Stone me!

02 Jul, 13

Cooper Callas is the exclusive distributor of the award-winning JTSoftstone shower floor. Philippa Turrell met its MD Darren Cooper

One of the most well-known names in distribution, Cooper Callas may be familiar to many in the industry. It could be because the bathroom (and more recently) kitchen distributor is steeped in history, having been established in 1875. But it certainly won’t be because it courts coverage. This is a company seemingly shy of publicity – with Kitchens & Bathrooms News being the first media visitor to its head office and central distribution centre in Bicester, Oxfordshire. this independent, family-owned business has been led for the past eight years by managing director Darren Cooper, whose surname is coincidental as he’s actually the first none family member to take charge in 138 years. He says it’s not because the business has been averse to promotion, instead it’s simply because the business has been too busy concentrating on its retailer and merchant customer base.

 Exclusive Softstone agreement

It is its relationship with JT and exclusive agreement to distribute its luxury Softstone shower floor, which has been one of its recent sales success stories.Cooper points out: “It is very unusual to get a prominent product on a solus basis. Innovation is really hard fought for [in the industry] and most of the innovative products we’ve got we share with a. n.other distributor or a whole cluster of them.” But sales and marketing director of JT, John Schofield explains why the company chose to opt for an exclusive distribution route: “Softstone was a real departure for us because we operate very much in the mid-mass market and it is a high-end product. So we had to look at how we went to market and what we wanted to do was target 150-200 showrooms that would put it on display.”

Sponsored Video

Having decided to pinpoint a select number of retail outlets, Schofield took a similar strategy to appointing a solus distributor  “I could have gone to two or three distributors and put it out to the market but what would that do? All it would do is see them under cutting each other. The volume is never going to be mass market because that’s not what it’s about. We know that because of price point we’re putting it at. So let’s focus the effort. Let’s get the right story. Let’s get the right retailers – so they are supported, rewarded for supporting it and displaying it and selling it and everybody wins.”

Following the launch of Softstone in September, together JT and Cooper Callas agreed a target of 60-75 displaying retail outlets by the end of 2012. However, Schofield exclaims: “We were up to 110 displaying retailers by Christmas”. It has been a performance which Cooper describes as “remarkable”.

 Point of difference

It’s the product, together with the exclusive partnership, which Cooper says has helped reap these rewards. He comments: “ I think Softstone – for us – is a perfect product for a distribution team to really get their teeth into. It’s about getting a product that you put your heart and soul, in the knowledge that all of the work you do in building a network of dealers, you know the reward is coming back to you. That’s the pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow, which all distribution businesses chase; a solus product that’s different but the right pound notes. We’re not interested in selling £30 shower trays, at all. We’d rather sell something £760 in the knowledge that we earn a decent margin, the retailer certainly earns a good margin and we’ve got support from a good manufacturer.”

And Cooper says it’s the design of the shower floor that has also helped seal its sales success, offering a point of difference, and ultimately combating the potential of ‘like-for-like’ discounting. “For us, the key thing about our relationship with JT and why we want to work with them moving forward is the fact that it’s different. There aren’t many opportunities to change the material content of any of the products. This is something, that I think, blows away the boundaries and that’s why I think it’s exciting.” 

And it would seem retail customers agree, as Cooper Callas is now more than 75% towards its target number of retail showrooms for Softstone and is confident it will reach 200 outlets. The company has already seen pull through and repeat business for these products. Cooper says: “There are retailers out there who have sold five or six trays, in a relatively short period of time.”

On top of its retail showroom target, Cooper Callas has also joined with John Lewis to supply the Softstone shower floor. “We’ve got it placed in three of their four showrooms. So you will see it in Bluewater, you will see it in King’s Causeway, you will see it in Solihull and it will be in Oxford Street very soon. It will roll out to the rest of the estate as the John Lewis bathroom project gathers momentum.” And both Cooper Callas and JT disagree that the association with John Lewis is detrimental for independent bathroom showrooms wanting to sell Softstone. Both counter that it complements their existing retail strategy. “Let’s be honest”, retorts Schofield “John Lewis isn’t in every town. So it enhances what we’re doing. We are very conscious of where the stores are and made sure it’s not going to dilute the core retailer.”