General manager of Bathroom City in Birmingham Soma Pillay says staying ahead of the curve in design and service is vital for the longevity and success of an independent showroom.
For a business that began in 1986, you would be forgiven for thinking the company would be entrenched in traditional, time-proven methods.
At Bathroom City, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Experience is useless if you can’t keep up with the trends of the modern day.
Talking to general manager Soma Pillay makes it is easy to see why Bathroom City can boast to having both experience and forward-thinking skills in abundance.
In terms of distinguishing themselves from the competition, it is quite simple in Soma’s eyes: “We don’t supply the common, cheap products.
“It’s about getting different, uncommon, even unusual products to entice the customers. We focus on the design and the quality of what we offer.”
Furthermore, they ensure they are proactive when looking for new opportunities to further the business, not just reacting to industry trends.
Soma explains: “We are always on the lookout for new products and new designs, hoping that they can result in an increase in our sales.”
He adds: “We are always optimistic that year-on-year, we will have an increase in our sales.”
Underlining its focus on offering uncommon products, one of Bathroom City’s main suppliers is the Jaquar Group.
The manufacturer is currently looking to expand its presence in the UK, having already been established in the country for two years, but its partnership with Bathroom City spans back further.
Soma explains the relationship: “[We’ve been supplied by Jaquar] for the last three years. They provide fantastic products, and they do some unusual designs. Their products are of high quality and they are also well-sourced.”
Jaquar, in fact, originated in India in 1960, supplies 40 countries worldwide and is now one of the fastest-growing bathroom brands globally, providing over 1.9 million bathrooms a year.
Bathroom City is one of 65 dealers in the UK of Jaquar products but the manufacturer is looking to grow this number to 120.
In relation to Jaquar’s plans to expand across the country, Soma adds: “At the moment they are finding their feet in the UK, slowly gaining more publicity for their products.”
But its relationship is clearly cherished by those at Bathroom City, with Soma saying: “Jaquar has a whole display area to itself. After all, people are looking for quality items when they come to us.”
In fact, there are three tiers of dealer support available to retailers, including a Jaquar Designated Space with POS, Jaquar World Concession, which is a small dedicated area in a showroom, and solus dealer or Jaquar World Centre.
Online ahead of time
Having burst onto the Birmingham bathroom scene before Britpop had graced our radios and Friends had first appeared on our TVs, Bathroom City even predates Tim Berners-Lee’s pivotal invention.
But Soma explains the business was certainly not slow to embrace the online revolution: “We’ve been the pioneers; we were one of the first in the industry to have a website.
“Although it has only been enabled as an e-commerce site in the last six or seven years, we originally set up the website in the late 90s.”
This early move is especially pertinent now as, since Bathroom City operates out of one showroom, there are great benefits to having an online service to offer delivery.
In fact, Soma states: “Our turnover constitutes 60% of the revenues from the showroom, with the remaining 40% coming from online sales.”
Moreover, the importance of the online side of the business is enhanced by the business’ limited operating ability in just one city.
Soma says: “I would say around 40% of our business comes from Birmingham, but we have people coming in from all over the country as we deliver nationwide.”
He even goes further to say: “We deliver as far as the islands of Scotland! Occasionally, depending on the size of the order, we even deliver internationally.”
Nothing beats experience
But the advancements online don’t replace experience, as Soma cites its trained sales advisors are a key factor to staying ahead of the competition.
Soma explains: “Our sales advisors are excellent. There’s Paul, who’s been with the company since it started, so he has over 30 years’ experience, and there’s Jimmy, who has been with us for the last 15 years.”
He continues: “They have incredible amounts of experience in order to help customers have the best experience. In this industry, understanding the business is so important, and having that continuity in the sales staff is equally so.”
And it is this sales experience that allows for Soma’s claims that “customers wouldn’t hesitate to spend £5,000 to £6,000 with us.”
The experience of Bathroom City’s sales team is crucial to advancing the business, but it is vital this is paired with an informative and expressive showroom – something which was considered from the moment Bathroom City opened its doors.
Soma explains: “The owner of the business bought the property with a clear idea in his head of how he wanted it to look – he made sure there was more than enough space to fit numerous displays.”
He continues: “We wanted to ensure that when customers walk in, they are able to visit all the displays with ease, almost like a supermarket in its set-up.”
Display of affection
Having a spacious showroom is one thing, but the organisation of your displays is crucial, otherwise the space you’re working in is unable to fulfil its potential.
If you don’t put the time and effort into making an effective display and, most importantly, take care with how you do it, then the vision of your showroom will not be realised.
Soma ensures Bathroom City’s passion for its products is reflected in the displays: “Customers come into the showroom, and we have numerous displays to show them, as well as full room set displays.
“We’ve got over 100sqm of floor space, and quite a number of displays for the brands we provide.”
He adds: “We review every six months to see which displays are working and which aren’t. We try to keep the showroom as fresh as possible.”
And it is this proactive outlook that ensures the showroom is never stale, providing customers with a reason to return through the doors time and time again.
Soma describes: “We do have recurring customers, after all, people probably change their bathrooms every 10 years in the UK, and some of them come back because of the quality of products that we sell.
“We generate a lot of new business, too. A lot comes through recommendations, as well as the obvious returning customers on top of that.”
The showroom is clearly doing its job for Bathroom City, as Soma explains: “For the last two years in a row, business has increased. We are experiencing around a 5% increase in sales every year.”
And despite the current economic climate, with fluctuations in exchange rates causing price hikes across selected products, Soma stresses: “Other than that, it hasn’t affected us, especially in sales. We haven’t experienced any of the uncertainty.”
So, the future remains bright for Bathroom City even among the uncertainty of the industry, as Soma predicts a turnover of “£3.5 million for 2018,” as they strive to continue staying ahead of the curve.
This article was originally featured in our October issue. Check out the reader profile from our September issue on Alon Interiors.