Pick and mixer

17 Nov, 17

Choice of brassware finishes, demands for improved water efficiency and ease of use all help shape monobloc sales, Philippa Turrell reveals

The humble bathroom tap has shed all signs of modesty, with designer-led styles driving the demands for both basin and bath plumbing. So much so, they have driven the value of the market over the past couple of years. Group product manager for taps at Heritage Bathrooms Matthew Hicks comments: “We believe that the taps and mixers market is worth over £200million at Manufacturers Selling Price. As you would expect, the more luxury products are driving the value.”

Hands on deck

Unsurprisingly, it is the monobloc which continues to lead the charge in sales in both refurbishments and newbuild properties. Such is the significant proportion of sales, that Angela Neve of Vado states: “Almost half of all volume is driven by this type of tap.” And manufacturers report their proportion of monobloc sales even outstrip this figure. Neve of Vado continues: “In light of this, Vado has benefitted from focusing on this key category trend, with approximately 80% of sales being attributed to this popular tap variant.” Whereas head of group marketing at Pura Bathrooms Group (PBG) Stuart Newbury says the proportion of monobloc styles at his company are even higher: “Within our Flova range, monobloc taps account for 90% of all basin taps sold.”

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Deck-mounted designs rule the roost for monobloc basin tap sales, specified in the majority of projects. However for higher value specifications, where more work may be involved, enter the wall-mounted mixer. CEO of Methven UK Martin Walker states: “We tend to see wall-mounted monoblocs used in more premium installation, as their concealed look is perfect for that top-end, streamlined bathroom.” And Stuart Newbury of PBG agrees: “With regards to deck mounted vs wallmounted – because there is a big difference in the plumbing required for each, we find that there is a general preference for wall-mounted taps where there is a significant budget allocated.”

Diverse bath trends

 While basin trends seem to be fairly stable, industry experts suggest brassware for the bath is more diverse. “We find that where a bath is being upgraded both homeowners and designers go for a variety of options. Choices range from wall-mounted spouts to bathfills, both of which give a really streamlined minimalist effect.” But for the statement freestanding bath, complementary freestanding bath fillers have become de rigour. Brassware and showering product manager at PJH Alison Shipp comments: “Growth sectors include freestanding baths which has led to the introduction of many more freestanding bath/shower mixer designs.” So much so, sales and marketing director of Frontline Bathrooms Michael Sammon explains how the trend has influenced its product portfolio: “Our latest brochure features an extensive range of new freestanding bath mixers in a host of styles for both classic and contemporary schemes, in response to the demand for this popular designer-inspired look.”

Complement basin mixer

Whatever bath brassware is chosen, accomplished designers will ensure it complements the design of the basin mixer. Michael Sammon of Frontline points out its freestanding bath mixers are “accompanied by a choice of corresponding basin monoblocs and wall-mounted taps to allow consumers to mix and match models as desired.” In fact, marketing and product director of Vado Angela Neve takes it one step further and states it is the “manufacturer’s duty to provide depth to a range of taps and showers to match the design of the bathroom. The only requirement is to ensure that the basin mixers’ styles and handles match that of the bath mixers.”

The golden touch

Of course the staple of all brassware trends has been the requirement for a chrome finish, and this holds firm. However to offer differentiation between an influx of similar style but low cost brassware imports, manufacturers have explored a variety of finishes which are now taking hold as viable interior design alternatives. Golden hues are leading the way from yellow and rose variants through to copper. Marketing manager of VitrA UK Margaret Talbot comments: “VitrA introduced several new easy fit monobloc mixers at ISH in March. Suit U is available in ever popular chrome, as well as gold and copper.” In fact head of channel (trade) marketing for Hansgrohe Sarah Evans comments gold is significant in the company’s sales, followed by black: “The most popular Axor FinishPlus colour is Gold Optic although Black Chrome and Red Gold are still much in demand.” In fact Frontline Bathrooms has just introduced its first black brassware range.

And marketing manager of Abode Helen Clark explains how these trends are influencing the company’s portfolio: “Gold and variants of copper and black are becoming very popular in the bathroom and manufacturers are reacting fast to this trend. We at Abode are launching a Rose Gold finish in our Serenitie range and Matt Black in our Harmonie range.” And Vado is also exploring a black finish as Angela Neve  adds: “Vado has received a high number of requests for Matte Black and we are exploring adding this as an additional finish for 2018.”

Saving water

But of course, it’s not simply about the look of the tap but how it functions that is also growing in importance for future sales. Water scarcity is among the trends driving all bathroom design and this includes brassware. “Water efficiency is still a significant element of bathroom tap design, particularly for developers as they have to meet set criteria regarding water consumption. As a result, we have seen sales growth in all our ranges that provide water saving benefits”, explains Angela Neve of Vado. However, industry experts also believe water saving is increasingly becoming embedded in the conscious of the consumer. Product manager of Grohe UK Michael Gray explains: “Water saving in the home is becoming more relevant than ever before, as people are increasingly aware that the products they use can have a significant impact on the environment. Consumers are now looking for appliances and gadgets that help conserve precious resources, use less energy, and are kind to the pocket.”

Accomplished designers will be all too aware of the likes of built-in regulators/aerators, dual position cartridges and sequential operation to reduce water consumption in the home. While Ideal Standard uses IdealBlue technology which is engineered to reduce water consumption by 50% and reduce the water held in the tap by 80%. Category fittings manager at Ideal Standard Jeff Williams put some figures to the savings offered: “The low water content reduces the time taken to achieve the selected hot water temperature by seven seconds, saving both water and the energy required to heat it. In fact, the resulting savings made on your utilities bills, thanks to Ideal Blue technology, means these fittings actually pay for themselves typically within 14 months.”

Ease of use

And along with this enhanced efficiency of resource has been the requirement for ease of operation, particularly considering the global megatrends of an ageing population and multi generations under one roof. Smooth ceramic cartridge operation by single lever has been significant in tap design and sales, as Martin Walker of Methven reports: “Tap and bath/shower mixers which feature lever handles that are easy to operate, even for those with limited dexterity, such as our Indra collection which features beautifully looped handles, have proven to be incredibly popular.” However, technology has progressed further with the recent development of push button controls through to sensor operations brought from the commercial environment.

Hansgrohe has taken its Select push button operation and recently incorporated it into tap controls across four ranges. Whereas, Grohe has just introduced a range of infra-red sensor-operated taps which only operate when a user’s hands are detected below the spout. In fact Michael Sammon believes this is a trend that is likely to become more widespread, when he says: “We are expecting that more motion sensor and touch sensitive taps will also start to be introduced over the next couple of years.”

So don’t simply opt for a monobloc chrome mixer as a default option for brassware. Take a look at the finishes, textures and installation requirements to help differentiate your offer from competitors and to boost potential profit margin. But ensure the fashion is fused with function and help consumers not only save money by sparing resources but expend less energy with absolute ease of use.