This way up

02 Jul, 13

To combat the tough economy, merchant Chandlers Bathrooms has opened a retail showroom. Philippa Turrell met its showroom manager Paul Hunnisett

While many kitchen and bathroom businesses may have thought about introducing lower-priced product to increase sales, Chandlers Bathrooms has chosen to do quite the opposite. Adding to its mid-end showroom and trade counter, it has introduced a Villeroy & Boch studio, officially opened by the Mayor of Lewes. One of eight branches of Chandlers Building Supplies; it is the first depot to have a dedicated and separately branded bathroom showroom, let alone a premium retail space. And, in fact, it is, as showroom manager Paul Hunnisett exclaims: “ the first [high-end] bathroom showroom in the town.”

Upmarket move

So, why make what must be an expensive move into an upscale retail-style environment? Paul Hunnisett explains it was to meet the wants of builders which operate in the high-end property market: “We’ve got guys building 8, 9, 10-bedroom houses but we were using different suppliers and getting the order on the basis of a few percent.”  Paul continues: “We thought about selling kitchens, or targeting the self-build arena, but I said from experience we need to go up a level in terms of quality [bathrooms]. We’ve got our own-branded contract products, eco ranges, and mid-market showroom downstairs. So, if we go up a level (literally, upstairs) with top-end, then we are covering every base. There will be nothing we can’t supply because we’ve got that whole market.”

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 Changing consumer market

The inclusion of the Villeroy & Boch showroom has also seen Chandlers Bathrooms customer base alter, with more end-users now purchasing from the company. “I would say our customer base is 60:40 with builders to retail [sales] but there are more and more retail sales.”  The company already offers a design service and uses a rotational list of recommended installers. In fact, the only difference between the customer service offered by Chandlers Bathrooms and a high street store is that it still operates in trade opening hours. Although Paul admits the company may have to look into that in future, to satisfy the needs of its retail consumers. 

 Demanding deals

However, he says ultimately his biggest business challenge from both the consumer and trade is their expectation of a deal. “They are so savvy nowadays. If you quote a list price – they know for a fact they can get a discount. You also get the builder or plumber, if they’ve recommended you to their customer, say ‘let them have it at our price’. Then there’s the odd occasion of [tradesmen then saying] what can you do for me? It may be you’ve already given the customer 25% off to match and then you’ve got to give a bit more away. You just have to be strong and say that’s all we can do.”

Certainly, he must be doing something right, as the merchant is now going to introduce a mid-market bathroom showroom into its Petsworth branch in Kent.