Grohe: The UK is a challenge and an opportunity
Kristine Skauge is the new head of Grohe in the UK. She talks to Chris Frankland about her new role, her new management team, why the UK market is a core market and why KBB retailers are key to their way forward
Kristine Skauge took over as the new head of Grohe UK in April. She brings a vast range of experience from over a decade working in the Nordic and Baltic regions and eastern Europe and most recently across the MENA region as marketing vice-president, and before that in the car industry. She discusses the challenges Grohe faces in the UK, what we can learn from the car and FMCG markets, how it has tailored its product ranges to suit all channels while still giving KBB retailers a unique offering for their customers. She also explains how the brand can help retailers sell the message of sustainability and what it’s been doing to help combat the skills crisis in the UK.
Q: What were your aims and objectives when taking on the UK leadership role?
A: I always found the UK market extremely exciting. For the best part of 11 years, I have been watching it from the outside. I have worked in the Nordics, the Baltic markets, eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. I think we have a very big opportunity here.
First and foremost, our job is to implement our commercial go-to-market strategy in the UK. We have different portfolios of products for different market groups.
So for the UK, that will be Grohe Professional for installers and professional tradesmen, Grohe Quick-Fix for DIY stores and e-commerce and Grohe SPA for architects, designers and luxury showrooms.
We realised after talking to our customers here that a lot of them don’t know about our commercial strategy. So it has been important for us to explain our strategies and our product portfolios. We are at a stage now where we have a management team that is quite new and we are listening at the moment, gathering input.
Q: How have your 10 years at Grohe shaped your approach to leading the business?
A: I know the company inside-out. I have seen markets where we are market leader and those where we are trying to establish our brand. I have seen markets where we have one big customer doing most of the sales and the UK, where we have a long tail of customers.
So having that view of other markets has been extremely helpful in understanding the UK. I will not say that I have gotten yet to my deepest understanding of the market, that is why I am happy that we have new colleagues on board from within the UK who know it inside-out.
Q: And what are the key changes to the UK team?
A: Just as I started, we also welcomed Chris Dodds on board as commercial leader for the UK. He is a fantastic addition to our team and he comes with a lot of knowledge of the industry. He will oversee all of our sales channels from consumers to merchants and trade. He has a lot of insights on the market, which has been very important for us.
I come with a lot of background from within the company, understanding how to get things through. Chris understands the market. He was one of our customers, so he has seen us from the outside. He helps us to be more customer-centric, which is one of our key goals.
We are an extremely people-centric organisation. We have very clear values on how people should feel empowered to take decisions. Everything we do here in the UK is based on discussions with the team and bottom-up planning.
Q: What has it been like working under the Lixil umbrella?
A: What is important for us is that we have found a home. For Grohe, the times before Lixil were a little bit more turbulent. We were private equity-owned, which results a little bit more in short-term planning. With Lixil, we are going into long-term planning for long-term growth. The strategy is there. It is all about executing it.
We have an all-channel strategy but with different portfolios and products for different target groups. What you are getting for retail is not what you are getting for e-commerce. There is no one-size-fits-all solution
Q: You describe the UK market as exciting. Why?
A: It is a market that all European manufacturers look to. Together with Germany, it is a core market for us. It is now all about leveraging commercial opportunities.
The diversity of channels to market in the UK is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. In other markets, we may have wholesalers who sit on huge quantities of stock. The fragmentation in the UK makes it different.
The opportunity comes with the non-reliance on one big customer to drive your business forward and the challenge is that you have a lot of different people to talk to. We have an all-channel strategy but we have different products for different target groups. What you are getting for retail is not what you are getting for e-commerce – it is not the same product. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We cater for multiple channels and it is important to differentiate them.
Q: So how important is the UK market to Grohe?
A: It is very important and increasingly important. It is a core market for us. If you look at how many building projects are going on, this is the heart of A&D in Europe. That is why it ranks quite highly on the agenda for Lixil.
Q: How do you see your relationship with KBB retailers in the UK?
