We talk to new Grohe UK head Kristine Skauge about changes to the business and reconnecting with retailers through the roll-out of its commercial strategy
Like many bathroom companies, Grohe has seen changes, and these have been across the UK and at European level.
Kristine Skauge has recently been named the leader of the UK, having spent a decade rising through the ranks of Grohe.
She has held marketing posts in Northern Europe and led marketing across the Middle East and North Africa region.
Taking charge of the UK, Skauge is supported by a new management team including new commercial leader and former Davroc MD Chris Dodds, leader for trade and retail Mark White and leader for Ireland Seamus Kelly.
Interestingly, then, Kristine Skauge says: “My role is not so much about making changes as it is execution of the direction. We have had some changes internally, but that’s to be more streamlined and efficient in the way we’re work.
“We have a management team with some new eyes on the business, so that we can have that fresh view on what we need to do and what we need to prioritise”, she explains.
What the company has been focused on is the roll-out of its commercial strategy, which offers products for differing customer groups.
It sees the creation of three product portfolios: Grohe Professional for retailers, installers and over the counter merchants, Grohe QuickFix for DIY and the Grohe sub-brand, Grohe Spa, for high-end retail, architects and designers.
These product portfolios have been created to combat direct price comparisons.
Skauge explains: “Retailers have been under a lot of pressures from competing channels for a lot of years, in particular with our brand, because we are in multiple channels.
“But with Grohe Professional targeted at retailers, and its products not available through any other channel, it gives them a unique advantage.
“That whole part of consumer price comparison, going into store but then buying online disappears, as we have a different assortment available online.”
The European-wide strategy roll-out has been “a little bit delayed” in the UK, as Skauge moots the complexities of the market and demand for UK specific products.
But she adds: “We are now going full force talking to our customers about it. Our target this year, and also next year, is to execute.”
She says the reaction of retailers has been “extremely positive” and points out the company is “going back to a more customer-centric approach, evaluating what each target group needs and then living up to that promise we have made to them. It’s really what was needed.”
And Skauge points out the continuing importance of retailers to Grohe sales in the UK, explaining: “Retailers are still our key link to consumers, when it comes to the whole purchase journey, especially in the UK. Getting that reconnection with the retailers is very important for us.”
Softened global market
Skauge reports business is “good in light of the market being what the market is now” having “got out on the other side of what was a less fun last year”, citing availability issues and supply chain challenges.
But she adds: “With confidence, we can tell our customers they can expect much more stable delivery times.”
She says the UK has seen a softening market, mirrored across Europe and in established markets around the globe.
“It is a challenge. We’re hoping for a stabilisation of the market, along with the macro economic environment but let’s see”, she says hopefully.
Sustainability drives sales
Helping to encourage consumers into a purchase, and with sustainability as one of its brand pillars (quality, technology, design and sustainability), Grohe has focused on energy saving and water-saving.
Having announced the launch of Everstream at its Grohe X Summit, it showcased the technology at Grohe Professional launch in Lisbon, Portugal.
Eversteam collects and recycles water and the manufacturer claims it uses a quarter of the water and a third of the energy typically required by traditional showers.
Speaking about the reaction by its trade customers, Skauge said: “They were amazed by what it can do. It’s a fantastic product.
“But I think even better for me is the promise that we made to launch all of our concealed showers with this recycling water technology by 2030.”
She continues: “In the industry, I think we will move towards a sustainable product offering like we’re seeing in the automotive industry, with hybrid cars. I think sustainability will become the standard within our industry.”
Importance of installers
But right now, sustainability is quite an education piece for Grohe to disperse across the supply chain, from retail through to installation.
Skauge adds that is why initiatives like its GIVE (Grohe Installer Vocational Training Schools), with plans to train 5,000 plumbers a year across the EMENA region, is so important to the company.
“It is part of giving installers a better skillset to meet the innovations of tomorrow. We need the installers to be able to create our products.”
