Roccia’s 20,000sq ft flagship Preston store claims to be ‘the largest tile and bathroom showroom in the UK’. It added kitchens in 2018. Chris Frankland spoke to MD Zabir Patel about the company’s ethos and humble beginnings
On a retail park on Queen Street, Preston, the distinctive 20,000sq ft Dekton-clad fascia of the architect-designed Roccia Design Centre screams ‘destination store’ and certainly helps it stand out from the crowd.
In fact, it was a LinkedIn post by David Cox Architects in Preston, who designed that standout fascia, that inspired kbbreview to take a look at this forward-thinking business.
The building was bought in 2011 as the company had outgrown the previous store in Preston. Managing director Zabir Patel (pictured) explains: “There had been a financial crisis and people were thinking it wasn’t the right time to invest. We thought, let’s take a punt and make it happen – let’s invest at a time when other people aren’t.
“We decided to reinvest in a big way and it was the beginning of a whole new business. We worked with local architects and builders, supporting the community and local economy.
“And after a few iterations of the initial design, we ended up with an amazing-looking building.”
They did think of naming the building Gull Wing in the spirit of the Mercedes showroom that Roccia took over and because it resembled a wing or a bird soaring, but they settled on the Roccia Design Centre.
Patel adds: “The front is all faced with Dekton from Cosentino. It will outlive us and it demonstrates how hard-wearing the material is. It’s on a retail park and that makes it very different from the rest of the buildings. It does stand out and have an impact. It was finished in 2019.
“It is very much about being a destination site and why people should come to us. We have people come here for the weekend and maybe decide to stay over and visit the Lake District. We pick them up from the station, bring them to the store, they have lunch and spend the whole day here and we then drop them off to where they want to go. It’s about giving that whole, rounded service.”
The new Roccia Preston store is set out over two floors and sell tiles, bathrooms and kitchens. When you enter the store, the first displays are for tiles, then bathrooms, then kitchens, and upstairs there are also displays of all three. In total, Patel says there are around 20 kitchen displays, with a similar number for bathrooms. The kitchen and bathroom displays tend to be fairly large. Some kitchen displays have working appliances and there are bathroom displays with working showers too.
Although, as Patel explains, Roccia tends towards the middle to high-end of the market, it has not forgotten its more down-to-earth roots. He adds: “With the Roccia brand and the new colleagues that came on board, it naturally leans towards the mid to high-end. It has been good, but it has been a challenge. That sector weathers the storm, but we have also had to make sure that we are still catering for those loyal customers that have always supported the business and we must cater for that market too.
“The strategy now is to aim at different levels and different audience segments and we can now use social media to target each category of consumer with the products they would be interested in.”
So what were those roots?
When the company first set up in 1994 in smaller premises in Manchester Road, it was trading as Tile Mart, selling just tiles. It was set up by Patel’s father Yacub, who was a joiner. Patel joined him in the business, aged 24, having previously had experience selling in local markets.
The business did well and they opened a second store in Bolton, on the ground floor of an old mill.
The Bolton store did not expand until 2014/15 and then they added a couple of bathroom displays, although it is still mainly tiles. The company started out with a high proportion of trade sales, but has, over the years, become more retail-focused. The Bolton store, however, is still more trade-oriented. It sells bathrooms, but tends to direct customers to Preston, where they can take advantage of the store’s design service.
When the decision was taken to expand Preston to what we see today, it also diversified into selling bathrooms.
Patel recalls: “Purchasing the property and making that happen, and introducing bathrooms, was a strategic decision. You sell tiles, but how do you sell more tiles? If you meet the customer further down the line, the tiles seem to be the thing that they want to choose at the end, and so if you are selling them bathrooms too, maybe they will choose their tiles at the same time. That was the thinking behind going into bathrooms. And it has worked well.” So well, it seems, that the company needed to open two new warehouses in 2014/15.
Kitchens, though, did not come in until 2018 – two years after the business had rebranded as Roccia.
