Turning heads

04 Apr, 17

How water experiences, alternative finishes and a change in installation can drive tap sales

The chrome monobloc may be the go-to tap for bathroom design, but with this has brought an influx of cheaper models capitalising on the over-riding fashion trend. It has seen the mid-market increasingly put under pressure from internet dealers who are able to offer one-hole, own brand mixers from as little as £20, meeting the requirements for distress replacement purchases as well as cost-effective bathroom refreshments. And so it’s perhaps little surprise AMA Research reports the internet is the fastest growing channel for plumbing and heating products, with sales up 28% in 2015, and the majority of those showers and taps.  However, it’s not all doom and gloom as industry experts say it’s not simply a race to the bottom for brassware sales. Marketing director of Victoria + Albert Baths, Jonathan Carter comments: “Similar to baths, the role of the mid-market in tapware is looking increasingly squeezed with the two poles of high-end and low-end mass market being dominant forces.”

Spending more brass

However with the return of consumer confidence, industry commentators suggest the replacement market will lessen its stranglehold in sales as consumers return to purchasing taps with suites. As a result, it implies consumers are prepared to spend more on a “worthy investment”. Marketing manager of Abode Helen Clark comments: “In many cases, bathroom brassware and shower solutions are key elements to the complete bathroom refurbishment, often as they equate to a significant percentage of the overall value and consumers are much more demanding and specific over their requirements.” And sales director of Perrin & Rowe David Cole agrees, explaining: “In terms of brassware, end-user perceptions and expectations have definitely matured and now is the sum of many attributes including functionality, design integrity and quality that determines their next tap purchase.”

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Scaling design significance

In fact, such has been the renewed focus on brassware, experts believe taps have scaled the ladder of significance for the deisgn of the entire bathroom. Trade marketing manager of Twyford Nicola Hadcroft says enthusiastically: “Brassware is becoming much more of a priority than it used to be and in some instances will be chosen first, with the basin, bath and other fittings chosen around it.” However, she admits: “On the whole, though. Consumers do tend to focus on larger items first, perhaps in the belief that the bath, basin and furniture, for example, will be more of a focal point.” 

While marketing manager of Utopia Sam Ball, says taps are now the third choice in bathroom specification: “We find that the consumer/designer tends to start planning their new bathroom with the basin and consequently our single best-selling item is always a washbasin unit, combining basin with storage. The style of basin often dictates the sort of tap and therefore I’d suggest it’s a logical progression that the tap is the third item to be specified.”

Off the deck

The premium-priced taps being specified, and even those for the mid-market as we reported last year, see deck mounted models giving way to floormounted or wallmounted options. In the latest additions to its tap range, Abode included seven freestanding and/or wall-mounted models. In addition, Victoria + Albert has also introduced wall-mounted mixers across its modern Tubo, as well as traditional Staffordshire ranges.

Not only are consumers becoming more acquainted with wall-mounted taps, plumbers are also becoming more familiar with the installation requirements. And now manufacturers, such as Hansgrohe, are looking at how to further simplify or ease the fitting of wall-mounted brassware. Head of channel marketing for trade at Hansgrohe, Sarah Evans explains why: “In the past, we have been wary of wall-mounted in the UK as it can be harder with older properties to conceal in the wall. This is easier now with new builds and the key driver for Hansgrohe has been the development of more effective concealed technology for easier installation.” And while wall-mounted and floorstanding models used to be “the preserve” of its Axor brand, Evans explains: “they are now available at a more accessible price point from the Hansgrohe brand too”.

Gentle traditional transition

While across the board contemporary design remains king for the home, the bathroom has also seen the gentle re-introduction of more classical shapes. “Perhaps we’ll see ‘maximalist’ brassware countering this!” exclaims Jonathan Carter of Victoria + Albert. And Sarah Evans of Hansgrohe says she has certainly noticed a transition towards more classically-shaped taps in her company’s sales: “There has been resurgence in demand for more traditional Hansgrohe collections like Axor Montreux and Axor Carlton are coming into their own as they create a luxurious, classical feel.” Whereas Victoria + Albert recently introduced an Art-Deco styled tap range, Florin, at Salone Del Mobile in Milan.

