Indies: We can’t afford to do it all

Ripples managing director Paul Crow is inspired by last month’s debate on the future but wonders how many of the ideas a small independent can afford to implement

At a time when everyone will have received their GCSE and ‘A’ Level results, I can look back and reflect on my school days and be grateful that I don’t have that stress hanging over me anymore.

I wasn’t too clever at school, but an area I found particularly puzzling and intriguing in equal measure were Venn diagrams – rather like the ongoing debate in kbbreview on the future of our industry.

In fact, a close look through the August issue and you can’t help but be inspired by some of the people that are making a difference in their own way to our working world.

Rene Maan at Bathroom Brands wants to take over the world and will, by the sound of things. Richard Hibbert is reinvigorating the KBSA through good old-fashioned hard work and personality. Friends and colleagues of Mark Wilkinson demonstrated what a close community the industry can be, and the clearly talented Westley and Nicola [August issue, Crozier, Tec Lifestyle, Essex, pg66] well deserved their Bathroom Retailer of the Year Award – they are lovely people too.

Add to that a more detailed look at the views of [consumer futurist] Will Higham and his valuable help guiding us to a better future, including the Internet of Things, the insightful article on Virtual Worlds and the benefits of a £9,000 licence for some 4D goggles, and we don’t need to look very much further to solve the puzzle of what to do next.

The real question is, who can afford to do all of this? Anyone looking at the Hobson’s Choice showroom [August issue, pg76] or Westley and Nicola’s TEC Lifestyle will appreciate that years and years of hard work and investment have brought about the business that exists today – they look and are amazing.

But if you’re a small independent retailer, earning a reasonable living with a turnover of £400 to £500k, then you have to be realistic about your expectations of success and mindful of the real threats that could bring about failure if you do nothing. It’s all very well saying work harder, although I get Rene’s point, but that’s not possible if you’re already fully committed.

I don’t like the word realistic, but it does come into play here. If you want to offer the very latest in design technology – no problem, invest in some £9,000 software. Don’t forget to tell people about it though, so put aside £20,000 to build, launch and advertise yourself with a digital platform. Want to use Houzz? Of course you do, it’s great – that will be another £2,500. Upgrade the showroom? Get the right lighting, shopfront, coffee machine and furniture? Put aside £30k. And when you’re done, join the KBSA, because I hear it’s an excellent organisation, but make sure you have £1,000 to cover the membership fee.


I’m not being negative. I believe all these things are necessary, doable and the people and companies I have mentioned are genuine examples of how to do it well. But we need to think about who the independent retailer is, as there’s a massive difference between an £18 million business selling £2.2m in bathrooms and the one that is selling £600k.

And before people write in and tell me it’s survival of the fittest – I get that. But, as Malcolm Scott very well points out in his column, something’s got to give and I’m not sure it’s in everyone’s interest to just have bigger customers doing more.

So where am I going with this? I’m not sure. Margin-wise, we can all be fooled into thinking the retailer gets the better end of the deal, as they get the majority of the consumer’s money. We are kidding ourselves, though, if we think we are in control of this.

When I think back to those Venn diagrams and draw that up, I see three interlinking circles. The customer is the largest and, getting a bit smaller, the supplier is the second largest and getting bigger, while the independent retailer is the smallest and getting smaller. The bit in the middle is the overlap of the relationship between them all and that’s the area that is going to change the most.

That’s the bit the supplier’s got to pay for. I think some suppliers are already stepping up and taking over much more of the retailer’s responsibilities. This will have to go to a whole new level if everyone is to protect, develop and maintain the industry, so that it provides the platform for the large, small and medium-sized to profit – they are all critical to its success.

Malcolm reports on how manufacturers are increasing their demands for showroom space. Soon I believe they will increase their demands for space on web pages and other marketing space, too. Whether we like it or not, they are going to start dictating a lot more about how we look, work, what software we use and maybe even what times we open.

And yes, I actually believe they will put their money where their mouths are – providing the display products, running the marketing, training the staff, designing the brochure and then changing them when performance dips below the agreed level.

For me, the future of the independent sector means much less independence, if my Venn diagrams are to be believed.

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