‘It’s not so much a revolution, more a continued evolution’, says new Roca UK MD

From April, Rashpal Sidhu will make the leap from finance and service director to managing director of Roca UK, taking over from industry stalwart Alan Dodds. Matt Baker asks him about his new role and his plans for the brand.

Alan Dodds has been at the helm of Roca UK for 22 years and in that time has witnessed the rise of online and social media, the growth in popularity of bathroom furniture and helped the company weather financial crises, Brexit and Covid.

Rashpal Sidhu (pictured) – who takes over as MD in April, has worked closely with Dodds for 15 of those years to help build the company, its products and service offering to where it is today.

We caught up with him to find out what he feels he will bring to the table in his new role.

Q: How’s business at the moment?

A: It’s fair to say it’s been an interesting couple of years.

Twenty-twenty was a concerning year, but we recovered well. Then,  2021 was a record year for us. We started with lockdowns in the January and February, retail then opened up in April, and then we were all released from severe restrictions in July.

We started 2021 in an OK position, but then it really exploded. We finished the year with turnover of £66 million, which surpassed our previous record of £65m in 2019. And I have to say, we’ve started 2022 with a strong order book.

Roca’s new Ona bathroom collection is inspired by the Mediterranean

Q: Congratulations on your new appointment. How do you see the working relationship with Alan Dodds evolving as you move forward?

A: Looking back on my experience as a finance person, I never
saw myself as an old-school accountant. 

When I joined Roca UK back in 2007, I was responsible for operations, commercial, logistics, stock and customer service,
so even from day one it was more than just purely a finance-based role.

As the years have gone by, from Roca UK’s £25m turnover when I first started, to the £66m we’re seeing today, it’s been a team effort. We’ve all been involved in that really positive transformation of the business.

In terms of my working relationship with Alan [Dodds], we’ve always been able to adapt well to each other. He’s definitely the best managing director I’ve ever worked with. We trust each other and we both have the same objective for Roca UK. We both want the company to grow by making sensible decisions.

I welcome the fact that Alan is staying on as chairman because we get to keep his knowledge and expertise in the business. That’s really important for me as I transition between roles.

Keeping Alan involved in the business can only be a win-win for us all, but we will adjust to the change
in our relationship as we have always done.

Q: How will your experience of being Roca UK’s finance and service director influence you as managing director?

A: I go back to what I said before about being a key part of the business, alongside Alan and other people who helped the business grow from £25m to £66m turnover. I worked collaboratively with Alan all the time, so, I’ve been part of the growth that Roca has seen.

Going forward, it’s not so much a revolution, more a continued evolution.

Q: What’s your management style? Do you have a specific approach or way of working?

A: I think I can be quite adaptable. I provide a lot of support to people, especially when they’re new and when they need the support. Once people have reached a level of competence and experience at Roca, I like to allow for a bit of autonomy.

If people are growing and the company is growing, then it’s a win-win strategy. That’s generally how I work.

Q: What is the one piece of personal advice you’ve received that has stuck with you?

When I first started out, there were one or two people that influenced me. One of my early managers told me that you can’t do everything yourself. Your team is key. You win or you fail as a team – that’s important to me.

My hope is that a team has the values that I hold personally, such as hard work, commitment, and trust in yourself and your colleagues.

I do believe in that win-win approach where the company grows, I grow, and the team grows.

Roca’s new Ona collection will be showcased at kbb Birmingham 2022

Q: What strategy has Roca implemented to combat the supply chain issues?

A: Supply chain is a big area for us. There’s been a lot of concern.

First there was Brexit, then the difficulties around Covid and bringing product in from China – all the logistics cost and availability. It has been difficult, and I think every company in any industry has struggled, but I think we’ve fared well throughout.

If you would have said to me before the pandemic that we would come through it in our current financial position, and asked if I’d accept it, I would have said “yeah, probably”.

Where we’ve had the advantage with Brexit and Covid is being part of the Roca Group. We were able to increase our stockholding from £6m to £9m, so an extra £3m in stock just to cover whatever might happen during these times. Because Covid was so soon after Brexit, it almost gave us protection for both as we engaged with all our group companies and logistics partners early to lay down some good processes. It just meant that we didn’t have some of the challenges that other companies had to face.

Our factories were kept open, we kept producing, and we had our logistic partners in place. We didn’t have any problems at the ports, so our supply has been consistent throughout, even when the cost of freight from China went through the roof. A container used to cost us around $3,000 (£2,220) five years ago, and now it costs $20,000.

So even though it was a challenge sometimes, we kept the supply going.

Q: How has Roca been supporting its retailers during this time?

A: Going back to the extra £3m we invested in stock, we had the product to supply retailers.

Our team always made themselves accessible, be it sales or customer service. What we didn’t want was to be like a call centre where the first message people heard when they called was an automated Covid message, with their call being answered 30 minutes later. It was important that we ensured our service levels remained high.

We were still launching products during this period to try to give retailers the edge and we ensured our training remained available, both in person (when possible) and digitally.

The launch of the Ona collection as a global webinar was great for our customers as they had access to product information at the same time.

Q: What advice do you have for retailers operating in today’s challenging market?

A: Be sensible and maximise your space. And obviously fill it with Roca product – no other brands!

Joking aside, make sure you have the right products and the right brands. You should know your product so when you’re with a customer, you sell the product well.

Something we believe in at Roca is that our products should be well displayed and with the right point-of-sale material around them.

Q: What have you learnt, personally, from Covid and the past two years?

A: It’s been interesting because I think we’ve all learnt something from Covid. Who would have thought that we’d experience a global pandemic where businesses were shutting down with reduced operations? It was almost like a horror film.

What did I learn personally? Like most of us, it made me think about my work/life balance. But what I found interesting was after the first lockdown in 2020, and after furloughed staff were returning to work, we had to rebuild the company almost from scratch. I learned a lot about so many parts of the business. I found it fascinating, even after my 15 years in the business.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of bathroom products and manufacturing?

A: When it comes to bathrooms, particularly in the UK, space can be limited. So, consumers will always want to maximise their space. It’s always a key point in any UK bathroom design, which means Roca has to offer solutions like multifunctional storage.

I remember when I first started out, it always used to be a traditional pedestal at the bottom of a basin, but now it’s furniture. And the furniture is now both aesthetically pleasing and functional, with different dimensions.

Given the nature of Covid, hygiene is now important and it’s an area Roca has always excelled in. We’ve used strong materials with hygienic qualities, especially with the enhancements in things like ceramics.

Q: Can you tell us more about Roca’s new Ona collection?

A: I’m so excited because it’s a big release for us. Certainly, it’s the biggest launch we’ve done in a while.

I like that it’s a complete range of brassware, basins, and furniture. Ona offers clean points and has a focus on the aesthetic.

The design itself is great, but also accessible for all. For example, if you go into a designer store, where the products can be expensive, you might look at some of the clothes and think there’s no way you’ll ever wear this or that. The Ona collection is something everyone will look at and think it looks great –  it applies to everybody.

Q: So what is next for Roca? What’s exciting you about the rest of  the year and beyond?

A: I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at kbb Birmingham. It’s been so long since we’ve all been together. It will also be the first time that people get to see the Ona collection in person. So, it’s going to be a real jumping off point for Roca.

Hopefully, we can put Covid behind us, but let’s see what happens. We have some new initiatives, some of which we’re still finalising, but it’s going to be an exciting time for us. We’ve got great people and great products. Our eventual target is to get to £100m turnover. That’s easier said than done, but if we keep growing incrementally, that goal gets closer and closer. 

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