VitrA UK | Introducing Vitality retail programme

MD of VitrA UK Steve Breen is on a journey to double the size of the business, with its Vitality retail programme, and through driving new channels

02 Mar, 24

Managing director of VitrA UK Steve Breen is on a journey to transform the business, doubling its size, with a clear focus on retail with its new Vitality programme and through driving new channels

VitrA UK | Introducing Vitality into its partners' businesses

Tasked with doubling the size of the £30million UK business in five years, managing director of VitrA UK Steve Breen is spearheading the revitalised company.

It has already seen the company develop its team to attack new sales channels, restructure its warehouse, invest in a new CRM system and create the Vitality programme for its largest sales channel –  retail.

Sponsored Video

This retail-specific programme has been created to offer protected, mid-to- upper market product and improved supply for its showrooms.  It will be the focus of its stand at Kbb Birmingham 2024, where the brand makes its first return in 27 years.

“The business has been built on the foundations for retail and it’s always been an important part”, explains Steve Breen.

But he admits its Showroom of Excellence proposition, which was established in the 90s, was very prescriptive and the rationale behind it had almost been forgotten: “We threw a range of products at the retailer. We asked them for a number of displays. We set a turnover level and if they achieved it  -great – they were still in the club. If they didn’t achieve it, they were out of the club.

“If you step back from that it’s not a great offer, it’s not a partnership.”

He explains there was a need for a new vision for retail: “We felt we were not doing anywhere near as much business as we could, given the strength of the brand, the quality of the product and the investments that the business has made in capacity, adding: “There’s lots of brands and we have to compete for share of voice.”

He explains to do this VitrA has undergone a big mirror test.

Retailer research

With the assistance of an independent agency, for “unbiased and unfiltered” results, VitrA interviewed past and present retailers and a range of personnel at its distributors.

VitrA UK | Introducing Vitality into its partners' businesses 2

“They told us some really good things and some pretty honest things, which we recognised we needed to change.”

He describes it as a wake-up call for the business. “The good stuff was that they love the product. They love the brand and they had a lot of respect for the sales team for their dedication and support.

“But they did tell us availability wasn’t fantastic, so it would mean they would get so far through the design and then have to consider different options.”

Breen points out the research also revealed its product offer was complex and overwhelming. “We have been guilty in the past of creating beautiful products and ranges and pushed them into distribution, which has meant their stock levels have gone up and it’s been very difficult to manage availability.

“We’ve left it to the distributors and retailers to handle, as opposed to being a part of that process ourselves.”

Mid to upper-mid focus

Taking all the feedback into account, VitrA UK has now created the Vitality partner programme, with a slimmed down collection focused on the upper mid-market, led by sales data and retailer feedback.

VitrA UK | Introducing Vitality into its partners' businesses 1

Breen explains: “We’ve been guilty of trying to offer furniture in every single size and dimension.

“We’ve narrowed that down to what will fit in UK bathrooms and taken out colours that don’t sell, for example.”

He reports the range is still over 1,250 SKUs, “so there is still lots of breadth and depth”. And it’s not just about removing product but adding new product too, with additions to its M-Line furniture and washbasins, 100% recycled ceramic basin and Suit taps and showers launching at Kbb Birmingham 2024.

Breen explains: “It was a good leveller for us to remember what the retailer needs. We need to prove the return on investment for the retailer. So, let’s be strong where the customers are strong.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t sell the high-end ranges because they show where we can stretch to, which is really important to maintain, but we’re going to focus on mid-market”, adding: “We now have one collection and one brochure all products included are available within one week.”, says Breen.

Improved accessibility

Working with its distributors, the bathroom manufacturer has created a “traffic light” system for its Vitality Collection.

VitrA UK | Introducing Vitality into its partners' businesses 3

“Anything that is green we know is a fast seller and distributors should stock and it should be available within a really strong lead time – next day if necessary – but certainly within a couple of days”, explains Breen.

He says the company has also invested in warehouse racking at its Didcot HQ to stock slightly slower moving Amber products, to support and supply its distributors.

These slightly slower-moving products will not be available from stock but on a standard lead time of one week “which leaves both us and the distributor enough space to stock the faster-selling products”, Breen states.

He adds: “It’s not called Vitality by accident. We want to put vitality into all our partners business – help them grow – and the ethos of the programmes is designed all around that.”

Vitality ambition

So what are the ambitions for the Vitality retail network?  “We’ve got a base of around 500 independent retailers, around 220 of which were Showrooms of Excellence. We are setting ourselves a bold target and would love 100-150 more retailers over the course of the next two or three years”, says Breen.

VitrA UK | Introducing Vitality into its partners' businesses 4

He points out VitrA will expect a minimum level of product on display and for them to reach a turnover level but it will be on a partnership basis: “We’re not going to reach 15% year-on-year showroom growth over the next five years without setting some targets, but it will be a collaborative target. And it will be something we help them achieve. That’s the difference.”

Part of this is its “display selector package” which has been driven by data into what sells.

Although based on UK-wide sales, Breen says there were no large disparities between regions.

And the company is also retraining its sales representatives “to have different conversations – not to go in and check displays and focus on checking the displays in the right place”, explains Breen.

He expects reps to ask How’s the business going? What more can we do? How can we work together, how can we support you? to drive value for the retailer’s business.

What’s more VitrA has invested in a dedicated phone number and email for Vitality retail partners which is manned by an expert team. This is an important addition for Breen. “We need to make it easier for our retailers to do business with us on all fronts and that includes how they contact us and the speed and efficiency of how we support them with queries.”

Such is the expectation for the success of Vitality, Breen says “It’s been one of the most significant investments of over £300,000, in terms of structuring, the new brochures, the new marketing materials, the display selectors and the plans that we have to activate the programme within the first year as well.”

And Breen is keen to point out VitrA is already planning its next stages of development: “The investment won’t stop there.”

Together with recently appointed marketing manager Ruth Davies, who he previously worked with to create the AEG Premier Partner Programme, Breen says they learned the importance of continual development.

“We’re already planning phases 2 and 3 with strong digital content to help retailers demonstrate product and joint marketing funds – eventually – where we can look at their local market and try and activate their showroom for them locally.”

He continues:  “We know we can learn from the retailer, and we have taken those learnings into our programme, and we want to continue to develop with their feedback. We want to build constant feedback into the programme and we’re exploring focus groups.”

Co-existing channels

To reach its ambitious UK sales targets, alongside its retail and projects business, VitrA UK has also looked at growing its sales channels to include DIY and e-commerce.

Kbb Birmingham 2024 | VitrA

It has seen an influx of new people join the business, bringing expertise of these areas.

However, Breen is keen to point out this will not be at the expense of the retail channel. “Independent retailers do a fantastic job of taking a consumer through the bathroom journey. To do all that and to get to the end and the consumer says ‘I love your design, but I can get this cheaper elsewhere’ is heartbreaking for the retailer and it’s also wrong. DIY and e-commerce is different product.”

But Breen adds: “We need the retail business to understand that yes, they will see VitrA expanding in other channels and driving other channels. We know the channels can co-exist.”

Of course, Breen realises VitrA will have to convince retailers and alongside its eight-strong sales representative team, the senior leadership team will be visiting showrooms with its “common sense” Vitality partner programme.

“We’ve got to reconvince our retailers that we’ve got this right. We’ve got to reconvince them that we care about this area of the market and that we want to continue to invest in it.”

He concludes: “It is exciting times because we’ve listened to the customer and built something that customers told us to build…and it’s about time VitrA is competing for share of voice, share of eyesight and share of debate.”