‘We regularly reject the advances of one leading online dealer…’ 

Shower brand Aqualisa has come under fire from retailers recently amid accusations that the brand is neglecting independent studios in favour of other channels. Wendy Bennett, customer experience director at Aqualisa, responds

Q: A retailer displaying Quartz, Rise, Visage and Q, has recently contacted us to say that he’s shocked that your website has a ‘buy online’ button. He claims he can buy some products cheaper at Screwfix than from distributors. Are dealers in danger of just becoming a physical showroom for Victoria Plum, Screwfix etc?
A: With the changing shape of both the bathroom market and consumer purchasing habits, we’ve created a strategy that meets their needs. While we must have the capability to meet online demand, we’re utilising our online presence to channel footfall into a choice of 1,750 physical showrooms, as we believe this is still the most valuable consumer experience.

Q: Can you expain the thinking behind Aqualisa’s new approved online partners idea?
A: We regularly turn down the advances of one leading online retailer – despite the growing number of shower manufacturers who are dealing with them – and believe that they will simply feed from business generated elsewhere. Instead, we have carefully selected a small number of pure-play bathroom online retailers who we believe add value to the consumer experience and our brand.

Q: Tell us more about your focus on customer service KPIs. Why is this approach not generally seen in the KBB industry?
A: For over 40 years, our brand reputation has been built on the fact that Aqualisa is a service provider, not just a manufacturer. We take pride in measuring the voice of the customer through Net Promoter Score and Trust Pilot, and have the highest Trust Pilot score in our industry. We’ve been recognised for our customer service in the National Top 50 Business Awards for 2017 for both voice contact and live chat. I would love to see more customer metrics in the KBB industry, as it’s so vital to the success of any business.

Q: How do you respond to one reader’s claim that Aqualisa (and other brands) make a separate range for independents but insist on live displays at a cost to the retailer?
A: Aqualisa invests significantly in in-store displays every year – more than £800k on displays of our new Q smart shower alone in 2017. Indeed we have a Premier Showroom Range and there are strict display criteria to ensure our brand is correctly represented.

Aqualisa Q edition
Aqualisa Q edition

Q: How do you respond to criticism over some distributors not accepting a faulty shower unit for credit? Shouldn’t a product be fit for purpose?
A: Absolutely. We can’t speak for distributors’ policies, but should an Aqualisa product be faulty, we will rectify it on-site if installed, or accept it back for a credit.

Q: What do you make of one reader’s comment: “I’ve stood by the supplier for many years, even though you can get 30% off anywhere. They give us nothing off spares and they want to do all the repairs”?
A: Our products have a full parts and labour guarantee, and we have a 48-strong network of service engineers throughout the UK, so we proactively encourage retailers to let us manage both the consumer and the associated costs of servicing. There are discounts in the market on spare parts that the majority of our distributors stock and offer.

Q: How much of a challenge is online discounting? Hasn’t it created an unhealthy race to the bottom on price?
A: Pricing is at the discretion of the retailer and we will never try to influence this – it’s a challenge in any business. We engage with our dealers to create an individual point of difference, while still providing a commercially attractive proposition for an evolving market.

Q: How can dealers overcome the problem of customers visiting stores, wasting the time of the staff, then buying online?
A: This is a challenge that all manufacturers and retailers face. We work with our trade customers to create and promote the benefits of buying in-store. Our website drives customers to our network of showrooms and, although many consumers now begin their purchase journey online, there is still a real desire to walk into a store, touch and feel the product and benefit from expert advice and installation.

Q: Are all the showrooms you partner with up to date on product and installation knowledge?
A: We’re proud to train both retailers and installers – over 1,700 were trained by Aqualisa in 2017.

Q: What do you make of our recent survey of 200 retailers, which suggested only 5% of installers think dealers fully understand the installation side?
A: Tell us who they are and we will happily train them.

Q: What are dealers most looking for from manufacturers and what persuades them to switch from one brand to another?
A: It’s simple really. They want a partnership that provides a sell-and-forget product alongside strong account management and support, an attractive commercial proposition, and expert after-sales service.

Q: As the market tightens, are brands choosing as many routes to market as possible to the detriment of showrooms, thereby undermining dealers’ margins?
A: The bathroom market is expanding – even supermarkets such as Tesco and Lidl sell bathroom products now – and consumers are changing their purchasing habits. Manufacturers need to respond to this changing landscape, yet support those retailers that provide mutual support for their brand.

Q: What do you make of brands like Insinkerator who are now selling products directly online? Will this become a growing trend across the bathroom sector as well?
A: Certainly manufacturers are more aware of the importance of direct relationships with the consumer. Only time will tell if this does become a trend in the bathroom industry.

Q: Can online ever take on the premium end or will it always be the domain of the trade and those on a budget?
A: In other industries, premium products are already sold online but, due to the complexity of bathroom products/design and the experience that can be offered in-store, I think it will be some time before we see this market move online, even with Virtual Reality bathroom designs.

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