Marketing manager of Blanco UK John Robinson talks about a W-shaped financial environment, how hygiene will influence kitchen products, and the company’s drive to increase consumer awareness
Founded in 1925 by Heinrich Blanc, sink and kitchen tap manufacturer Blanco now has a presence in around 100 countries worldwide.
As the company nears its centenary, in what has been unprecedented times, we find out how Blanco UK is continuing to evolve.
We discover how the what the pandemic may mean in terms of future product design, how the company is continuing to support its retailers and driving brand awareness to consumers
Q: How has business been since the start of the pandemic and how does in compare to the Brexit announcement, in terms of affecting consumer confidence?
A: At the time of the first Brexit mumblings in 2016, consumer confidence was affected but not significantly. The vote in 2018 saw this confidence plummet to an all-time low. Confidence grew steadily again in 2019 – until the pandemic.
Covid-19 has not necessarily hit confidence or the want to renovate; rather it has hit businesses’ ability to provide the products and installation services that people need to realise their plans.
With Brexit finalisation around the corner and the recent announcement of a UK recession, we can only assume that consumer confidence in big-ticket items will be impacted once again.
Q: Which of your sales channel has suffered the most and which have been the least affected?
The independents have suffered most, no question. This is due to them not being able to trade, open and buy; and because they are smaller, they are more susceptible in terms of economic impact.
The contract sector has been the least affected. The specifiers could still specify and streamline processes by working on administration, while sites opened quickly.
Some projects did not stop – empty one-off dwellings, for example. Contractors still needed sinks, taps and waste solutions.
Q: Have you noticed the V-shaped bounce in sales?
A: We have been open throughout lockdown, maintaining service continuity as best we could but there was a definite downturn in business which has come back at strength.
So, yes we have seen a V bounce in sales but, like many, we are expecting a W-shaped financial environment, with Brexit on the horizon.
Q: What impact will COVID-19 have on kitchen design – particularly sinks and taps and future product development?
A: The key in the future will be cleanliness and the many places which may not have been!
We are seeing a rise in utility rooms and two sinks in the main kitchen; so multiple sinks are a trend.
The Blanco Unit concept is another example. Streamlining the sink, tap and waste into one easy-to-clean space will make all the difference to the health of the home.
Q: How have you been helping your trade customers through these challenging times, in particular independent retailers?
A: Blanco UK communicated positive messages to all customers and suppliers throughout with the assurance the rock-solid organisation was fully operational.
In fact, the company functioned at optimal levels throughout the restrictions and was ready when businesses chose to reopen.
Customer collections from the warehouse were suspended for obvious safety reasons but all other functions, including national delivery services, continued.
The national sales team has been working from home where they can but will visit customers on request. The after-sales and spare parts departments of the business also worked smoothly.
The showroom in St Albans underwent a refurbishment and is open once again.
Blanco UK is as solid as ever thanks to a hardworking team that has adapted to the changing circumstances, an excellent supply chain, fully stocked warehouse and dedicated distribution team.
Where many of our competitors decided to shut up shop back in March and April, our efforts went into service continuity and supporting those customers that needed us.
Over the years, strong face-to-face relationships have been built between Blanco and our customers.
Although currently focussed on phone and video call, direct communication has continued throughout these challenging times.
Essentially, all bases have been covered so that Blanco can carry on doing what Blanco does best.
Q: Leading up to its centenary, how is the Blanco business continuing to develop? What are your expectations for the next five years?
We have recently launched a new corporate identity, with new brand positioning, that sees us stake our claim in providing the best in the most-used products in the kitchen – the sink, tap, and waste management.
We are more consumer-focussed today; all brands need to be! In turn, of course this strategy is designed to increase sales for our trade customers.
Our newest innovation, the Blanco Unit, has been developed to reflect this emphasis. It’s all about seamlessly integrating this key set of products to make life easier in the kitchen.
Demands for more features, functionality and improved hygiene has really driven evolution and innovation in terms of design and technology over the past few years, and this will continue.
In particular, the area around the sink is key. The smart tap revolution is one growth area, such as sensor, filter watered, hot taps and volume taps which measure the exact amount of water required, saving water and energy.
Q: What will be the biggest opportunities for the kitchen industry and, obviously, Blanco?
A: We are looking forward to the housebuilding industry reaching government targets; so the contract market is important.
We may also see commercial space being transformed into residential properties due to changing working habits.
We are also looking forward to growth in home renovation projects after people have spent so much time at home this year – in the kitchen!
The kitchen industry needs to become stronger digitally and Blanco needs to drive consumer brand awareness. This is what we have been focussing on over the last 18 months – with a new website and social media programmes.
Q: What will be the greatest challenges for the kitchen industry and Blanco?
A: We think the biggest challenges will come from the disparity between the independents and their ability to be price-competitive, and the multiples which can offer years of interest-free credit while absorbing costs.
In essence, product and installation prices will rise for a variety of reasons and these prices will have to be passed to the consumer.
Of course, the independent sector will survive and thrive with top quality and service levels which are unique to the boutique retail market; these values need to be emphasised and the human, expert touch promoted.
The recent announcement that the UK has entered a recession hasn’t helped and our challenge is to ride it out in this exciting, progressive industry.