Victoria Plum receives £1.75m from rival over trademark battle

Online bathroom retailer Victoria Plum received £1.75 million from rival Victorian Plumbing earlier this year after winning its court battle over trademark infringement.

On November 18, 2016, the High Court ruled that Victorian Plumbing had paid to advertise infringing text in online search engine results that emerged when people searched for Victoria Plum or related terms. This, the court ruled, created confusion for customers searching for Victoria Plum.

The judge’s decision included an injunction preventing Victorian Plumbing from bidding on VictoriaPlum.com’s name. In the same ruling, Victorian Plumbing was successful in a counterclaim against Victoria Plum for engaging in similar activities: purchasing Victorian Plumbing’s name as a keyword to return sponsored links for their website.

In its latest full-year financial accounts filed earlier this month, Victoria Plum, which is reportedly up for sale, said that the settlement had been paid in full in February, but it was partially offset by a £600,000 legal bill the court drama incurred.

Last week, Sky News reported that TPG, the private equity owner of Hull-based Victoria Plum, was looking to offload the online retailer, to the US owner of high-street chain Bathstore or merge the businesses.

While both companies refused to comment on the news, many industry players and observers told kbbreview that the move, if true, would not come as a surprise.

Mike Tattam, sales and marketing director at Lakes Showering Spaces, said he does not believe that the pure-play online business model will work for bathroom and plumbing products.

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“It is not sufficient to simply compete on price. In order to be successful in a market where growth is primarily coming from demand for premium-quality products, rather than the lower end, businesses need to adopt an omni-channel approach, which combines an online presence with showrooms.”

A more damning comment on the future of internet retail in the bathroom space came from Richard Hassell, a director at Doncaster-based retailer More Than Baths, who said: “Give it another 18 months…online for bathrooms will die out.”

Victoria Plum said sales were up 9% to £63m over the 12 months to end of February 2018 and operating profit had improved by almost £6m, with the e-commerce firm turning a small profit to £200,000 from a loss of £5.7m the year before.

No dividends were payable in the year.

It said that during the year, investments were made in the website to enhance the customer journey and improve sales conversion, several key management hires were made and the firm strengthened relationships with digital opinion formers, including Google.

It said: “The directors believe that the significant improvements that have been made to the business… have now created the foundations for sustainable growth and continued improvement to profitability.”

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