Managing director of Aqualla Brassware Steven Allaway talks about the acquisition of Adamsez, how it proposes to revitalise the brand and meeting the demands of a volatile market
Q: Could you give us some background into Aqualla Brassware and the secrets behind your success?
A: I worked in the bathroom industry for 12 years with industry-leading brands, including Flair and Merlyn, before starting Aqualla.
I identified an opportunity in the market where there was a growing gap between bathroom brands and distributors.
The opportunity was to try to do what bathroom brands do well, so ensure a depth of range within a certain category and focus on customer service, while offering quality products at a competitive price.
I set up Aqualla in 2011. At that time, it was me and Mum. She had just retired from the bank and offered to help with the administration work, allowing me to focus on the selling.
It does not seem that long ago when it was just the two of us in the warehouse picking orders and packing for delivery. I never expected Aqualla to get to where it is now, where we employ 35 people.
Our business model for the Aqualla brand is to do what we can to support bricks and mortar showrooms including a policy where we only supply those who display our product.
We have a great range of products and an enthusiastic team of people, with a lot of market experience and relationships in the industry.
Q: It’s been a challenging year but you seemed to have bucked that trend…
A: The last 12 months have seen the quietest and the busiest of times in our industry. But encompassing everything, including the shutdown, we’re up about 38% on last year.
Q: You recently acquired the established brand Adamsez. Why did you decide to buy the bath manufacturer?
A: It is such a great brand name and has a history dating back to 1880. Through a lack of investment, it became stagnant.
We’ve been talking to Adamsez, on and off for some time. We understood what was needed to breathe some life back into the brand and got the opportunity to complete the acquisition at the end of June.
We bought all the company assets including brand name, designs, moulds and most importantly of all, people. We are hugely privileged and massively proud to steer the brand.
There’s a huge amount of goodwill towards Adamsez. I always knew the brand was strong, but I didn’t anticipate how much people wanted to see Adamsez doing well again. The reaction has been humbling.
Q: What are your plans for the Adamsez brand?
A: Adamsez is strong at the top end but the volume is in mid-market, freestanding acrylic baths. We’ve added 10 new designs, including three traditional styles, in that section of the market.
We also felt the Adamsez brochures had dated imagery and that’s been a big focus for us.
We’ve taken new lifestyle photography and worked hard on the designs, creating a brochure with a more aspirational look.
A new website will aid with the service and support on offer, enabling customers to access images, technical data, and up-to-date information.
We have also established social media channels and have a growing number of supporters who are engaging with the brand.
I genuinely believe Adamsez is a sleeping giant. It is an opportunity for us to do the brand name justice and re-establish its position and reputation in the market.
Q: Are you keeping the two brands separate?
A: Yes, definitely. Adamsez has such a strong brand name we want it to be independent of Aqualla.
Part of our business model of Aqualla was to focus on a narrow category of products but in depth.
Having Adamsez as a separate brand allows us to have another category without diluting what we’re already doing.
Q: How are you planning to shape the Aqualla brand?
A: Pete Mersh, who is our UK sales director, has had great success. We felt 2020 was the year to build on that.
Following a successful KBB show in March and continued market development, we’ve appointed four regional sales managers who have extensive industry experience and great customer relationships.
Over the last six months, we have opened about 120 accounts throughout England, Scotland and Wales.
We need to offer them the best customer service we can and establish those relationships.
Q: How are you supporting retailers through these challenging times?
A: I’m always conscious about saying it’s been a difficult year for us because compared to some other industries, such as hospitality, we’ve been fortunate.
It has been busy and sometimes levels of demand have outstripped supply. November was 100% up on the same time last year, meaning at times we haven’t been able to offer the customer service I would like.
The time and effort we have put in to rectify that means we are starting to catch up.
We have over 700 SKUs and our normal stock level is 99%.
That dropped to 85%, which might sound good, but the reality is there were huge volumes in the 15% of stock we didn’t have.
We are now back up to 95% in stock. Providing information to our customers has been key.
Q: What will be the biggest opportunities/ challenges for both brands?
A: For Aqualla, it’s about managing the changing market combined with our continued growth.
We’re hopeful of and preparing for levels of demand to be ongoing.
In that way, we’ll be in a position to provide consistently high levels of service.
With Adamsez, it’s all about capitalising on the opportunity of revitalising the brand.
We want to manage that in a way that’s sustainable, building good foundations for long term growth.
We plan to exhibit Aqualla and Adamsez at the next KbbBirmingham and look forward to reconnecting with customers old and new.
Q: With such a focus on COVID-19, it has taken the emphasis off Brexit. But how did you prepare?
A: The word Brexit used to dominate our lives and up until Covid we had prepared for every eventuality.
The tariffs on our products are relatively small between 2.5-5%. We’ve did all our preparations for the worst-case scenario.
I’m confident we will be in a position to keep servicing our customer base of 475 dealers with the speed and efficiency we do now.