New association aims to secure best future for bathroom retailers

Bathcom is an association for bricks-and-mortar and bricks-and-clicks bathroom retailers set to launch in July, subject to review.

The organisation aims to promote independent bathrooms showrooms and what they can offer consumers and also provide a place for retailers and suppliers to come together to discuss the issues surrounding the industry. Membership includes being part of a consumer-facing website that will direct customers to their local independent bathroom retailer.

Bathcom will also provide an online forum for retailers across the UK to connect and swap business advice and ideas. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, this part of Bathcom has been fast-tracked and is available now for retailers to use free of charge. In four days, the forum has had 32 people sign up and start to interact online.

Mike Nicholls, managing director of Bathcom, has teamed up with former Bristan chairman Gary Lake and Kathy Freeman, who previously worked in a regional role for Tesco, to create Bathcom. They have already received interest from 52 retailers, with a total of 74 showrooms with £43 million in turnover. Bathcom said it plans to start member sign-up soon.

The overall aim is to get 150 retailers to sign up within the first 12 to 18 months of launch. The retailers will be given geographic exclusivity. Nicholls hopes to attract ‘first or second players’ in a particular area. Retailers must have a turnover of £1 million, although that is flexible for rural areas and smaller towns. They must be a bathroom retailer and “have a comprehensive bathroom offering” of 75% of turnover, although Nicholls said there is room for flexibility on that. Retailers are still eligible that also sell kitchens, bathrooms and tiles as well.

Nicholls did not want to set up a bathroom buying group, and said that Bathcom is more like a community where retailers and suppliers can discuss business and share ideas. He said: “I want to provide the place where the answers can flow. We don’t have a hierarchy, but we want to make a sustainable environment where we can work together to make things work better. By working together, we can be a lot stronger.”

He added: “We want Bathcom to be a place where, when you hear that name, you know you are dealing with a quality retailer. We want that message to get through to consumers as much as we can.”

The consumer-facing side of Bathcom is a website that will explain to the public the value proposition of dealing with an independent retailer. Nicholls said: “We genuinely believe that the best place for a consumer to buy a bathroom suite from is an independent retailer. We will identify and explain who their nearest is. We won’t just give the name and address, but will explain the exact value proposition of that company.”

The website will include information about each member retailer with an overview of the products and services on offer, but it will also provide the human element and the back story to the company. It will be search-engine-optimised, so when a consumer searches for a retailer in their area, they will find an independent retailer, not an online retailer or a multiple.

Nicholls said: “Nothing worth having is easy, but being a bathroom retailer is getting harder and harder. I was thinking about why this was getting harder. Primarily, it is because of what is happening online. It is not just competition on price, it is also the fact that people are using Google as a weapon. So, when people Google bathrooms in their area, it means that bigger players come up.

“If you were an independent retailer 10 years ago, you had a good boat and crew, and you knew where the fish is, and you would go there, throw your net and get a good catch. What is inevitably happening is that now they still have the net and the crew, but when they throw the net out there is less fish. Because a lot of the opportunities are taken away because of Google.”

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