppliers.
So does that mean a seismic shift for the shower enclosure supplier landscape?
Sales and marketing director of Lakes Mike Tattam says not, explaining: “Showering spaces are mostly glass, that’s true, but it’s the ‘mostly’ bit.
“It’s the frame and how it’s designed and engineered for the installer and end user that makes a successful showering space.
“For example, fitting neatly to overcome real life challenges such as uneven walls.”
He adds: “Cheap products or products from manufacturers that have diversified into our market won’t have the right design, depth of knowledge, or extent of service and support.”
And managing director of Roman David Osbourne agrees there isn’t a threat for shower surround specialists, who are legally compliant with CE marking: “This is a mandatory legal requirement since July 2013 and glass suppliers or contractors would find great difficulty in proving product compliance and trace-ability.
“Compliance is only becoming a bigger and bigger issue with Government and Trading Standards in the post Grenfell era.”
But what it has seen is an adaptation of shower surround fashions, with the style pendulum swinging away from chrome profiles and plain glass to patterned glazing and alternative metals as a point of difference.
Managing director of Roman David Osbourne comments: “The price entry and mid-market sectors have become increasingly commoditised and of course are heavily influenced with internet purchases and availability.
“The added value market sector is constantly trying to differentiate itself in every aspect of the product – function, design, materials and service-backed guarantees.”
It has seen the advent of brushed metal finishes with the likes of gold and nickel succeeding the brilliance of chrome, as well as the introduction of matt black profiles.
David Osborne of Roman comments: “Coloured hardware is certainly a driver in current trends and this is due to continue throughout 2019 and in to 2020.
“We have silver, chrome, matt black and brushed nickel as standard colour finish options and, as of July 2019 polished nickel will also be added.”
And managing director of Aqata Jayne Barnes agrees there has been demand for a wider variety of frame finishes: “We have noticed a resurgence of gold and nickel.” and her company has added these finishes to its Design Solution range.
In addition, alongside the likes of Matki, Merlyn and Roman, Aqara has also recently introduced matt black.
Commercial director at Merlyn Barry Hoyne adds: “With the appeal of black bathrooms continuing to grow, it’s no surprise that our most popular enclosures and bath screen at the moment feature a matt black frame!”
Mirroring the movement towards industrial interior styling, matt black has also been used on glass decoration – enter the Crittal-style enclosure.
Sales and marketing director of Frontline Bathrooms Michael Sammon adds: “The industrial aesthetic remains huge in showering with an increased offering of Crittall styles, black enclosures and matt black fittings being brought to the market.”
Fashion and function
However, interior designer Emma Merry of Emma Merry Styling recently suggested traditional shower enclosure suppliers still can’t keep up with the fashion trends expected by her clients, such as smoked and fluted glass.
David Osbourne counters: “It may be true for the mass market, volume products from China, but at Roman we are embracing all new trends.
“We are now working with fluted glass on hotel specifications and this may find its way into the retail market soon.
“Tinted glass has come and gone many times but never lasts in retail due to the darkness insider the shower enclosure from the smoked glass.”
And Mike Tattam of Lakes offers a word of warning when specifying black enclosures in the bathroom, arguing against the industrial trend: “Bathrooms are getting smaller, and the trends suggest they will continue to shrink so installing a black, framed, industrial-looking shower enclosure may not feel right for many properties.”
And he goes so far as to say: “What works in a large, upscale, chic urban apartment may not travel very far. There seems to be a disconnect between what urban fashion trends suggest, and what the general public buy for their bathrooms.”
But whatever the individual design preferences of clients, interestingly it seems the battlefield is in the middle market. Having recently returned to the shower enclosure market, Saniflo offers its view on the market.
Head of marketing and product development Ann Boardman says: “When you analyse the market statistics, the biggest growth area for enclosures is actually in the mid-market level.”
And retailers can exploit this interest in added value enclosures, by focusing on higher-priced enclosures in stores.
Mike Tattam says when consumers come into the showroom, they want to check the quality of what they have, perhaps, researched online, offering the examples: “is the handle sturdy and comfortable in the hand?Do the doors close smoothly and quietly?”
And in fact, he points to “soft closing doors and sleek, comfortable aluminium handles as strong upcoming trends.”
Indicating features and their subsequent benefits that may not be evident from first glimpse is the heartland of the retail showroom.
It allows bathroom specialists to demonstrate their knowledge and gain the trust of consumers, meet their needs and perhaps encourage them to trade up in showering specification.
And David Osbourne of Roman explains: “We would always advise retailers to display more aspirational products to attract high value sales.
Not only does it differentiate the retail offer but clearly drives value. Budget constraints may force a lower price sale in the end but at least the customer has already bought into a brand and understand how better products operate.”
In fact, where manufacturers and their retailers will continue to win over customers is the sheer variety of showering spaces enabling them to distance themselves from the competitive, commodity market.
David Osborne adds: “A perfect example is Roman’s expanded Liberty range which is offering 8mm or 10mm thick glass, a choice of four finishes- chrome, matt black, brushed nickel and polished nickel; the setting of inward or outward opening and one or two sliding doors.”
And Jayne Barnes of Aqata adds: “The customer can specify the type of glass they require, we offer a choice of tinted glass in grey, bronze and green, with or without etched design.
“Different handle options and even wall fixing allow customers to create the exact look they desire and our bespoke, Made 2 Measure service and brand new Design Solutions range reflects this growth in customisation.”
With such a choice open to the designer, they should be easily able to meet the tastes of the most demanding of clients with their look in glass.