Flexible friend

08 Aug, 17

Philippa Turrell finds out how the UK is set to become the biggest market for Quooker and its world first in instant boiling water tap design.

Having laid claim to inventing the boiling water tap, 40 years’ ago, Quooker is no stranger to defying convention. So, it’s perhaps unsurprising the company has now taken the design of the boiling water tap one step further, in what it asserts is another world’s first. It has now created the Quooker Flex, a boiling water tap with hose (although it should be highlighted, for safety, it will not dispense boiling water when the pull-out spray is in action), with optional cold, filtered water. Managing director of Quooker UK explains how the latest model will add value to his business: “I think what the Flex does is it puts us into an area where we will compete with Blanco and Franke on their Flex taps. But we add the added dimension of boiling water and filtered water. So what we give is a tap that does everything and probably doesn’t cost much more than a mixer.”

And Quooker believes the Flex will help the UK in its goal of overtaking sales in the company’s native Netherlands. It’s a particularly bold ambition when a Quooker is included in 1:3 new kitchens in the Netherlands. However, undeterred Walter Peteri , son of Quooker inventor Henri Walter, says: “We have seen in countries, where we have introduced the Flex, growth goes from 15-20% to 40-50%. It’s been phenomenal. And the same will happen in the UK.”

Potential UK sales

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Walter Peteri explains the UK already accounts for 25% of the company’s turnover, commenting: “After the Netherlands, it’s our most important country. In a few years’ time, UK sales will be greater than the Netherlands because of the size of the population.” The Netherlands is expected to sell 50,000 pieces this year, with the UK selling just over half that amount. Managing director of Quooker UK Stephen Johnson comments: “Last year the turnover was £16million in the UK. This year, we will achieve 30,000 pieces, which will give us a turnover in excess of £19million.” However, with the UK population of twice the size of the Netherlands, there is huge potential for growth. In fact, Peteri exclaims he expects UK sales to double within three years. And, similarly to the Netherlands he further, suggests a Quooker will become a standard specification within UK kitchens in decade.

Stephen Johnson has an equally optimistic vision for the brand in the UK, stating: “Broadly speaking there’s about 1million kitchens sold a year, half of those are in areas of the market that we do not feel we would be able to engage a customer in the concept of boiling water. So we see our target market as the remaining 500,000, of which we discount half of those sales [to competitors]. So we think the potential for Quooker is about 250,000 hot or boiling taps in the UK.”

Changes in UK

Managing director of Quooker UK, Stephen Johnson established the Dutch brand 12 years’ ago in the UK with a stand-alone boiling water tap. Now the company has 3,000 customers, of which 1,200 are displaying retailers, with a fitting base of over 125,000 installers. He exclaims when he started, the “point of difference at that time was 100°C. Then the objective was to engage the dealers in the product and get them to understand, conceptually, there was a purpose for having one of these appliances and a need for it.” He continues: “In the UK there’s about 7million kettles sold but actually what most people don’t appreciate is that they are hugely inefficient in terms of the cost of boiling, the waste of water, and they are dangerous. There are around 15,000 accidents a year. It’s the most dangerous appliance in a house.” Certainly, the message seems to be getting across, with Stephen Johnson now claiming 26 competitors in the instant steaming/boiling water tap space.

It has seen Quooker continue to develop its offer to meet consumer tastes, with a wider choice of models, spanning single tap to complementary mixers with its Twintaps range, all-in-one Fusion model and, of course, now the Flex. Johnson continues: “I think the development of going from a standalone to an all-in-one was a significant development because then people pick it as a tap [rather than just an additional boiling water tap]. I think adding the Flex function in, now, makes it a logical choice because clearly we miss out on some business where people want a flexible spray. So I think the more we introduce these developments, the more it will be a standard fitment in the kitchen and I think the kettle will disappear.”

However, where Quooker remains steadfast is its stainless steel, vacuum technology tanks which has a global patent. “Where we have an edge or where we believe we will always be better than our competitors is we are always going to be more energy efficient than a conventional boiler”, exclaims Stephen Johnson.

Overcoming confusion

Yet Johnson points to continued confusion in the marketplace, surrounding the difference between boiling water and instant steaming water taps. “What we are faced with every day is a lot of competitors that deliver taps that don’t really boil and the reason they don’t boil is they don’t have a vacuum. But they obviously [retailers] sell those to customers as there’s no difference between true boiling and not boiling water. There is, actually, quite a big difference between something that doesn’t boil and something that does”, he exclaims. And he says it is reflected by the product’s placement on the likes of cookery shows, such as Masterchef, Saturday Kitchen and Great British Bake Off. Johnson continues: “The challenge for us is to keep making the point about 100°C boiling water.” Although he denies it’s a challenge to sales, Johnson states: “It’s a frustration.”  And he explains it is why the company relies on advertising and marketing to get the message across.

Marketing methods

Certainly Quooker has been visible to the consumer not only through product placement on TV shows but also through national newspaper, magazine and TV advertising. And to support the launch of Flex, Peteri explains the brand will be advertised “quite aggressively on the television in September.” Johnson professes Quooker is already the biggest spender in the instant steaming and boiling water tap sphere, however the company is set to further increase its marketing spend. Johnson states: “We increase [marketing spend] by 20-30% each year. We have got a significant campaign, starting in September on the Flex. It will be everywhere. You won’t be able to miss it and it will include mainstream Channel 4 and Sky channels.”

However, Johnson states to create a bigger market he would like to see more competitors taking responsibility for promoting instant steaming and boiling water taps. “What we are doing, singlehandedly in the consumer market, is delivering the concept of boiling water. What we’d love is for our competitors to start advertising a little bit more.” And Peteri agrees, stating: “The biggest challenge is growing the whole market. Competitors are not our biggest problem; the better challenge is to make the market bigger, so everybody needs a hot water or boiling water tap.”

Battling Brexit

While the market for boiling water taps may seem buoyant, particularly with the launch of Flex in the UK, it is against the impact of Brexit. So what impact will that have on the Quooker business? Although Peteri points out the business has grown by more than 35% in the first four months of 2017, he states the company immediately lost £1million in profit because of the fall in the Pound following the Brexit announcement. And he also points to the uncertainty of future trading agreements between the UK and EU countries, stating the company may even have to acquire a warehouse in the UK. So is the business currently operating with several business plans? Johnson states: “Until such time that anybody agrees anything, you can’t do any planning whatsoever. But the most difficult thing for us will be import regulations. That will be the biggest hurdle for us to climb.”

However, they are both adamant the company does not propose to increase its prices, whatever the outcome. Johnson comments: “We’ve had consistent pricing for two or three years. I know since we’ve had the Brexit vote and the [associated] currency issues, we have maintained our prices.” And Peteri is emphatic when he says: “We are not going to raise the prices.” Certainly there seems to be no doubt over the future of the brand in the UK, as he further exclaims: “We’re not thinking of stopping selling in the UK.” It’s certainly good news for the kitchen retail industry, not only because the instant steaming and boiling water market is buoyant, but the Quooker brand offers far more than ‘me too’ models, as the Flex demonstrates.