The benefits of European manufacturers in the UK bathroom market
We turn our focus from the UK towards Europe and beyond, focusing on international bathroom brands and their benefits for retailers. Francesca Seden reports…
The engineering prowess of the Germans and Swiss, the design flair of the Italians, the cool hues of Scandistyle or the technological advancements of the Koreans and Japanese – such stereotypes abound when we consider international brands and design.
But with so many international brands within the UK market, what are their benefits, what can they offer that British brands may not, and what of practicalities such as lead times, customer service and the impact of Brexit?
On the first question, according to our contributors this month, a key benefit of pairing with international brands is the wider, global perspective they offer. Or, as (Grohe) Lixil EMENA UK commercial leader, Chris Dodds, notes, “having a global outlook with a local focus, using the design, quality and sustainability elements of a global brand while maintaining the UK focus in terms of product, innovation and route to market”.
Global brands often have a wider scope and a broader perspective, with the ability to draw inspiration from a much larger pool. Some believe that international brands are arguably better able to stay ahead of design trends and the latest technology developments.
“An international brand brings innovative concepts and a global outlook to the UK market. By working in different marketplaces, brands can expand their view, and they can see things from a different perspective,” says Kaldewei UK head of sales Adam Teal. “They get a feel for rising trends; a colour, or design that is becoming established in one area, can then inspire a designer to adapt it to the sanitaryware market.”
Similarly, Nathan Dracott, marketing manager at leading provider of indoor climate solutions, Zehnder Group UK, notes that they explore global trends to influence this and track advancements throughout the rest of the world. “As an international brand, we have the scope to do this well and provide the UK a greater offering for its customers.”
In terms of how international brands have helped the industry as a whole, Dracott also believes it really comes down to cutting-edge technology and design. “There are technologies out there that might not be readily available in the UK at the moment, but ones that we can develop and extend to the KBB market when relevant.”
In addition, with a wider scope and larger pool from which to draw inspiration, it’s fair to say that international brands just make for a more varied mix for retailers and consumers, which in turn drives competition and innovation.
Finally, Elliot Fairlie, product leader UK and Ireland at Wilsonart UK argues that international brands have an edge over those who work in just one country or territory as they can adapt and introduce products in a speedier manner thanks to their wide reach and diverse sourcing capabilities. “This is particularly useful when responding to evolving customer needs or design trends,” he says.
Sustainability is another area where our continental neighbours are very strong, as evidenced by the manufacturing practices of many brands. This drive for sustainability from international brands is especially important because of the comparatively high carbon footprint, which inevitably comes with buying in from overseas Bette manufactures its baths, shower trays and washbasins from glazed titanium steel, which is created from natural materials, is fully recyclable and so durable that all of its products come with a 30-year warranty.
Bette began sourcing and using CO2-neutral steel in 2020 and has reduced emissions by almost 40% in 2022.
Similarly, Kaldewei uses natural raw materials steel and glass transforming them into steel enamel to craft and create longlasting and completely recyclable bathroom products. According to the German brand, such is their commitment to the environment that they have recently started manufacturing their sanitaryware using Bluemint steel which reduces their carbon output by 70%.
Grohe achieved carbon-neutral production across all of its international sites in April 2020, and the brand uses brass with recycling proportions of up to 80%.
Duravit UK’s managing director, Martin Carroll adds that it aims to be an exclusively climate-neutral business by 2045, using electricity generated from renewable energies across its German sites. PEFC-certified furniture production adheres to the principles of sustainable forestry together with “local for local” production methods that ensure shorter transport routes.
Additionally, by 2030, Duravit plans to increase its number of water saving products by over 80%, increase the proportion of recycled materials to around 30%, and reduce global carbon emissions by 20%.
RETAILER VIEW: Johnny Bacigalupo, founder of Napier Bathrooms and Interiors Q: What would you say are the benefits of working with international brands? A: The style, design and innovation of international brands is impressive. Brands such as Villeroy & Boch, Roca and Toto are all different, but due to their international experience, have developed products that are exceptional. Q: Why have you chosen to work with the international brands that you have? A: We love their products, their style, and their manufacturing brilliance. Having access to such brands gives us the ability to design bathrooms with elegance, wellness and quality. Q: What are the challenges? A: Challenges are often human ones – just like a smaller businesses, it’s the people that make all the difference. Long production times are challenging in a world where people have become used to getting things quickly. Distribution is more challenging than ever, with many problems in supply that upset relationships with retail end clients. Q: How do your customers perceive these brands? A: Brands such as V&B are very well known by clients due to the market-leading name they have. They know the name and with this comes trust. Italy is so well respected for design, Germany and Spain for manufacturing and Japan for technology and cleanliness - all these reputations assist with our success.
Zehnder also sees sustainability as paramount, particularly as a manufacturer in the indoor climate sector. Zehnder’s factory in Lahr has been using 100% green electricity since 2022, and has almost halved its direct CO2 footprint.
Zehnder Group’s Nathan Dracott adds that the launch of Zehnder’s new manufacturing plant in Kent has also been designed to meet the highest standards of quality and sustainability to minimise its environmental impact. RAK Ceramics sales director Ben Bryden adds that having local distribution hubs in the countries they serve helps to reduce the brand’s carbon footprint. “We’re committed to practicing environmental stewardship throughout and beyond our manufacturing chain.”
This leads nicely on to the practicalities of using international bathroom brands: lead times, customer service and training, and how companies have dealt with the potential impact of Brexit.
Many of our contributors have UK distribution facilities and can offer, in some cases, next-day delivery. Sonas Bathrooms CEO Richard Sloan recognises the importance of short and reliable lead times for retailers: “It’s why we have invested heavily in our distribution centre with a capacity of 11,000 pallets, which operates at 98%+ capacity.
“By having the stock on hand, we can dispatch on the same day and deliver within 48 hours.”
International brands also have other ways of ensuring lead times are as short as possible, such as owning their own fleet of delivery lorries and employing their own drivers.
Because many European brands have UK hubs – some established before Brexit – Brexit hasn’t been a huge issue as manufacturers have adapted, although head of sales at Schlüter Systems, Lee Rowland, admits there has been “a lot of red tape to overcome and inevitable additional cost”.
For Sonas Bathrooms, initially Brexit delayed the brand’s entry into the UK market. “Because of this, our UK operations were set-up post-Brexit and therefore had no impact on relationships. Our service promise includes free delivery and customs paid on delivery – making it the most convenient option for the customer.”
Looking beyond 2023, our contributors all agreed that further innovation and exciting developments are likely to be on the horizon. We can, as Wilsonart’s Fairlie puts it, “expect international brands to keep pushing the boundaries of design as a result of that international insight and resource”.