TBK Design: a sensory experience

TBK’s 30,000sq ft London showroom is packed with beautiful displays. Manager Gary Parker tells Chris Frankland how kbbreview’s 2021 Bathroom Retailer of the Year set out to give customers the best possible experience

As I climb the stairs from the ground-floor reception to the first floor, all of my senses are called into play. My eyes take in the grand vista of tasteful displays stretching before me, enticing me in. My nose is treated to the lovely fragrance that pervades the showroom and my ears are soothed by the strains of some tasteful jazz. Lighting too is perfectly done to create the right mood and still showcase products at their best.

Gary Parker, showroom manager, TBK Design, London

The 30,000sq ft showroom just north of London’s Staples Corner does little to prepare visitors for the spectacular displays – one reason TBK Design includes a taster video of the showroom on its website, just to pique people’s curiosity.

Showroom manager Gary Parker tells me the thinking behind that sensory assault.

“We try to take the stress away while you are choosing your bathroom,” he says. “Because when people feel relaxed, and they have a drink in front of them, and they hear lovely music in the background and their smells are alert, it helps them make choices.”

Parker adds: “We have based our business on (1) Have amazing displays so people can visualise what their room will look like. (2) Give them the expertise that comes from our many years of experience, and (3) Give them an ambience that makes them want to be here and enjoy being here.”

TBK Design used a professional design consultancy to help them with the showroom layout. It is divided in such a way as to separate out the various price points they serve. On the ground floor, which they refer to as the ‘factory outlet’, are the main tile displays with a few entry-level bathrooms. Then, on the first floor, you come to the main bathroom area, and as you progress further, the high-end bespoke area.

Tiles feature prominently throughout the showroom and indeed when Stephen Joel started out with TBK in its original showroom back in 1984, tiles were all that they sold.

TBK certainly displays a wide selection and variety of porcelain tiles, ranging from 300 by 600mm right up to the extra-large 1,600 by 3,200mm slabs that are so dramatically presented in the bespoke bathrooms area.

And Parker says that people do have trouble visualising how the extra-large slabs will look in a room, so TBK has a display that features them.

I ask him if more people are opting for the bigger slabs these days. “One hundred per cent,” he confirms. “We started doing the big tiles around six years ago and people were frightened of them back then. People have grown more confident in them over time and the results that can be achieved. For ages, the Italians have been telling us that big tiles make small rooms look bigger. And people are now realising that is true.”

With almost 40 displays in the showroom, TBK has made sure it features a wide variety of styles and options. As Parker explains: “Something that Steve has instilled in me running this showroom is never to be afraid to try something – and if it doesn’t work, change it. That is how we have always run and it has served us very well. It makes us different from other showrooms.”

What also struck me was that everything in the showroom had a price ticket showing an RRP and a discounted price.

Parker explains: “In the old days, I would sit down with a client and price would never really come into it. But the problem is, with the new generation, they will instantly go online and say, ‘I can get a product for this much, what can you do?’ We can’t match internet prices, but we will get as close as we can, while still making a margin and trying to be competitive.”

The strategy clearly works as TBK is selling “well in excess of” 100 bathrooms a month, with “500 ongoing at any one time”.

“Houses are getting bigger,” says Parker, “and most of the houses we deal with don’t have just one bathroom, they have four, five or six, because they all have en-suite bathrooms.

“For us as a company, the most important are the master bathroom, because it’s the most expensive, and guest cloakroom, because that gets you your next five customers.”

TBK employs 35 staff, of which 10 are designers, but they do not employ their own installers. Instead they recommend ones they trust.

I conclude my interview by asking what winning kbbreview’s award for Bathroom Retailer of the Year for 2021 meant to TBK.

“Two things,” he says. “One – it reflects all the hard work that was put into the showroom, and two – it shows our clients that they are walking into the best retailer in the UK and that gives them confidence. It is a big feather in our cap.” 

See full article in August issue of kbbreview

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