A: They are core to our way forward. We also have the potential to offer them a full portfolio of products where they can be competitive and have a unique offering. The challenge that a lot of players have faced before is the competition between the channels. It’s easy to go into a showroom and maybe then buy it online, so we’re giving retailers a specially catered assortment. Especially now with the launch of Grohe SPA for retailers at the very luxurious and bespoke segment of the market, and Grohe Professional for the core market. They also have a unique high-end assortment and that will be very important for us to roll out to retailers going forward.
Q: KBB retailers tell us customers just aren’t asking for sustainable products. What should Grohe, retailers and the industry be doing to improve uptake?
A: For me, sustainability is one of our core brand builders – we have sustainability, we have quality, design and technology. Sustainability is at the core of everything we do. We are committed to sustainable production, and sustainable packaging with no plastic.
Sustainable products need to be the default offering to the market. We are seeing it in the car industry. Hybrid cars are now the most sought-after type of car. We also need to make sure that products that are sustainable are also giving enjoyment at a good price. This is extremely important.
We launched the Everstream shower in Portugal recently and we plan to have this water-saving, water-recycling technology in all of our concealed showers by 2030. It gives you a luxury showering experience but is also sustainable.
Retailers and showrooms are super-important for us because they can educate customers about sustainable products. We also need to be better at telling them the story. They are the ones that can talk to consumers and maybe switch them from a normal tap to a cold-start.
Q: Which of Grohe’s products stands out for you in that drive towards sustainability?
A: It has to be Everstream. It is an important product for us and an interesting innovation – to be able to save energy, save water and recycle that water to have a good showering experience. When you reduce water in the shower it can make it difficult to rinse the soap out of your hair. You need water to wash. It is setting the standard for how water consumption should look in the future with a 75% water saving and a 65% energy saving.
Q: You ramped up the Grohe Installer Vocational Education (GIVE) programme earlier this year to promote opportunities for young talent? Hows that going?
Leader UK & Ireland, Lixil EMENA
April 2023 – Present
Leader, marketing, Lixil MENA
(Middle East, North Africa), Lixil EMENA
Head of marketing, Nordic & Baltic, Grohe
Head of PR & digital marketing,
Grohe NE, CEE, SEE
eCommerce & digital marketing manager. Grohe Northern Europe
Trade marketing manager,
Grohe Northern Europe
Marketing activation manager,
Grohe Norway & Sweden
Product manager, Citroën, Denmark
A: It is going brilliantly well. We launched GIVE two or three years ago and we currently have in total more than 60 schools running in different markets with the aim of giving young installers an even higher level of training for when they go into the market. A lot of our products are quite technical and you need that extra skill set to install them with confidence – that’s why the GIVE schools are so important to us. Installers are the backbone of everything we do. To give them that extra confidence in our product, to give schools that new technology to learn, is really good.
Since last year we have also been sponsoring the HIP Female Skills competition that encourages young female talent to become installers.
Q: As a woman in a male-dominated industry, do you feel like a role model?
A: It is about leading by example. If we are to get more women into higher roles, we need to show them that you can actually balance a private life with a high-intensity working life. At Lixil, we are also quite advanced so I don’t stand out necessarily within Lixil. We have a huge focus on diversity and inclusion. We have a lot of females in higher-ranking positions, in Japan, internationally and in our EMENA region.
Q: You were at Citroën before joining Grohe. What can we learn from the car industry?
A: We can learn a lot from the car industry, but also other industries. When I started in Grohe 11 years ago, we were undergoing huge transformation – we were a very traditional sanitary brand doing the usual monthly promotions hoping some installer or customer would come and pick up the product. We shifted our focus to creating demand instead and I think that is something the KBB industry can learn from other industries.
Q: Where do you see Grohe in the UK five years’ time?
A: The UK will continue to be an extremely important market. We have many new people on board and a new management team in the UK and Ireland. This fresh set of eyes on the business has been very important for us. We are defining our way forward, where we need to change. We are listening to feedback from customers on how they perceive us and what it is like to do business with us. We are trying for the short-term and long-term to set a direction that enables us to continue to grow in this market.