EXCLUSIVE: ‘Flood of poor quality imports has left market demoralised…’

Certification body, the British Board of Agrément, has blasted product quality in the bathroom industry and urged retailers to drive a radical improvement in standards.

Speaking exclusively to kbbreview following the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) Conference at the Vale Hotel in Glamorgan, BBA chief executive Claire Curtis-Thomas (pictured) described the UK market as “complacent and infiltrated by poor products”.

She accused the industry of being “happy with the flood of imports and content to compete just on price and marketing capability”.

“The UK is a compliance-free zone,” she claimed. “People are just selling aesthetics and they’re not too worried if those products are technically robust.

“The individual doesn’t know how good any product is on a number of levels. Is it as good as the manufacturer of the product says it is? Is it as good as the installer says it is? And is what they’re getting what they thought they were paying for?

“The scandal is that the industry is left demoralised. The retailer and end consumer are left assuming that a product complies with some sort of standard because the person that provides it has ensured that it complies. Then you are reassured that the person installing it fits it properly, so it isn’t compromised in the installation.

“But I don’t think this expensive option is properly interrogated to make sure it’s the case. When I look at the websites of companies in the retail space, the question I would ask is, where’s the technical specification to make sure they match standards? On so many websites, there’s nothing at all. So if you wanted to satisfy yourself that the product you purchased is the product you actually got, it would be extremely difficult – an awful lot of it is taken on trust. That allows the unscrupulous supplier of the product to do an awful lot of substitution without advising the client.”

The BBA advises the Government on legislation and aims to provide reassurance throughout the construction industry. Since its launch in 1966, it has developed rigorous testing, inspection and certification services to support manufacturers and installers in achieving excellence.

Curtis-Thomas went on to describe suppliers who had been assured that a product was covered by a quality regime as “pretty naïve” and urged them to “take more responsibility for supplying products that they told their customer they would supply”.

In particular, she singled out Chinese imports as still having “significant problems with regard to quality control”.

She also hit out at CE marking, which she insisted didn’t necessarily make a product fit for purpose. “It just describes a product,” she said. It can simply come down to ‘it’s a bath’, not ‘it’s a good bath that’s been tested’.”

Curtis-Thomas admitted that her claims would “make bathroom manufacturers feel uncomfortable”.

“They’ll say, ‘do we need this extra layer of interference? No. I don’t think we do, let’s carry on as we are.’

“But each one of them is concerned about Mickey Mouse products coming into the market and taking their business away. They’ve got to up their game. They’re not helping themselves by not addressing this issue.”

She concluded by calling on bathroom retailers to push suppliers for more product information: “If the purchaser of the product is asking for information that will drive the supplier to provide it,” she said. “So it’s the important first step. Suppliers aren’t going to jump into this arena without some kind of impetus usually. So stores have got to start asking these questions.”

For the full interview, see the December issue of kbbreview

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