Recently-appointed managing director of Laminam UK Gavin Shaw explains how his hands-on experience of fabrication is helping him drive brand recognition and porcelain surface sales
Within just five months of taking charge of porcelain surface business Laminam UK, managing director Gavin Shaw has established a sales team, opened a dedicated warehouse and signed up the UK’s largest independent fabricator.
He is not only leading an eight-strong team to build the brand name of Laminam in kitchen retail and fabrication but also drive the growth of porcelain worktops and splashback sector in the country.
With 20 years of experience in fabrication, having started out with his Dad’s stonemasonry firm before helping launch Silestone in the UK, Gavin Shaw has now been tasked with introducing the Laminam brand into the country.
With a turnover of €250million, Italian porcelain supplier Laminam supplies 3mm, 12mm and 20mm porcelain from its factories in Modern and Palma to more than 100 countries.
Gavin Shaw states it is one of the three biggest brands of large-scale porcelain in the world.
But when the company launched into the UK, through distribution in 2020, the pandemic had taken hold and so stunted market penetration.
“When I joined the company, the industry didn’t know Laminam as a product, so that was our first problem we needed to overcome.
“That’s why the big focus has been getting in front of as many people as we can and creating partnerships.
“The good thing is now, when our team are going into retailers or fabricators for the first time, they’re begun to say ‘we’re starting to hear about Laminam’. A snowball effect is now happening.”
He adds: “With one of the biggest independent fabricator in the UK now on board, that’s really going to help us in terms of brand awareness because they’re going to jointly promote Laminam, giving us access to around 300 kitchen retailers.
Focusing on 12mm and 20mm porcelain surfacing for the UK, Laminam is being offered as an alternative premium worktop and splashback to quartz.
Highlighting the benefits of porcelain, Shaw says it offers benefits throughout the supply chain – for consumers, designers and fabricators. He cites usability, flexibility in design and ease of fabrication.
Shaw states kitchen designers are able to create larger 450mm overhangs with its 20mm surfacing and bookmatch a choice of 20 Laminam designs to make a feature out of a join or to wrap an island.
He also explains for consumers during use, the material can withstand chopping directly on the surface and temperature from hot pans, and the durability of the material is supported by a 25-year guarantee.
Shaw comments: “The UK as a market has always really embrace stone and around 20 years ago it was granite and natural stone.
“We then had the quartz boom and now we’re seeing the porcelain boom.”
He points to independent research by German management consultancy Titze, called “Worktops in Europe – Top 10 Countries in comparison from 2017 to 2023”, which predicts an increase of porcelain sales by 46%.
He explains the predicted boom is also the reason why private equity firm Alpha acquired Laminam in 2018 because they recognised the potential market and quality of its products.
Shaw states “With that private equity investment of €200million, the strategy around the world is to open our own distribution hubs with our own showrooms and employ our own salespeople.”
Indeed, Laminam UK has a regional sales team to visit kitchen showrooms and fabricators, as “it makes sense the same person goes to the fabricator to relay the conversations they’ve been having with the kitchen showrooms”.
It has also opened a third-party warehouse in Halesowen, West Midlands, with £1.5m stock of 40 core colours in 2023, and has plans to open two further warehouses this year.
Laminam hopes to locate warehouses in Leeds to service the North and around the Dunstable area for the South. In total, the trio of warehouses will offer a stock of £4million.
“We’re going to have two brand new warehouses, around 20,000-25,000 sq ft that are reflective on the image of Laminam and we’ll also have our own showrooms there, so end consumers, architects, fabricators, kitchen showrooms, can come see the product and will display the way that we want to show it”, explains Shaw.
Further supporting its fabricators, the company has also introduced online ordering and scrapped delivery fees, as Shaw adds: “We just want to be easy to deal with and are marketing herself as the fabricator friendly, large format porcelain.
“We want to grow this brand of Laminam and we want it to be a good brand. If we give that terrible consumer experience it will soon unravel.”
Time is right
Timing, though, is perhaps everything. Now could be beneficial for porcelain sales, as quartz has been hitting the headlines with health concerns about silica dust inhalation during fabrication.
“When we are visiting fabricators and kitchen showroom now, one of the questions that people are asking is about silica content.
“And the good thing with porcelain is our product, depending on colour, is between 0 and 8% silica, which is really low”, says Shaw.
Laminam also meets the growing tide of consumers and industry professionals concerned about the environment.
Although using ground resources – Clay, Kaolin and Feltspar – all are recyclable, and the surfacing is made using recycled rainwater and electricity from its own solar farm.
However, with the economy still uncertain, how is that suited to sales of a luxury product?
“We have realised that”, explains Shaw, continuing “When we have been visiting kitchen showrooms, they’re saying they’re quieter than normal. They say consumer budgets are tighter than normal.
“So, we need to react and in quarter one they’ll be a lot more options available in price group one.”
It also enables Laminam to broaden its reach, with the company targeting 3,000 mid to high-end kitchen retail showrooms.
Support and reaction
Supporting retailers through a wider price ladder of product, dedicated sales team and sample service, Laminam UK has also introduced a training programme called “lunch and learn” for kitchen retailers in their own showroom.
“There’s a real education that’s needs to go with the technical side of designing work services with products like ours.”
Shaw points out Laminam offers 130 colours in eight textures and in slab sizes of 3240mm x 1620mm, allowing for large islands made from one slab.
Having started its training programme with Poggenpohl, he says now the plan is to roll it out across the country.
Overall, Shaw says retail response has been “amazing” and that his biggest surprise has been a lack of retailer or fabricator resistance.
“I’ve been really surprised that every door has been open. I think kitchen retailers and fabricators had been looking for a good genuine alternative to what’s in the market.”
So what would be the benchmark of success? Gavin Shaw explains: “Two years ago we launched in North America and Canada and it’s been an absolute success.
“We’ve hired 28 people there and opened five warehouses in 2023. So really what we’re trying to do now, in the UK, is recreate that success that Laminam has everywhere else.”
And how is it progressing against his timescale? “It’s definitely going a lot quicker, over the past five months, in terms of the positive responses and people committing to the product. We’re going in the right direction.”