Martin Mongan: It’s an exciting time for Bristan Group

After a two-year break Martin Mongan is back in the bathroom industry as the new CEO of Bristan Group. Rebecca Nottingham gets his assessment of the industry in a post-Covid world and finds out his future plans for the business.

Q: Welcome back to the bathroom industry. Was a return always part of the plan or is it just simply that another role at the Masco Group was an opportunity that was too good to miss? 

A: When I left the bathroom industry in 2019, I always said I had another job left in me and, I’d left it open with Hansgrohe that I would come back if there was ever an opportunity. 

Having previously been a retailer myself and then the MD of a big bathroom brand, I definitely think I can bring an intelligence about the industry as a whole to the position. 

Q: Although you’ve been on the side-lines of the bathroom industry since you left Hansgrohe in 2019, do you feel like you’re back with a new perspective?

A: I wasn’t too far removed from the industry really but taking a step back is healthy and has definitely given me the opportunity to come back in with a new view of everything.

Q: Tell us, as the new CEO of Bristan Group, what’s your immediate focus? 

A: If we look at the Bristan brand first, for me it’s about getting back to basics – being simple and easy to do business with, offering industry-leading service and having a great product at the price point it operates in. Harnessing those core values is essential for me. We play such a significant role in this industry but it’s a brilliant brand that was built on service, and people and that’s where I certainly see the impact. 

We’re looking for good steady growth. Understanding where we sit in the market and playing to our strengths is critical and we will grow the business off the back of that focus. 

Q: As the Group’s retail brand, let’s talk more about Heritage,
do you think it has achieved its full potential?

A: As our retail brand, from a Heritage perspective the focus is a little different. People and service are still very important, obviously, but the product itself is far more critical. It is about understanding the role and where it plays. 

The style of the product range is becoming more vogue – particularly with a younger audience – we have some real opportunities with the brand that we definitely want to build on in the next couple of years. This is a chance for us to start again and really make a mark with the brand. I truly believe there is an opportunity for Heritage to play a significant role in the retail sector and we are looking at every opportunity as to how we really make that happen. 

I’m looking forward to growing the product range and working with our retail partners to grow the brand to its full potential. It’s an exciting time for Bristan Group – especially the Heritage brand.

Q: How will this affect your independent retail network? 

A: We’re never going to be the cheapest product in the market and, in all honesty Bristan is never going to be the most innovative either, so our strategy has to be about customer intimacy – it’s about knowing our customers better than our competitors do. We do that through having a clear understanding at every customer interaction point.

What that means is that we understand the needs of whoever touches our business whether that be installers, retailers or consumers. So, becoming more customer-focused – in whatever market we’re operating in – and having the ability to respond to what our customers want, before they even know when they want it is going to be critical for us moving forwards. 

 Q: How has the Bristan Group dealt with the challenges of Covid and Brexit?

A: For the first two months of last year, we were well ahead of plan and, in fact, we were on target for a record year. We then had March, April and May where the world literally came to a halt but, after that initial lockdown, we saw really good growth across all brands which, pretty much, made up for the business that we lost in the previous months. 

I know we fared far better than a lot of our competitors in having stock on the shelves – that’s why we had a better second half of 2020 than expected. To make sure our service levels never dropped throughout the challenges of Covid and Brexit, we literally did everything we could to get the stock to our customers – including having more ships on the sea at one time than we’ve ever had in the history of the company. We’ve been doing this a long time, so we have excellent relationships with our suppliers which obviously also helped. 

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