Grant Westfield | What ignited Multipanel overhaul and Naturepanel debut?

Managing director of Grant Westfield John Mortimer talks about what sparked the change for an overhaul of Multipanel and the introduction of Naturepanel.

02 May, 24

Managing director of Grant Westfield John Mortimer talks about what sparked the change for an overhaul of Multipanel, the introduction of Naturepanel, and what’s next for the company.

Multipanel owner appoints new MD

It’s been a busy time for John Mortimer, managing director of Grant Westfield, which manufactures the Multipanel bathroom wall panelling range.

Within the past 24 months, not only has the company had to redesign its product, due to supply issues, it has launched an array of new products – including a new brand Naturepanel – and expanded its sales channels.

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“We’ve had an interesting few years”, confesses John Mortimer, “It’s been a busy time, with lots of external challenges, but the business has navigated it really well.”

Changing specification

The Norcros-owned business had to move quickly to redesign its products without compromise, following the outbreak of the Ukraine War.

Grant Westfield | Naturepanel

John Mortimer explains: “The invasion of Ukraine had a big impact on us. We had to change the core material of Multipanel from plywood – which predominately comes from Russia – to exterior grade MDF from Ireland. But, during all of that, we have been launching new products, building the team and new revenue channels.”

Over a period of three months, it tested a range of products – both plywoods and engineered timber – before choosing exterior grade MDF from Medite.

“It was a big deal to go to the market and say we’re changing our core material to something else”, admits Mortimer.

But he says the core material  has advantages over its previous plywood core, explaining: “It is flatter, more consistent, easier to machine onsite, so there were a lot of benefits to changing.”

And Mortimer added retailers understood the circumstances that drove the change, while installers perhaps needed more persuasion.

“We ran webinars, created literature and videos that explained the technical properties of the product we moved to, but it’s fair to say installers like what they like.

“I think seeing is believing, feeling and installing, and we’re now selling more than we’ve ever sold. It’s been well received by the market.”

So much so, Mortimer adds: “A lot of our competitors have also changed their specification to exterior grade MDF.”

Curating channel offers

Rooted in independent retail and the merchant channel, Grant Westfield is now seeking growth through national DIY chains Wickes, Topps Tiles and online with Screwfix.

Multipanel Wickes partnership is "major" milestone

It has appointed a specification team to drive sales in key channels such as new build, hotel, social housing and student accommodation.

Playing devil’s advocate, why should independent retail showrooms support Multipanel if it’s now selling through national retailers and online?

“We are developing our online strategy with partners like Screwfix, developing a trade offer for them. We are curating an offer that doesn’t impact the customers who support us with showrooms”, he replies, “We are trying to give our customers access to the products they need.”

Mortimer is also keen to highlight the importance of retail to its business: “Retailers are the heartbeat of our business. They are hugely important to us. So, we’ve recently invested in new POS for all our displaying partners and we have improved our website functionality to drive leads to showroom partners.

“Wall panelling is a tactile product. Consumers need to see it before buying it. Without our retail partners and displays, we wouldn’t be the business we are today.”

New brand launch

Last year, Grant Westfield launched 44 decors including marble, minerals, solid colours and tile effects into the Multipanel range.

Multipanel | Wall panel decors

“The product launch has been the most successful launch we’ve ever had, in terms of speed to market. Our new tile patterns and our new Pure collection has sold much quicker that we’d forecast”, says Mortimer.

Having invested in CNC technology to create its Tile Collection, this year the company has used it to develop a new top-of-the-range brand NaturePanel.

Reflecting the trend for wall panelling outside the bathroom, Grant Westfield has introduced a slat-effect waterproof wall panel, with etched shadow gaps, in a choice of light, medium or dark wood effect.

And it has been designed with the same Hydrolock as the main Multipanel decors, so it can be combined with marbles, tiles or coloured decors.

“It’s probably the most excited I’ve been about wall panel product in a long time, if I’ve ever been as excited about something we’ve designed”, Mortimer says, adding: “I’ve never seen a trend for walls blow up quite as big, from a panelling perspective, because people are using them in sitting rooms, corridors, bedrooms and bathrooms.

“Our product will have all the properties and benefits to use in the bathroom, but equally can be used in any room in the house.”

Grant Westfield is also set to further update Multipanel, with new wall panel decors and tile pattenrs alongside new flooring options.

“We’re bringing in a laminate flooring partner – Egger – so we are going to have a wider range of flooring available.

“And we’re working hard to get to an in-stock model to guarantee our customers two-day delivery on everything”, Mortimer explains. The company is aiming to offer this service level by the end of 2024.

“World-class” service

Although Mortimer points out the company already offers a good service level, he says it wants to make a commitment to all its customers that everything is available in stock.

Multipanel partners with Screwfix

The company, which has around 300 products, holds three weeks’ worth of stock (30,000-35,000 panels) across nine depots.

“We get around some of the complexity because we have saws in every one of our depots, so if someone wants a narrower panel we can cut in the depot. We don’t have to stock every size”, admits Mortimer.

He adds: “The challenge for us is making sure that every depot location has the right stock and, if we don’t, we can get it in time.” He explains reaching and maintain a “world class” service proposition is a “huge” and continuing focus for the company, as consumers demands change.

In fact, the company has recently invested in a 50,000sqft warehouse to increase its stockholding, which Mortimer says will “underpin faster and more consistent lead times” as well as provide the space for the company to “considerably” expand its product offerings.

Positioned to pivot

Despite the bathroom wall panelling market being “fairly” flat, according to Mortimer, he adds: “We feel as a product category, we are well positioned to pivot, depending on what’s happening in the market.

Multipanel expands into Europe

“We will continue to grow but it will be on the back of us having to do that and not the market providing the business for us to convert.”

And he believes it will all pave the way to his ambition for the company “to be the first choice for waterproof walls for retailers, installers, specifiers and consumers.”