Ideal Standard: A time for change

For Ideal Standard International the pandemic was a catalyst for reflection and change. Dave Barber, Ideal Standard UK, MD talks to Rebecca Nottingham about the latest developments at the brand and what it all means for retailers 

Without doubt, the past year has tested us all at every level of our personal and working lives. So much so that even global giants like Ideal Standard weren’t immune to the disruptions and challenges the pandemic threw at us. 

To secure its short- and long-term future, like many businesses, Covid forced the brand to review its global strategy. With the scale of a business like Ideal Standard International, this inevitably brought about some changes.

As part of that review, it forged ahead with the global launch of its new ‘landmark’ Atelier Collections. However, this has also led to the streamlining of its global brand portfolio in some areas, which, for the UK specifically, resulted in the decision to withdraw the Sottini brand from
the market. 

Dave Barber, managing director of Ideal Standard UK, who, let’s not forget, only took on the role a month into the first national lockdown, explains how he is implementing the new strategy, what it all means for the brand and, most importantly, the retailers in the UK. 

Q: Talk us through the brand consolidation at Ideal Standard…what was the catalyst and what does it mean for retailers?

A: As a result of Covid, the Group – Ideal Standard International – 
reviewed its global brand strategy and decided to make a number of changes in 2021 to support continued growth in the market. This involves a cross-territory brand streamlining, enabling focused investment into the Ideal Standard brand. As part of that, the Sottini brand will be absorbed into Ideal Standard, and Armitage Shanks will remain the lead brand in the non-residential and healthcare markets. This consolidation of brands will give a renewed focus and strengthen the impact of investments across the retail, residential and specification markets. 

Q: What’s the retail strategy in the UK for Ideal Standard now that you’re withdrawing Sottini from the market? 

A: Back in 2019 we relaunched Sottini with great intent and had some great pro–ducts to back that up. Our story at kbb Birmingham last year was even all about Sottini. It’s been our retail-led brand for many years but let’s not sugar-coat it, we’ve flip-flopped a little with our approach over the years. 

As a UK business we invested heavily in Sottini but, it was only ever a UK brand and didn’t benefit from the same level of support from the Group when it came to marketing and, most importantly, new
product development. 

On top of that, coming over the horizon was this absolutely amazing, landmark, design-led collection called Atelier. So, we took the decision that it was best to really focus on our power brands of Armitage Shanks for commercial and Ideal Standard for retail and residential, of which Atelier is a premier collection.

Conca Ideal Standard
Conca bath from the new Atelier Collections

What this does as a wider business, is focus our effort, money and our attention on one brand. It enables us [Ideal Standard UK] to leverage the power of the Group spending and the Group NPI. It also makes a more streamlined, simple portfolio for our retailers. It’s a completely new start for Ideal Standard in retail in the UK. 

Q: Wasn’t the original launch of Sottini meant to be a new start for Ideal Standard in retail in the UK? What’s the difference this time around?

A: It’s different this time because the drive of our entire international business is behind Atelier. Before, it was just the UK business behind Sottini, so there was less opportunity for investment. So, it’s good for us as a business but, more importantly, this is going to be great for our retailers. It’s an amazing design-led collection. It fits within the hierarchy of the company so it’s one power brand proposition. 

Atelier will be available exclusively through independent retailers and, some of the key – high-sell – Sottini pieces will transition into the higher-level preference range under the Ideal Standard brand name. 

Q: Ideal Standard brand products have previously been offered as a more mainstream retail solution, what makes it right for retailers across all sectors of the
market now? 

A: We’re fully aware that the brand name Ideal Standard is sometimes seen as a bit too mass-market for a lot of inde-pendents, but not only is Atelier – which will be available exclusively through independent retailers – a complete step-change for us, and the market.

As mentioned, we have also created an Ideal Standard preference range, especially for independents, which will include some of the most popular products previously available in the Sottini portfolio.

Q: When will Sottini be withdrawn from the UK market?

A: The plan is that by the end of Q4 this year the Sottini brand will be fully phased out in retail. We are keeping Sottini within our speci-fication business – for premium, high-end house-build projects. 

Q: How will you support retailers through this period of change? 

Atelier Ideal Standard
Colour is a key element of the Atelier Collections as demonstrated by this Ipalyss basin

A: The Atelier Collections mark a new era in Ideal Standard’s design journey, and we understand the importance of these ranges for our retail partners. Not only are we committing to a consumer advertising campaign to drive footfall to show-rooms, but we are also working with retailers to provide support and tailor-made packages to ensure they are fully equipped to serve their customer base.

We’ll give them support through the transition – that means help with displays. We’ll do a sensible phase-out of Sottini and a great phase-in of Atelier. 

We’re also working really hard to make sure we can service our retailers in the timeliest fashion and to do that, we are expanding and transforming our distribution centre in Armitage with a dedicated retail area that will be able to cope with the growth we hope we’re going to enjoy over the next five years. So that we can service them all properly.  

We’re also expanding our field sales team for retail as well, to ensure retailers get the support they need from us. 

So, importantly, we’re not just investing in the product, we’re investing in the service and support proposition as well. 

Q: With the introduction of Atelier, what’s the target for the business in the UK? Are you looking to grow your retail network? 

A: We have a triple growth target for retail in the next five years. 

We will be looking to transition strong Sottini retailers over to Atelier and will also be looking for new dealers. We have a target of around 100 – we’ll be looking for flagship Atelier dealers and then Gold and Silver retailers. 

Q: How do you see things playing out for the industry? 

A: There is a golden opportunity for retailers. During that first break in lockdowns last year, we saw retailers make a strong recovery. I’m confident we’ll see that again this year. Lots of people have money that they’ve managed to save up through the pandemic and house projects will be front-of-mind – so I predict there’s going to be another surge of pent-up demand when they open on April 12.

There’s no doubt there are still challenges ahead – copper prices, for instance, are 60% above long-term average and freight costs are through the roof. But, from a business perspective, we’re moving forward with a strong brand proposition and the powerhouse of Ideal Standard International behind us, so I’m confident for the year ahead. 

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