Managing director of Carron Bathrooms James McMorrine talks about levelling the playing field for its professional customers and the company’s ambitions for growth
It has been a transitional year for Carron Bathrooms, according to its managing director James McMorrine, having restructured its distribution and sales channels.
But he now believes the bath manufacturer is set to grow market share over the next six to nine months, even if the market is smaller.
“Part of it will be down to the fact we’ve got 12,000 finished baths, between our distributors and ourselves, on the ground ready for delivery”, says James McMorrine.
However, he also points out, sales success will be attributed to the recent decisions Carron Bathrooms has made to level the playing field for its trade customers.
Reorganising sales channels
The Falkirk-based bath manufacturer recently made the decision to reorganise its distribution, splitting with Eastbrook after 20 years, following a strategic review of the business.
It saw the addition of Davroc “who didn’t have an acrylic bath offer” to its long-standing distribution partner Q4.
The bathroom manufacturer also chose to cease supplying a number of online retailers which saw a “significant” drop in its business.
James McMorrine explains Carron Bathrooms isn’t anti-internet but needed a strategy, to ensure all its trade partners could compete on a level playing field: “We’re now in the process of appointing just four to six online retailers who share our values, want Carron to be the lead product and get behind it.”
McMorrine explains its internet dealers have the same buying criteria as a displaying retailer: “If someone does buy Carron baths and retails them online, they’ve got to take them into their business premises, take ownership and deliver them. I think that’s creating a level playing field.”
However, McMorrine admits perhaps the timing of the decision could have been improved: “That loss of revenue at the same time as raw material prices going up was terrifying”, and he adds “the phrase we’re coining at Carron is ‘We’d have done things differently, but we wouldn’t have done different things’. We took a stand and I’m glad we did.”
Managing price hikes
The loss of internet business together with price hikes of raw materials saw the business “squeezed” last year and “battered” in 2022.
McMorrine explains: “We literally couldn’t source fibreglass a year ago, and when we could the prices had increased by 200%.
It meant the company had to increase its prices mid-year for the first time. “We had a mid-year price increase for the first time last year, and we went up again at the start of this year – both times by 6%, which is double what we normally go up by.”
With no indication that raw materials prices are likely to soften in the near future, Carron Bathrooms has also sought to reduce costs in its business to try and maintain prices.
However, this has not been through value engineering. “We’ve worked far too long and too hard to build a reputation for specification. We had to become more efficient”, explains McMorrine
Automation for efficiency
Although the company has historical roots dating back to 1759 and still manufactures on the original site, Carron Bathrooms is a modern business and recently invested £1.5million into automation.
“It has been transformative”, exclaims McMorrine. With three robotic spray lines, it has not only enabled the company to increase capacity, but he adds “we think the efficiency gain for Carron is in the region of 35-40%.”
And McMorrine explains: “If you can’t become more productive, the next two or three years is going to get really difficult because you can’t mitigate energy costs, you can’t mitigate raw material costs, we won’t lower specification and people shouldn’t be paying for Carron not to be efficient.”
In fact McMorrine believes energy costs will be the biggest challenge for the bathroom supply chain going forwards.
“You cannot manufacture without energy. Fortunately, we’ve got a little bit of protection, as we took the decision to take a longer-term deal.
“We’re a medium-sized manufacturer and it’s scary but it’s no less scary – I would imagine – for an independent retailer who is trying to work out how they are going to make money if their energy bill goes up six-fold.
“They’ve got to find products they can sell and make a margin. We want to give retailers products they can get behind.”
Carron Bathrooms has recently introduced its Editions+ baths with a low roll height, which needs to be displayed to showcase its benefits.
McMorrine explains: “Historically, to make it easier to install a bath panel, the roll height of the tub was 50mm, we’ve reduced it to 18mm because 40% of our baths are going into another type of installation.
“It would be very difficult to sell the benefit of that product online, you need to see it in store. We are also doing it in a matt white finish, as opposed to just gloss white. It’s a small but meaningful range of products that people will want to put on display. You’ve got to reward retailer’s investment.”
Now the company is building on its current network of 600 retailers, building to over 1,000 in the next 18 months, so that it can send consumers no more than 10-15 miles from their home to see a Carron bath.
With the well-documented issues in the global supply chain, will the company also benefit from consumers or retailers wanting to buy from a British manufacturer?
“We don’t want people to buy from Carron because we’re British, we want them to buy because the product is great. We want to make the best bathtub in the world.”
Mira of baths
In fact McMorrine states his overall vision for the company: “We want to be the Mira Showers of acrylic baths in the UK. They are a well-known, well-regarded brand with trade professionals.”
And Carron Bathrooms is on a path to achieving its ambition: “We are starting to see some positive traction from the hard decisions we made in the first and second quarter”, as McMorrine adds “the big unknown, is what demand is going to be like with the increase in cost of living.”
Having been saved from receivership by an MBO in 1982, then acquired by his father David McMorrine in 2000, James McMorrine says the company knows how to survive.
He adds: “We’ve not stopped investing; we’ve just been more cautious and we are ready to go. The retailers I’ve met are not just good at bathrooms, they’re also very shrewd businesspeople. They’re going to start looking at their cash position too.
“If they know they can get any Carron bath within two or three days and a whirlpool bath in two weeks, we’re going to become even more attractive. There’s products that are difficult to get but Carron isn’t one of them.”