‘We had to stand out from the start’
With an ethos for good design, high-quality products and first-class customer service, the owners of The Showroom Ltd in London’s Kensington have established a solid business model and this year they will open two new trade outlets with showrooms. No surprise then that they were a finalist in two categories in this year’s kbbreview Retail and Design awards. Suzanne Baum goes to meet them
When you walk into The Showroom Ltd in Knightsbridge, you can’t fail to be impressed by the vast array of bathroom displays that cover all price ranges, from a 10p washer to a bespoke bath at £190,000. There is literally something for everyone and, unsurprisingly, the shop is constantly buzzing with customers.
“Every day is so busy we hardly have time to stop,” explains director Brian Witcomb. “At 8.45am, when we start work, we all gather together for a quick catch-up and then it’s non-stop as we see to our clients’ needs and meet with new customers.”
When Witcomb and co-director Rajan Patel (pictured above on far left and far right of group) set up The Showroom Ltd 11 years ago, they were well aware the bathroom industry was highly competitive. Although they were driven by their passion for bathroom design, they admit they were very daunted at the time about what lay ahead of them.
“In terms of the size of the project we took on, we were completely going against the grain in that we were starting big from the outset,” says Witcomb. “However, it was never going to be a small venture, as we knew that, in order to succeed, we had to stand out from the start.”
Despite their concerns, Witcomb says it was their sheer determination and love for the job that pushed them towards their goal of transforming what was once an ugly, empty building into a showroom that they could be proud of.
“Without a doubt, we have enjoyed every minute of setting up and running the business,” says Witcomb. “We have always been so passionate about this industry and it’s great to be a part of it and to have made a name for ourselves.”
Right from the outset, the pair who met on a factory visit to a bathroom furniture manufacturer in France when they were working for different bathroom companies just clicked. They had the same desire to push the boundaries when it came to getting ahead of their competitors in the market. “At the time, when we first started out, many of the showrooms we came across just seemed so dull and lifeless,” recalls Witcomb.
“We did a lot of research on what worked and what was the least unattractive when it came to showroom layouts. Many we saw seemed to have the same generic displays, which we wanted to move away from.
“Our vision was to create a showroom similar to that of a department store like Selfridges, for example. We were keen to create the displays so that each room setting could be cordoned off for a refit without disturbing the flow of the rest of the showroom. Our goal was to have real-life, actual-sized rooms in as many variations of settings as possible. This was done to make the clients decision-making that much easier in that they could just point out what they liked and how they wanted it fitted.”
On discovering an empty building in London’s Kensington, they believed they had struck gold with the location. “The area is positioned perfectly, as it has great transport links and is a through road to Holland Park, Notting Hill and Westfield shopping centre, so we get lots of passing visitors. It is also a bonus that the showroom has ample parking outside,” adds Whitcomb.
With a blank canvas to work from, they set about planning their project that saw them convert the 6,500sq ft space into what it is today. “It took a lot of hard work and commitment but we were always confident we’d build it in the end,” adds Witcomb. “Lots of things gave us the drive to push forward the advancing technologies on the market and watching all the new products, materials and finishes emerging kept us excited to be a part of it.”
Although the showroom layout was at the top of their agenda, Witcomb’s focus was also on picking the right brands to work with. “Brands are so important to the business and we pride ourselves with the close relationship we have with all our suppliers, including Duravit, Villeroy and Boch, Vola, Crosswater and Bisque, to name a few.”
When it comes to suppliers, Witcomb believes many showrooms take on anyone that walks through the door. This is not something he practises, believing instead in the importance of carefully selecting the right mix to appeal to his customers, the majority of which are working professionals interested in purchasing high-quality products.
“Our typical client is between the age of 35 and 50 who are often after a modern look. We have to ensure we keep on top of changing bathroom trends, so we can deliver our clients perfect bathrooms.
“We employ a staff of 34 and every one of them has an essential role within the business, so we can be assured we provide a first-class service to our customers every step of the way,” adds Witcomb.
“Customer service is our lifeblood. We ensure all our clients are looked after from the minute they step into the showroom, all the way through to completion of the project. We have a dedicated customer after-sales officer that helps deal with issues that may arise after completion, so there’s always someone on hand to deal with any product/service issues during what can be a frustrating time for a client.”
Although a lot of their business comes through word of mouth, Witcomb admits that they also rely a lot on social media to attract new customers. “It is essential in today’s market that any showroom is well represented across all social media platforms, as this is where the future lies.
“We generally stick to the main three platforms: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We started focusing on social media last year, as it is the new way to get your name out there and it’s great to show off our business through pictures. After all, a picture says a thousand words.
“We will always face competition from other shops, which makes us strive even harder to ensure we provide a first-class service. Exposure is key to any successful business.”
Even though business is good, Witcomb admits the economic situation and Brexit has had an effect on turnover. “This is the same for everyone within our sector,” he adds.
“Even with a downturn, we are still growing and at the same time we have been investing in our business and this year sees us opening two new trade shops with showrooms.”
When it comes to their most popular product, Witcomb points to the wall-hung WCs. “All our customers love the idea of the clean, hygienic look and, as technology moves forward, we are finding washlet WCs are becoming very popular. We are always looking for the next big product in the industry, as the trends change extremely quickly.”
As well as keeping up with the new technology on the market, Witcomb adds that he also keeps an eye on everything from quality of materials to the latest colour trends.
“I love the fact that manufacturers are embracing colours, for example, such as polished nickel, brushed matt black, rose gold and bronzes. Our clients all have different needs, so we ensure we can offer them the best variety of products in lots of different finishes.”
As for the future, the company aims to continue keeping up with market trends and ensure it maintains its excellent reputation.
“I am proud of the business we have built and all the people that work within it,” says Witcomb. “We can safely say we cover all bases in home and commercial new builds and renovations.”