And she suggests it’s also why GIVE sponsors the HIP Female Skills Competition, to help close the skills gap by highlighting and encouraging women to join the installation industry.
EMEA leadership change
Interestingly, then both the GIVE initiative and strategy were the brainchild of former Leader of Lixil and Grohe EMEA Jonas Brennwald who has recently left the company.
Skauge admits his departure was a surprise, adding: “I think he just needed to take the next challenge.”
Calling him a visionary, she said: “He has massively transformed this company. The commercial strategy is his legacy. it’s his interpretation of what the market needed.
“So, of course it is a loss for the company and it’s a personal loss, as he was a big motivator in in the way he worked.”
However, she added there would be a smooth transition to interim leader for EMEA and Lixil leader Bijoy Mohan, citing his professional and pragmatic approach to business: “I’m really looking forward to working closer with him. I’ve already had my first call with him.
“He’s very interested in the UK and what we can achieve here. The UK is a core market.”
Challenges and opportunities
Pointing out the biggest challenge in the UK is the fragmentation of the market, Skauge points to the complexity of multiple players in the market with its wide ranging customer base.
But she highlights sales opportunities for Grohe UK will come with the implementation of its commercial strategy: “The UK is full of manufacturers; it’s such a fragmented picture with brands and private labels.
“I think the way we can distinguish ourselves is by being a little bit different and that is where the commercial strategy comes in, with different portfolios for different target audiences.
“It’s a very clear proposition for us. The art is the execution of the strategy.” She concludes: “Ultimately success will be consumers making a conscious choice and asking for Grohe.”
Q&A: Kristine Skauge
Q: What attracted you to the role of head of UK business?
A: In the UK, Grohe has big potential to grow, and I’m very proud to be part of that journey.
The Grohe brand has a fantastic proposition, but we also have to look inwards and ask ourselves what we need to do better to be an even stronger and more relevant business partner.
This is a challenge that I’m ready to face, pulling on all my experiences so far.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: The most important thing is to have a humanised version of a manager that’s not a machine and that also has flaws. For me that’s very important.
We all need to reach the numbers and we need to achieve our KPIs but to be human, I think, has been very important for me – humble and human.
Q: Do you think that’s more important than being heralded as a women leader in the industry?
A: Personally, yes. I think women sometimes need to prove themselves and might be overly harsh, feeling like they have to compensate for their gender. But the way I lead, it’s natural. It’s who I am as a person.
I’m just trying to navigate, with everybody working here, to find the best way forward.
However, there are statistics that women leaders are more profitable than male leaders. [A Pepperdine University study showed 25 Fortune 500 firms with the best record of promoting women into high positions were 18 to 69% more profitable than median firms in their industries].
Q: What has surprised you the most about the UK business?
A: I have been really surprised by how engaged and how happy and positive UK colleagues are because it’s been a difficult couple of years.
COVID restrictions in the UK were harsher than in many other European countries and Brexit took its toll on the whole organisation.
I thought I would be coming into somewhat of a more demotivated team. It goes to prove that no matter where you go in the Grohe world, people are genuinely excited about the brand.
Q: What mark would you like to make both as a person and Grohe UK?
A: Being able to roll out our commercial strategy and to gain that understanding from a wider market will be the most important thing we do.
For me, personally, it will be how we can create even greater engagement from our team members, within Grohe, how we can be more efficient but also have work life balance.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: People – for me, my biggest inspirations are the people I surround myself with, both in my career but also in my personal life too.
Throughout my career I have had the pleasure to work with some outstanding teams, and have been privileged to work across different markets, witnessing a diverse range of talent and drive.
The continued energy, commitment, and passion I’ve witnessed, and the ensuing great results achieved, continues to be my own drive.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A: I once heard the quote “People cannot be copied” and this has stuck with me throughout my career.
For me, a company like Lixil that puts people first is really important, ensuring that team members can have a healthy work-life balance.
While I pride myself on working for a company that truly champions diversity and inclusion, I also practise this myself with my own team members, striving for a happy, positive team that enjoys their work and feels valued.