EDITOR’S COMMENT: Let’s cuddle a plumber

25 Jul, 14

Supporting the installer can help the retailer. Philippa Turrell makes her case

You can always tell when the industry is picking up; it’s when bathroom manufacturers start to ‘cuddle a plumber’. Not in the literal sense but it’s when installers seem to become a greater focus of their marketing strategy, with the launch of loyalty programmes and training initiatives. Enter the likes of Vado with its Hydrologistics training centre, Grohe with its Trade Club and the Ideal Standard Pro loyalty scheme. Of course the same rings true in kitchens too – let’s not leave the chippies out – as Bushboard is set to hold an open day about worktop installation.

Obviously these manufacturers already train on their products, but with these specific programs seem to have stepped up a gear to showcase their support to the installer. And of course, they hope to gain the allegiance of the fitter, to capture a greater share of sales, in a market which is set to grow.

At least that’s my theory. But, when explaining my philosophy to an MD of a bathroom manufacturer (which hasn’t recently launched an installer initiative); it was shot down in flames. Plumbers aren’t that important to sales, they explained. Showrooms are important. They continued stating the recent roll-out of installer programmes was simply the result of a two-year business strategy, made during the recession, that hadn’t been changed. Really? Although far be it from me to argue. Who am I kidding? Of course I’m going to argue. I’m not convinced.

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As far as I see it, both channels work symbiotically. Showrooms may provide the initial sales but who is going to fit the bathroom or kitchen products? And if the bathroom or kitchen isn’t working because the products are fitted incorrectly, who will the consumer blame and return to with their complaints? Furthermore, when the market does pick up and all the great installers have packed diaries and the good to the better are bustling with work – what does that leave? Will consumers really be prepared to wait for their bathroom or kitchen to be installed or just grab the next available guy (or girl)?

Doesn’t it make sense to educate installers to raise the bar in fitting and make sure there is a standard, supporting showroom sales? In fact, Retailer Mark Towey, who owns Stonehaus Bathrooms, has gone as far to say installers are the weak link in retail sales and manufacturers should actually be investing much more in training. It’s not for the first time people in the bathroom industry (or kitchen for that matter) have opposing views. And all these make the industry the diverse, exciting environment we all work in. But isn’t it about time, at least on some topics, we all pull together and recognise the significance of each channel, not individually, but as part of the greater whole?