Vado: ‘We’re small enough to listen, big enough to act’

Managing director Andy Baines and product and marketing director Angela Neve explain how bathroom brand Vado is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to supporting its showroom retailers

For years independent showroom retailers have cited competition from online retailers as one of, if not the, biggest challenge to running a successful KBB business.

The situation had got so out of hand in some cases, many retailers were claiming that they couldn’t even buy products direct from certain suppliers for the price some online retailers were selling at, effectively creating what was described by many as ‘a race to the bottom on price’.

There are always two sides to every story and, prior to June last year, the situation was actually extremely difficult for suppliers to control as it was against the law for them to sell to online retailers and bricks-and-mortar studios at different prices. 

However, that all changed in June 2022 when, after recognising the difficulties faced by bricks-and-mortar retailers, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) made changes to UK competition law effectively allowing suppliers to charge higher prices to online resellers than to showrooms in a bid to level the playing field. 

One company that is taking full advantage of the CMA’s decision in order to show its support to independent retailers is brassware specialist Vado. Following the change in competition law last year, the brand has invested time and money into a two-tier pricing strategy that enables bricks-and-mortar showrooms to benefit from favourable terms for investing in physical displays, in-store support, and bathroom design.

“We have always recognised the important role showroom dealers play in the sale of Vado products,” explains Andy Baines, managing director, Vado. “We’ve also always understood that, to sell our products, bricks-and-mortar dealers have to invest in comprehensive displays and in training their staff to best advise the consumer, and that’s a cost that isn’t necessarily borne by all channels. 

“It’s only when you see and touch our products that you appreciate their true value and therefore, once the law changed to permit dual pricing, we wanted to give back to our showroom retailers with buying terms to reflect that commitment and that investment. We feel really strongly about independent retail being our primary channel. For us, this has all been about rewarding bricks-and-mortar showrooms for their invest­­­­ment in the brand, rather than penalising anybody.” 

It’s about rewarding bricks-and-mortar showrooms for their investment and commitment to the Vado brand

Andy Baines, MD, Vado

Product and marketing director Angela Neve adds: “We’ve welcomed the change in the law, which has allowed us to offer more comprehensive support to retail showrooms, affording those physical stores with increased benefits and commercial terms to reward their investment in our brand and to level the playing field.”

As part of the two-tier pricing initiative, Vado has also circulated what Neve describes as “easy to follow brand guidelines” for selling its products to ensure that the brand is represented in a consistent way across all touch-points.

Although it helps significantly, effective retailing doesn’t just come down to price and buying terms. As any good retailer knows, for them to appear attractive to consumers, it’s also about breadth of product range and customer service, which for retailers equates to how easy it is to deal with a supplier. 

Recognising this, it’s not just a new commercial support package that Vado has been planning. Following conversations with key retailers, Vado has also launched a series of new initiatives including a new website to drive increased footfall to stores; a regular newsletter, more promotional activity and they have initiated work on new product lines. The first of these being flush systems, which launched in April this year, followed by Zone, a new patented thermostatic shower valve in May, then the brushed bronze finish in July. Vado is now gearing up for the launch of a coordinated range of bathroom furniture in early 2024, which will allow retailers the opportunity to offer a full bathroom solution from the brand.

“We’re known, and respected, as a core brassware business, and we believe there are still plenty of opportunities for us to grow in that sector,” explains Baines. “But we believe by offering better value to our retailers we can achieve so much more – both for Vado and them as individual retail businesses. 

“We understand how challenging curating a full bathroom solution can be. Retailers often have to deal with multiple suppliers to complete one project, so by introducing more categories to the Vado proposition we feel we can make their lives easier.” 

Consumer demand is also one of the core drivers behind the brand’s decision to expand its portfolio. As Neve rightly points out, consumers are more informed via the internet and often start the purchase journey by exploring social media and supplier web­­sites to decide on their desired look. There’s so much choice, and the process can be overwhelming, but this is where the retailer adds value by simplifying the options and interpreting requirements to deliver their perfect bathroom. 

Neve adds: “Where we have added the value for retailers, is taking a holistic approach to the design of our new portfolio and instilling a common design language across both brassware and furniture, sanitaryware and accessories. Furniture colours have been developed to work together with our brassware finishes and flush plates, so the consumer gets a seamless look and retailers have a full package to sell from one supplier.”

While Vado is perhaps one of the smaller brands in the bathroom sector, it is one that Baines and Neve take obvious pride in. Of course, Vado is part of the Norcros Group, which, among others, also owns Triton, Mer­­lyn, Croydex, Grant Westfield and Abode. 

How does this benefit Vado and how easy is it to maintain small brand status and stay close to retailers when it’s part of a much bigger group? 

“What’s great about Norcros is that it allows each individual business to run autonomously, but there’s also opportunity to collaborate,” explains Baines. “There is the chance to do some great things, which is exciting. So, we get the best of both worlds effectively.

“Vado is still run like it’s a small family business – we’ve got a great group of people with a really strong can-do attitude and who are really invested and passionate about the brand.” 

He adds: “But we also have the backing of a bigger, parent company and other fantastic brands to collaborate with. So, we’re small enough to listen, but big enough to act.”

Baines is no stranger to leading brands that are part of big corporations and, with a career spanning 27 years, he’s no stranger to the bathroom sector either. 

An industrial designer by trade, he joined Vado as MD in July last year. During his career he has been the head of design for Daryl, which became part of Kohler during his tenure, and then went on to become head of new product at Mira Showers, which was part of Kohler. Before joining Vado, he was president of US bathroom brand Robern, also part of Kohler. His learnings from these roles, he says, helped form his strategy for developing Vado. 

“As I’ve gone up the leadership chain, I’ve become more focused on leading through the team around me,” he explains. “I’m lucky that Vado has a great team and I Iove working within the Norcros Group.

“Obviously we’re known as a brassware brand, but with the introduction of new product categories, and by offering better value to our retailers, we believe there are lots of opportunities to help our retailers grow. We take things on in a way that you might expect us to be a bigger brand. We’re not scared to try new things and that approach is really my leadership style.”

Playing on Baines’s 27-year career in the sector, I’m keen to hear his predictions for the market as we near the end of 2023 and beginning of 2024. 

“The market is pretty flat at the moment, in general, but we’re doing okay,” he says. “So, from our own perspective and speaking to our retailers, there’s good reason to be positive moving into 2024. The motivation behind people wanting to buy a bathroom remain the same and will continue to do so as years go on. 

“As a brand, we’re holding our own right now, but in light of the additions we’re making to our portfolio, and the investment in additional support we’re offering retailers, we expect to be able to start to take market share. We want to become the natural choice for retailers.”

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