Colour is king

And joining this move away from purely contemporary shapes, at the premium end of the market, has been steps to shed the chrome finish. Although, clearly this will be the mainstay of sales due to its versatility, chrome is being increasingly joined by more bespoke finishes from gold to graphite. Marketing manager of VitrA UK Margaret Talbot comments: “Chrome has dominated the bathroom scene for years because it’s sleek, modern and has wide appeal. Whilst it will continue to be the go-to finish for many projects, there are also really interesting finishes and shapes coming through such as copper and gold.

In fact, these are two of the finishes now being provided by Grohe UK as its marketing communications manager Kelly Everest of Grohe UK explains: “New colours are beginning to be an extremely popular trend, which is developing in the market. Grohe is releasing four new finishes to the market – Hard Graphite, Soft Graphite, Warm Sunset and Cool Sunrise. The premium end of the market is all about creating a unique, bespoke personalised bathroom design and these new finishes help accomplish this.” And Sarah Evans of Hansgrohe agrees, pointing out: “At the high-end colour is king. Soft metallic colours like Bronze, Nickel, Gold Optic and Brass in polished or brushed finish are breaking into the market, with Red Gold and Black Chrome among the most popular options.”

Mix and match

In fact, industry experts suggest combination of colours and textures in the kitchen – which has inspired the latest bathroom furniture finishes – is now also extending to taps. Nicola Hadworth of twyford adds: “Bathroom brassware design is taking its influence from other areas of the home, including the kitchen, where mixing materials and finishes is a key trend. This is now also being seen in the bathroom.” While the sales director of the Sanipex Group UK Richard Nicholls highlights the influx of alternative materials to ceramic for basins has been a driver for this trend: “This is in part due to the trend in washbasin design being towards materials such as stone, glass and timber, with the brassware being chosen to offset this.”  

Whatever the reason for the mixing and matching of decors and textures, Sarah Evans offers some examples: “For example, a tap can have a brass body but with granite or wooden handles. [There is] a mix and match of styles too, so pairing modern basin mixers with traditional basins or traditional tap designs in modern colours. Mixing chrome and gold is also back and likely to be more in evidence in the coming months.” While Helen Clark of Abode points more to the influence of accent colours, with its Cyclo range “which has the option of black statement headwork which, when teamed up with chrome, hits the design trend perfectly.”

Point of difference

However the mix and match is not simply beneficial for the consumer, allowing them to create a bespoke bathroom, it can actually assist retailers by improving the showroom design and profits. Richard Nicholls of Sanipex Group UK suggests: “The wider choice of brassware finishes offers retailers the opportunity to create showroom displays that differ from the competition and gives designers more freedom to be creative.” He also says brassware fitted retrospectively “enables retailers to extend their profit margins by stocking ranges that are a little bit different from the norm and will make a striking impression.”

Making water experiences

While styling is undoubtedly important for tap sales, commentators suggest the interplay with water delivery is equally significant for a purchase. Jonathan Carter expresses this sentiment: “’Engaging’ water delivery is very important, our Tubo 15 is a great example of this where the flow forms an organic cascade from the open spout that has been designed to flare out beyond the tap.” And product designer at Roper Rhodes Joe Stephens adds: “We recently introduced a new open spout bath filler to complement our already popular sign basin mixer.” In fact, the importance of cascade flows has also been recognised by Laura Ashley Bathroom Collection, as its marketing manager Helen Shaw points out: “Waterfall-effect brassware remains popular among consumers.”

While there is nothing new about deluge taps, Hansgrohe points to the future of its tap designs, which will be designed to deliver an experience but using less water and will be launched next year. “For basin mixers (and needless to say, showering) the main development will be new technology that delivers minimal water but with an exceptional experience. This will basically bring basin mixers up to the level of showers in terms of their ability to deliver pleasure to the user but with simplicity of use, whilst minimising use of resources”.

Could this, then, be the focus of all tap design and therefore sales? It may be a case of watch this space, but certainly mixers will continue to turn heads.