Stuart Irving of Ablutions Luxury Bathrooms in Coalville, Leicestershire, argues that value for money is much more important than brand awareness
Paul Crow is obviously a ‘designer label victim’ as it was straight to John Lewis for his bread maker [kbbreview, July, pg25] and then presumably it was blind trust in a ‘brand’ that led him to Panasonic for his big-name purchase.
Is he not a dying breed, though? Are people still attracted to brands in the way they once were, or are they more interested in value for money? Supermarket brands Aldi and Lidl have shown that businesses can be grown very effectively without branded products. Skoda and Kia cars can now be seen on some very expensive driveways and, all in all, the premium for a designer label is arguably something that fewer people are prepared to pay.
As for the logic in supporting our big names, instead of ‘buying cheap and selling high’, perhaps Paul would like to explain how his business model might work with a typical mid-market brand.
Take, for example, a standard wall-hung pan from this typical mid-market brand. If Paul’s company included this in a quotation at list price, it would be £468 and, if the quote was itemised, any savvy client could Google it and discover that they are being sold on the net for £312. What would Paul’s policy be on this?
Would he… (a) be happy that he was selling a branded product, so the price is irrelevant; (b) be irate that the brand was making it difficult for him; (c) erode his margin by discounting the list price to something more realistic for what is a basic wall-hung pan, or (d) forget the mid-market brand altogether and sell a ‘non-Googleable’ own-brand that outperforms the branded pan by a country mile with a rimless pan, totally smooth sides, a quick release seat and a full 50% margin on a retail price of just £242?
It wouldn’t worry me if all manufacturers sacked their marketing departments and instead left it up to their retailers to promote their products. They could then spend their money on product design and innovation, instead of trying to build a brand and then having to sell very ordinary products for more than they are worth in order to cover the cost of their top-heavy marketing and PR commitments.
So no, I don’t want brands at all in my company, unless they give me a USP. So, with shower bar valves, we sell Aqualisa Midas valves – not because they are Aqualisa, but because they work on 0.1 of a bar. We sell Devi underfloor heating – not because it’s Devi, but because they are about the only underfloor heating manufacturer that will fund the total cost of the remedial work if the product fails.
And that’s the way we work with all our products, as we firmly believe in something I heard years ago, which is to sell the sizzle and not the sausage! So, for me, there’s not a toilet pan on the planet that has a name with enough ‘sizzle’ to sell it – but a rimless pan with a quick release gives me the USP I am looking for, and then a realistic price provides the added sizzle that closes the sale.
So, going out of my way to promote a brand is something I just won’t do because, in my opinion, it’s quite likely that for every customer with brand loyalty and a showroom full of displays, the manufacturers have another customer with no displays and no brand loyalty – but they do buy in pallet loads!
I believe that many KBB retailers are being taken for a ride by the manufacturers that purport to support them. Take, for example, the ‘Platinum Dealer’ or ‘Premier Club’ con trick. I have first-hand experience here with one brand that shall remain nameless, but who sell the same basic product to their favoured boutique showrooms at a price that is twice that of another product that – minus a few needless bells and whistles – any man-and-van can get over the counter at Plumb Center.
Three times this year, to close a sale we have needed a product that is unavailable to us, as we are not a ‘displaying stockist’. So what did we do? We bought the product on the net and with very little overall loss of margin.
So, for me Paul, you can carry on and continue to be mesmerised by brand names but, as I see it, it will be very much at your peril. The words penned by Bob Dylan 52 years ago are now rapidly proving to be very true – ‘you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’.