What an interesting experience 2023 has been. I took over as managing director at VitrA UK about a year ago and there’s no question that my first 12 months have been challenging thanks to a difficult and unpredictable market.

Like most other suppliers we’ve been battling strong headwinds – retail was under pressure and various other market segments faced downturns. However, in the midst of adversity, opportunities for transformation and growth emerged. We decided that we had to look beyond the challenges of the market and have confidence in where we’re trying to go and the changes we need to make.

So the headline is that, for 2023, we’ll be pretty much on par with 2022 and that’s not a bad result given the market conditions. But, underneath that, I am really excited about the work we’ve done to position ourselves for future growth.

For me, 2023 has been the first clear year without COVID and, as a result I do think we’ve collectively got to stop talking about it. COVID happened, it’s gone. Yes, from a business perspective we’re living with the after effects but I think the discussion needs to move on to ‘what’s your strategy? How are you going to cut through?’ Our responsibility now is to say, ‘we’ve got some great brands and some great products. Where do we want to play those? Where do we want to invest? Where do we want to over-invest?’

Confidence and belief

That is, however, a big challenge we’re setting ourselves as we head in to 2024. We’re looking for a little bit of growth next year but I don’t think that’s going to come from price, it’s got to come from volume. We’re going to go a little bit more aggressively into projects and house building as I think that’s got a lot of potential, but I’m under no illusions, we must have confidence in our strategy because markets aren’t going to do anything for us. We’ve got to do it ourselves.

As we peer into the upcoming year, the forecast remains challenging, particularly in the initial six months. External factors like the housing market’s uncertainties, inflation, and potential interest rate fluctuations loom large. However, my perspective is resolute – market conditions may not favour us, but our destiny lies in our hands. We are gearing up for growth in the future.

Working with independent retailers is also a big opportunity for us. I’m very open in that not only do we know we need to do better in this space, we actually want to do better.

We’ve got a great brand and a great history in retail and there’s a clear link with the installer base there too so those are two areas where we want to over-invest in 2024 and beyond.

But to make that work we want to get back to basics – that’s the product range, our service offering, the way we manage relationships, the way we structure our salesperson’s time in the market and the conversations they’re having.

So we’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past 12 months and have asked a lot of questions about ourselves internally and the result of that is, in 2024, we’ll start cutting through and retailers will see that we are investing in them.

Lessons to learn

Independent retailers do have such a unique proposition and their success in what they do can be such an interesting lesson for all companies. Their ability to identify unique selling propositions and maintain a resilient foundation are traits that larger companies should integrate into their strategies.

The emphasis on focus, simplicity, and customer centricity are guiding principles for all of us.

So, as the market remains challenging in 2024, these are the areas where retailers should concentrate. Keep doing what you’re doing and see if there’s ways to do it even better.

As an industry, we’ll start to see some green shoots of recovery in 2024, and all our discussions are about 2025 being the true market return. As VitrA, I think in December next year we’ll be looking back and saying, ‘wow, that investment that we’ve made in the independent retailer is starting to pay off. We’re seeing much more loyalty. We’re seeing that we’re having better conversations.’

I think our business will have grown because we’ve changed the way we work and we’re thinking about the customer first now every single day. So at the end of 2024, we’ll be celebrating a much more successful year in terms of sales levels, but also in the quality of sales and the relationships with all the channels we’re playing in – especially the independent retailers.



The market is going to stay tough in 2024 but this should be seen as an opportunity for when it returns in 2025. Are you doing everything as well as you can? Where can you improve and set your strategy for what comes next?

Listen to the full interview with Steve Breen in a special podcast episode. Go to kbbreview.com/podcast to find it.

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