“Tile Mart was a bit old school,” Patel explains. “Yacub came up with the Tile Mart name and that worked well in the beginning and the business built up a loyalty with traders. But we felt it was time target a different audience and get into a different market, and we decided on Roccia.
“We chose it because we do a lot of Italian and European products and a lot of the tiles come from Italy, so the origin is ‘rock’ or ‘stone’ and the idea was that it is of the earth and solid. The rebrand was 2016 and we introduced kitchens in 2018.”
Patel explains that kitchen sales have now almost overtaken bathroom sales: “Kitchen sales have suddenly increased rapidly. We didn’t expect kitchens to be as busy and successful as they now are. It just happened.
“Percentagewise, tiles are still the big earner, because we have Bolton as well as Preston. And lots of people still think of us as Tile Mart. They are around 50% of our business and kitchens and bathrooms 25% each. We are expecting turnover to be around £15 million to £16m [for 2021], which will be up on the previous year by a significant amount. During Covid, we saw a significant increase.”
Patel says that they have 10 staff looking after kitchen sales and 10 for bathrooms, including warehouse staff.
Kitchen sales range in value from £20,000 to £120,000, while for bathrooms it is £3,000 to £20,000. Typical average value would be £30,000 to £35,000 for kitchens and £10,000 to £12,000 for bathrooms.
Patel adds: “We appeal to those customers who will spend more, influencers or celebrities, but we are still connecting with our original customer base.
“From the outside looking in, some people might think it is a bit daunting, but we have to connect with that bread-and-butter market and we have got to look after them.”
In terms of bathrooms, Roccia sells mainly Laufen, Novello, Kohler, Artelinea, Acquabella and Gessi.
“Those are our main brands,” Patel explains. “We have some regular brands you’d get online, but we have moved away from them because competing with online is a challenge.
“It is so easy for people to come here and get their design done, say thanks very much and go and buy it online. So we have deliberately moved away from competing with online and stock products that offer a bit more creativity and exclusivity. Gessi, for example, are very specific products tailored for a very specific market.”
Roccia sells bathrooms on a supply-only basis but does recommend tradespeople it can vouch for to install them. For kitchens, though, it does offer a full installation service.
In kitchens, Roccia covers all the bases with British, German and Italian brands. Its German brand is Schüller and Next125, the British option is Jacob & Sons, while from Italy it offers Cesar.
Says Patel: “We want to give customers that choice. You have got German engineering, Italian flair and British practicality. The customer can make an informed decision.”
With bathrooms, kitchens and tiles all under one roof, Patel says he is now finding more customers buying all three from Roccia. “All three coming together is happening more and more and there is a lot more collaboration between the different departments,” he tells kbbreview. “We used to have separate designers and salespeople but now we are looking at being able to do all three, so that the customer can deal with one person rather than be passed along to a different colleague. It’s all coming together and we are having to adapt as a business in terms of training and development.”
Patel says Roccia does not do any contract work with developers and in terms of sales to interior designers and architects, he says “previously we haven’t really attracted them to our showroom, but now we have the opportunity”.
Roccia supports a lot of local and national charities and is committed to being a part of the local community.
“We’re all about supporting the local community. In terms of national charities, I am a trustee at the British Red Cross and I go to London a fair bit and was with the CEO recently in Manchester. Locally, we support cricket and football teams, hospices in Bolton and Preston and local primary schools.
“It is really important to us and we encourage our staff to get involved. Today [the day of our interview] we are having a bake sale for Rosemere Cancer Foundation.”
The company has won awards from the local chamber of commerce for Medium Business of the Year in 2018 and Business of the Year in 2019. It is also a finalist for Bathroom Showroom of the Year in the kbbreview Retail & Design Awards 2022.
So, having come so far, what is next for Roccia?
Patel replies: “More collaboration with other businesses to develop this as a destination site. We have one company who have come in, which does windows, and another company that does designer furniture has also taken a space in the store. We still have a unit left to let out. We want people with complementary products to be a part of what I would say is one of the best showrooms in the country.”