Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, Harrison Bathrooms remains on track to hit its ambitious target of £40 million turnover by 2023. Rebecca Nottingham went to the company’s Leeds HQ to meet commercial director Shaun Corcoran and find out more about its strategy.
Change is often the result of a deep dissatisfaction with how things are and a burning desire to instigate a new way of working. And that’s exactly where the vision for Harrison Bathrooms came from.
According to commercial director Shaun Corcoran (pictured), founder James Harrison – previously part of the family-run Cavalier business – could see an opportunity to turn traditional distribution on its head by sourcing its own product and selling and distributing it direct to retailers. Its ability to control and reduce the supply chain, he adds, ensures that Harrison Bathrooms can offer competitive prices and improved profit margins to retailers.
“If you look at how traditional distribution works, there’s usually three, maybe four, margin chains before the retailer gets to sell it on,” explains Corcoran. “James [Harrison, the founder of Harrison Bathrooms] identified an opportunity to remove a link and shorten the supply chain, thereby maximising retailers’ margins.
“With Scudo, we created a brand that cuts out that middle margin and goes straight to the independent retailer and merchants. That’s where the benefit comes from. Retailers buy it direct from us so there isn’t a middleman to pay. We’re protecting their margin which in turn enables them to compete in a very price-driven market.
“We offer up to 68% margin on some products, against the industry standard of less than 50%. What’s more, the mid-market – where the Scudo brand is aimed – isn’t necessarily an area associated with solid margins. So, we’re bringing opportunities to a wider retail market.”
Although it’s been around for eight years, by industry standards Harrison Bathrooms is still a fairly young business. The age does not, however, necessarily represent the scale of a business, as Corcoran explains.
“Because we’re a relatively new brand, people’s perception is that we are a small business,” he says. “But, when they come here [the Leeds HQ and warehouse facility] and see the depth and breadth of the Scudo range and feel the quality of the products against the stockholding we have – they realise that, although we might be a young business, we’re a significant player in the market.”
Putting that significance into context, since its launch eight years ago the company has seen 20% to 25% growth year on year. In the past two years alone, it has doubled its turnover and is on track to become a £40 million business by 2023. As part of its five-year plan, it moved to its current 78,000sq ft premises at the back end of 2019, which enabled it to house an additional 10,000 extra pallets of stock, increase its overall product selection by 40% and keep up with the spike in demand throughout the pandemic.
“Prior to the move here, our stock had been spread across five separate warehouses which had, understandably, caused us some logistical issues,” Corcoran explains. “We needed to find a larger space for our growing portfolio and to ensure we could offer the right level of service to our retailers.”
To give you an idea just how fast the Harrison Bathrooms business is growing, its move to the Leeds facility was part of its five-year plan but, by consistently increasing its stock-holding to meet demand and also buffer any supply shortages, the business has, according to Corcoran, already outgrown the facility and they are now currently looking for additional warehouse space.
Another factor that has apparently played a significant role in the company’s fast-paced growth is its appearance at the kbb show in Birmingham last March.
As a relatively new brand and one that is quite price-driven, getting the product in front of retailers is, Corcoran explains, essential.
“We had a big presence at kbb and while, at first, it felt like bad timing – because of the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed – the timing actually worked out well for us,” he explains. “A lot of retailers were able to take the time during lockdown to review their business and their showroom space and look at new ways of working and we actually had a lot of displays agreed during that period.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was an extremely uncertain period, and it was tough for many reasons but, because we’d been at the show, retailers had seen the product, which meant they knew what they were buying into and that helped get decisions over the line.”
The idea that, when seen, the product actually sells itself is one of the main reasons behind the company’s recent six-figure investment in a showroom at the Leeds HQ. Designed to inspire and enthuse retailers and their customers, the showroom features a vast array of Scudo product in lifestyle settings.
”Since opening, we’ve already seen a noticeable increase in retailers buying full displays from us, rather than just the odd product,” he says.
“For a young brand like us, of course, the initial sell can be trickier. With the price point and the margin opportunities we’re offering, retailers think there’s a catch with the quality, which is why, when they actually see the product, we win display space – because they understand there’s no compromise on quality, it’s just that we’re going direct to them from the factory.
“Having the showroom next to our warehouse also allows retailers to appreciate the amount of stock we hold, which enables us to meet next-day delivery requirements.”
For its Scudo portfolio, Harrison Bathrooms works with a range of third-party designers and has the products manufactured in the UK, Europe, and the Far East.
Corcoran is open about the fact that, until now, the bulk of the Scudo portfolio had predominantly been manufactured in the Far East.
“Within the next few months, we will be importing more product from Europe than we do from China,” he explains. “That decision was partly due to the rising, post-pandemic freight costs, but also because we just want more stability in our pricing and to ensure we can meet the needs of our retailers.”
Corcoran also acknowledged the rise in raw material costs hitting the sector and how Harrison Bathrooms, specifically, is dealing with them.
“We are looking to source different product that isn’t so affected by price rises,” he explains. “However, where that isn’t possible and where the increase is just too much for us to absorb – like with the brass and copper price hikes – we will, inevitably, have to pass some increases on to our customers.”
Though Corcoran makes a very convincing argument of the USPs of Harrison Bathrooms and its Scudo brand, the fact is that the market is brimming with distributors and branded and unbranded bathroom product. So, is there room for everyone and how do they intend to stay relevant and ahead of the competition?
“The market isn’t big enough for everyone,” he says matter-of-factly. “The market isn’t growing 20 to 25% per year like we are, so we must be taking share from other businesses.
“The benefit we have is that, once retailers start using us and realise how much margin they can get through us, they realise it just makes business sense and that’s just a constantly evolving cycle.
“It’s still the independents that drive the brands or products they sell and, if they have the chance to make more profit out of selling one over another, why wouldn’t they choose the one that gives them more?”
According to Corcoran, it’s not just the margin opportunities that make Harrison Bathrooms a good supplier to deal with. The fact that – in structure at least – it is a relatively small company means that they are agile and can react quickly to any changes in the market.
The benefit we have is that, once retailers start using us and realise how much margin they can make through us, they realise it just makes business sense and that’s just a constantly evolving cycle
“James [Harrison] is heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the business which is a huge plus,” he explains. “None of the management team works out of an office, so we’re approachable and have a very open and honest culture here, which just helps get things done – fast.
“Because we’re so directly linked to retailers, we get more feedback on the products they want us to bring out – usually to fill a gap in the market. We make decisions quickly, accurately, and efficiently that directly impact the business and that of our customers.”
Though independent retailers and merchants remain the core business, to achieve its £40m target by 2023 the company is investing in its sales team to pursue growth and sees opportunities in the specification market.