Managing director of Barwick Gary Campbell explains what a change in ownership means for the independent bathroom distributor and its retail customers
Q: How is business and how did you fare over the last two years of the pandemic?
A: I think like most businesses in our sector, it was a bumpy road to recovery after the first lockdown in 2020a.
It was a mixture of supporting staff, correctly representing a supply chain that was severely impacted, and trying to work with customers through all the above along with the various COVID protocols. It meant that nothing was easy.
However, we were buoyed by the rebound in raised customer interest and our numbers over the past two years are testament to the levels of stock we were able to maintain and the efforts of our key suppliers.
2021 turned out to be a record year but I’m sure many would have enjoyed a strong year too, demonstrating that UK bathroom retailers and merchants are a resilient bunch.
Because our market is dominated by independents, they can react quickly in their decision making and many have adapted as the market has changed to ensure they maintain some level of trading.
I think everyone has been working together to get the best from the situation despite COVID, sadly taking so many loved ones and the impact it’s inflicted on our communities.
Q: Barwick’s ownership has now changed hands – from family-owned to investment firm TPA Capital – what does that mean for the business and its customers?
A: In many ways, it’s about ensuring that things remain the same, even though it’s a big change!
Let me explain; Michael and John Barwick are now in their senior years and what I was most concerned about was an enforced structural change for family reasons.
While both the brothers want the financial rewards for years of hard work, there was also a desire to make sure that staff, suppliers, and customers could effectively plan for the future too.
All the family felt the number one priority was to keep the name and for the business to remain independent.
Also, we partner with some of the largest brands operating in the UK today and it is essential that those relationships, which have been established over decades, feel comfortable that nothing is going to derail our strategy in the foreseeable future.
Because of the financial stability that TPA bring and close ties with suppliers, I’m sure that our customers will continue to view us as a market-leading independent distributor and remaining faithful to our roots.
Q: Having been at the business for six years, during the ownership of John and Michael Barwick, does that give you an advantage in continuity for retailers?
A: John and Michael leave a legacy of fantastic customer service built on many years trading experience with retailers.
I was sat with them both and we listed some of great distributors, (many we’ve known personally over the past 30 years) that haven’t quite made it to this day.
That shows it’s not easy to trade for nearly 40 years unless you know your customers, provide continuity, and stick to your core values.
Michael and John were both excellent chairman…not interfering, but always there to give good advice.
Q: What do you personally bring to the business and how easy will it be to keep the values of the company with no Barwick family involvement?
A: It’s a good question. I would like to remind everyone that I was a key supplier to Barwick for 15 years before joining.
I’ve seen both sides of the coin and, in some ways, an ex-supplier who has sold to retailers on behalf of Barwick brings a deeper understanding of what is expected of this distributor.
When I look at our customer list, there are many names that I have traded with on a personal level for many years.
All the senior team at Barwick can also do the same. I think it’s this history and continuity that keeps us in touch with how the business should be run.
Q: How have the supply chain issues impacted on distribution, and do you think it will change the industry going forward?
A: The impact on the supply chain has brought everyone closer together in terms of working relationship.
We are even more engaged with our suppliers and, ultimately due to the disruption, it has resulted in us carrying more stock.
Barwick now carries substantial increase in stock levels than it did back in 2019.
The most important factor for a distributor is that if you don’t add value for your supplier, then you don’t deserve your place in the chain. Simple!
Thankfully, customers are now ordering with us further in advance and so the industry has reacted and become better planners and more appreciative of the supply chain issues.
Q: What are your plans/strategy for the business going forwards?
A: Its simple…more of the same.
The key reason for TPA becoming involved was to give us options on financing growth and to maintain our independent outlook on the decisions we make.
In 20 years from now, it would be great for customers in some of our newly-expanded areas to be able to boast the longevity of their relationship with us as our customers currently can in the North, Scotland and Midlands.
Better customer engagement is also on the cards. If I were to level one small criticism of our recent past is that in my opinion, the business could have been a little quicker at engaging with new technology.
Q: What will be your starting point?
A: Ensuring customers and suppliers get the message and feel comfortable that there are no big changes coming.
Q: What the biggest challenges for the company?
A: Maintaining our excellent record of meeting market expectations and proving that all the talk is turned into measurable action.
There is substantial investment within IT and marketing at present, which is always a challenge.
However, after 18 months in the making, and once fully tested in the background, it will be introduced to give ‘first in class’ customer information and support.
Q: What are the biggest opportunities for Barwicks?
A: Some of our brands have exciting plans for us to launch into the UK over the next 12 months.
Hopefully this will give us opportunities to increase market share in addition to expanding with some new area sales managers who will introduce Barwick to customers further South than ever before.
Q: What has been your biggest learning point as MD of the company, especially during the past couple of years being in business?
A: Being patient and to rely on being steered by long-serving staff and customers who have known the business intimately.
I’ve been fortunate to be MD twice, once was a business that was built from scratch and now Barwick with 30 years’ history.
The trick with Barwick, was to immerse myself into the company, understand how it ticks and don’t look to make an impact if in reality, it just requires gentle encouragement to be even better.
Getting through the last two years was all about great staff. No doubt about it.
Q: What advice would you give to retailers in the current climate and how will you be supporting them?
A: Me?…advice to retailers? It’s a tough job and one that would scare me to death! Stick to what you do well, take opportunities but don’t over complicate your core values.
Q: What are your expectations for Barwicks over the next three to five years?
A: If our suppliers and customers still think we are the same business they’ve known for the past 30 plus years…then it’s a job well done!