Claire Algar, kbbreview100 member and founder of Rouse Bathrooms in Kent, on how she got into selling bathrooms, what it’s like being a woman showroom owner and why women have so much to offer customers and the industry
Q: What’s been your experience as a woman in the KBB industry?
A: My father has been in the bathroom industry since I was born, so I guess I was aware of the field from an early age, although it wasn’t on my radar for a career personally. It was more something I fell into on a trial basis. I was fairly shy and very ‘green’ at 20 when I started in a showroom, but it worked for me and 20 years later here I am!
It’s one of those questions you get asked when you meet someone new for the first time, and they ask what you do and you reply, ‘I sell bathrooms’. It’s never what they expect to hear. To be honest, I love it. Every day, every project and every customer is different. It’s never boring and ever-evolving in design.
I love striking up a rapport with clients. Trust is the key. I think they feel safe in a woman’s hands, that I’ve listened to what they want, identified their needs and given them the inspiration they need, and that I do care that they end up with their dream bathroom. It’s not a case of just box-ticking.
For me, it’s not just a job. It’s a part of me. It’s my business. It’s my livelihood and I’m passionate about bathrooms.
Q: What advice would you give to other women looking to emulate your success as a business owner?
A: You have to want it, be self-motivated and get stuck in. As a bricks-and-mortar showroom in a world of internet and sheds offering cutthroat pricing, you have to stand out and make your service be the difference – the reason they value your business over any other and great service over cost-cutting.
Use being a woman to your advantage.
Q: Do you feel women are under-represented in the KBB industry?
A: No, certainly not with people like you [Rebecca Nottingham, editor kbbreview] and Sofia Charalambous [owner, Bathroom Origins] always showing support.
We get stuff done. We’re better multitaskers too. I think women bring more flair and finer attention to design detail
Q: How do you think the KBB industry as a whole would benefit from having more women in a variety of roles?
A: Well, we get stuff done, don’t we. We’re better multitaskers too. I think women bring more flair and finer attention to design detail. Having been quite isolated in a very male-dominated Bathstore world, and stepping out into my independent business, I have met so many wonderful women in the industry. Women who support other women. Over the past year, I have met a number of inspiring women in the bathroom industry and it’s been a support to occasionally check in and see how it’s going, praising designs and sharing ideas.
Q: In your experience, how do consumers – male and female – react to female designers?
A: Not to generalise too much, but most clients are a couple. I may be wrong, but I think as women in the industry, we may have the upper hand. Woman to woman, the lady is grateful that you understand her frustrations with the old bathroom and appreciates ideas and solutions for the new bathroom. It’s a question of trust. The man is happy that his partner is happy and impressed that you know what you’re taking about.
Q: Who do you find makes most of the decisions when it comes to the design and purchase of a bathroom?
A: The woman. Without being stereotypical, the simple fact is that she spends more time in there. She cleans it. She stores more of her lotions and potions in there. She spends more time reading magazines, on Instagram searching for inspiration and creating Pinterest boards. Normally, it’s the lady who is in the driving seat. The man, generally, looks for quality, bottom-line price. Happy wife, happy life.
Q: As one of the few women that holds a prominent role in the industry, do you feel you have a part to play in encouraging other women to pursue a KBB career?
A: I would encourage other women to pursue a career in the industry, provided they are hands-on, focused and not too girly – it’s not glamorous.
Currently, in our showroom, it’s myself and a long-standing and very much valued male colleague, Sam. I will need to employ another team member this year and I would look to take on another lady.
As silly as it sounds, though, I actually personally quite like women, being a bit more of a ‘niche’ bathroom retailer type. It puts my service and recommendations from customers out there as something a bit more unique.
Q: What do you think is the future of the KBB industry when it comes to diversity?
A: Bathroom design is moving at such a fast pace. It’s ever-evolving. A lot of my Instagram followers are generally either trade-based, bathroom retailers or women who are design-focused on interiors and colours. The bathroom is now a focus of home improvement, with so much more to offer than a three-piece suite.
It has become an attractive and much more interesting room, so maybe more women will pursue a career in the bathroom industry.
Listen to the International Women’s Day Special on The kbbreview Podcast on The kbbreview Podcast. Listen now using the player below or search ‘kbbreview’ in a podcast app.