Retailers have driven brands to sell direct

One reader shares his thoughts on manufacturers selling direct suggesting that there is blame on both sides 

I’D like to share some thoughts after the recent articles and letters in kbbreview concerning Aqualisa.

I believe this issue highlights something much bigger – loyalty. Decisions taken during the recession by both retailers and manufacturers are coming home to roost.

Retailers diluted their commitment to established brands and flirted with cheaper imported brands to reduce the price of their projects helping to gain desperately needed sales.

Manufacturers saw the internet as the new panacea. Major capital investments from the city, no marketing commitment, reduced sales teams and boxes in boxes out – what’s not to like?

There were two diverging paths where neither thought they needed each other – how wrong could they be?

Retailers and installers have played a crucial role helping establish the majority of leading brands currently operating within the UK. Manufacturers ignore them at their peril. Installer and sales training programmes were closed down during the recession, due in main to cost, and by default contributed to lost trade brand loyalty. From personal experience at Showerlux UK, the training ethos was that your training was targeted at the heart first, the head second.

With minimal consumer brand awareness within our industry, manufacturers have forgotten the importance retailers attach to their trade brands. Retailers would often say with pride that they were a dealer for Sottini, Daryl, V&B, Hansgrohe, etc. Do you ever hear retailers boasting about being a Beijing sanitaryware dealer?

Retailers have in many ways been culpable in driving manufacturers towards the internet. Many – my company included – did not show enough loyalty and many of us reduced our commitment as we tried to stay afloat.

Faced with a combination of closed retailers, a shrinking contract market, lost display space, smaller sales forces, smaller marketing budgets and demands from stakeholders for returns on investment all contributed to an internet perfect storm for many manufacturers. And let’s be honest, the end of the rainbow did look golden.

So what is the answer?

Manufacturers need to decide on their route to market. Ultimately, it is unlikely that they can operate in both sectors without creating separate brands with separate legal entities.

Showrooms will need to consolidate their offering and promote fewer brands. This way, the manufacturer will get a better share of the retailer’s sales potential, encouraging them to invest more in their showroom network. A truly symbiotic relationship.

Some brands will migrate solely to the internet and that might be right for them and some will disappear, as is the natural order of things.

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