Martin Murphy: ‘Our focus is design-led, bricks-and-mortar retailers’

Martin Murphy, MD of Sanbra Group, talks about the acquisition of Flair and St James and the opportunities this created for the group.

Martin Murphy
Martin Murphy, MD, Sanbra Group.

Q: How’s business?

A: Business for us has been good. The market has been very challenging, however. Our growth has come through new product development, so our focus is on design and innovation. 

Flair has been around since 1952 and Marflow, which owns St James, has been designing brassware since the 1960s, so there is a lot of design heritage there. We are custodians of these brands.

Ireland has been challenging. Retail activity has been very challenged because of the cost-of-living crisis, but we have had good sales growth because of construction activity. In the UK, it has been extremely challenging. We are lucky in terms of being new entrants in the market and still in the growth phase, so we are not trying to protect our position in the market. We are focusing on certain parts of the market with a design-led, premium product.

Q: What led to the acquisition of Flair and St James?

A: Flair is a very historical Irish bathroom brand that we admired greatly from afar. We had a couple of chances to buy the business that didn’t work out, so we were delighted to finally have the opportunity to buy it. It was very trusted and fondly admired within the trade, but it was lacking in investment and product development.

We invested heavily in brand and new product development. The expertise was already there in the business and they knew what they needed. They just needed to be supported, and it has gone very well.

Flair acquired the Marflow/St James brand in June 2020. St James was always a brassware brand that our group admired and the previous owner was seeking an investment opportunity in order to retire and we got the deal done. We saw it as a real opportunity to launch a wider portfolio of design-led products.

There is a good synergy with Flair. It is early days, but we’re really excited about the reaction we have had to Flair for the second time at the show, and St James for the first time since the rebrand. It is a nice complementary portfolio of products, but we run all of our businesses independently. We don’t merge them.

Our experience over the years is that it is all about the people and the brands. We wouldn’t like to dilute the goodwill in terms of the teams that are behind those brands.

Q: And you support retailers by not allowing your products to be sold online? 

A: Our policy coming into the UK was to focus on design-led, bricks-and-mortar retailers who do not sell online. We are very clear about who we want to support and who we want to display our products, and if they won’t display our products, then we won’t supply them. And if they commit to put a display in their showroom, we will support them and won’t undercut them with crazy prices on the internet.

We let them make a margin. And we are having a very positive reaction to that approach.

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