Ready for a new normal?

Now that Brexit is a done deal, the Ripples managing director Paul Crow asks whether the bathroom industry is ready for a new normal and hopes sales directors will spend some time getting to know their retail customers better.

Whatever your political viewpoint, I am sure most are relieved to get Brexit over the line as it is never good to go to war on too many fronts. And it has felt like that, hasn’t it? 

With vaccines already being rolled out and the European barriers lifted once more, it is right that we cheer a little, but my biggest concern is that it is a sigh of relief that triggers a complacency few can afford.

One of the most natural consequences of the pandemic was the change in consumer behaviour. It is not a straightforward transition from ‘high street’ to online. How we and our suppliers set out our stalls to cope with this new world is going to be a test for us all and one I fear not everyone is ready for.

We all know that Debenhams didn’t fail because of Covid. It failed 10 years ago when it stopped being anything other than a department store and has been on a life support machine ever since. Likewise, Arcadia didn’t fail because of Debenhams, it failed because it didn’t invest early enough in the areas to match the consumer trend of buying clothes online.

Demand

The reality is that 2020 has given everyone a kick in the stomach and regardless of how well pent-up demand served to bring an early financial spring, we must all be mindful of assuming an Indian summer will follow. 

Whether we are studying what is going on with the economy, the housing market, online retailers or our competitor down the road, Covid-19 has changed the bathroom industry and probably forever. 

That itself is not the issue, the main question is whether the bathroom industry is ready for these changes.

The first thing most manufacturers wanted to do at the end of 2020 was send out a price increase letter that also mentioned tariffs and surcharges. 

I acknowledge that they have not been immune to the challenges and, if anything, as global businesses they have much more serious issues to worry about today than any of us. Like us, they present a brave and supportive face on the fringes of their communication, but such is the depth of the damage done to some that many will be needing a complete rethink on how they move forward globally, and that does often manifest itself in price increases. 

Ducks
Get your ducks in a row

Clearly, I don’t run their business, but I do believe it is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. What was obvious from the past year was that the Ripples team responded best to the individuals or companies that worked the hardest to make it easier for us to buy from them. 

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Supplier reps

The supplier representative was key to this. If you ask Ripples franchisees, they will all agree on the top three or four names that stand out for making a difference to their company, and by this, I mean to their turnover. These were the representatives that always visit the showroom; always look pleased to do so and always answer their phone and get things done. And unlike most of their sales directors they know what our showroom looks like.

There are too many sales directors that remain a mystery to our franchisees and I fear that many are out of touch with what is happening within their customer base. That should be a concern for them, too. While this view might provoke and even annoy some, it is stated against the contrast of those sales directors I can also say the exact opposite about. 

A few are always visiting Ripples, always on the phone and always wanting to do more. They understand the importance of spreadsheets, but use their ears to influence them and put their effort into the areas that influence us best too. They are the same people who demand more, get more, and lead their sales team by example. 

If 2020 has saved some money on management fuel bills, I would hope and expect this to be the opposite this year, and they can start with the simple question of ‘how can we help?’ They will be very welcome in all our showrooms as I am sure they will be in yours.

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!

On a lighter note, Nicola and I made our first leap into dog ownership during the second lockdown and our lives, as well as our house, were turned a little upside down. Ruby, our little Cavachon, has made several guest appearances on Teams and helped keep a busy household sane. Likewise, she has certainly benefited from more working from home and will take some persuasion I’m sure to go to work post-lockdown.

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