What’s the point of brochures?

Brochures are a fixture of showrooms but they cost suppliers a fortune to produce. So what do retailers and designers actually use them for? And should they have prices in them or not?

If the forefathers of the kitchen and bathroom industry had written a constitution of founding principles from which this new sector should be forged, right at the top of the parchment it would say….“thou must have a brochure”.

The need for brands to produce brochures is as constant as night follows day and they are such an oft-trodden part of the kitchen or bathroom journey that it’s hard to imagine a showroom without a shelf full of printed tomes of various sizes, quality and thickness – some well-thumbed and some gathering dust.

But what are they actually for? 

Malcolm Scott, membership director at the KBSA

“There are obviously different kinds of printed brochures for different audiences and different purposes. A very large number of retailers I visit still want documents like the Waterline Blue Book. They use them much more for quick and easy general reference when they have a printed copy. While giving piles of brochures to consumers is a thing of the past, using a quality brochure to demonstrate ‘other options’ within the range on display is still common.”

Are they there to hand out to curious punters? Are they a reference for designers? Are they are a source of detailed specifications or marketing aesthetics? And, perhaps most contentiously, should they be a published, working price list?

“Brochures are integral for our business,” says Sofia Charalambous from Origins Living. “We couldn’t function without them and we invest a lot of time and money in getting them right. We would like them to be used as a tool for showrooms to showcase what we have to the clients, but also we want designers to use them as a master copy. 

“What we don’t want is for our retailers to just hand them out to customers without any qualification.”

The cost of producing printed brochures is very high and can account for well over 50% of some brand’s marketing budget and while, in the past, the school of thought was to send out as many as possible to as many showrooms as possible, there is now a shift towards studying the return on investment much more.

For example, at Origins Living, the cost per brochure is around £1.50 and the weight means sending out a box of 15 costs around £25. And that doesn’t take into account the price of photography, design or renders. 

“We now manage the way we deal with brochures,” says Charalambous. “And we’re educating some of the retailers about that cost. In the past, we could’ve sent them hundreds and then when we looked at their sales, they haven’t even covered that cost.

“Now, when a new catalogue is ready, every retail partner will automatically receive one copy. If they want more than one then they need to contact us. We changed it for the agents too, they can’t have boxes of them in their car.

“They have enough to go round and give a couple to each designer but if anyone wants more than a few, we have to have an email because then we’re actually tracking the return on investment.”

So given that brochures are a highly significant expense, who are they actually for? Are they to give out to consumers or are they a reference for retailers?

Hayley Simmons

Hayley Simmons, KBB marketing consultant 

“Print is an important part of the customer journey. Customers like to take something away and it’s a chance for an interaction with a cold lead. But my personal opinion is that many brochures in this industry are too bulky and overwhelming, trying to be both a product manual and brochure.”

“We see them more as a tool for us designers rather than for the client,” says Adam Wollerton from Bathroom + Kitchen Eleven in Surrey. “It probably depends on what type of client you’re aiming at but, for us, it’s people looking for a designer to listen to their wants, needs, and desires and make it happen for them.”

Brochures, in this scenario, are a library of ideas that can be drawn upon by designers to create a kind of mood board to present back to the client. In other words, clients aren’t given the brochures to go away and peruse themselves.

“We have one brochure for each brand and we share them between us,” Wollerton says. “We don’t give anything out to clients because we want to show that we’re doing that work. We want to put ideas forward and get their feedback but don’t expect them to flick through and find things they want or like.

“We want to encourage them to come back, ask questions, and engage with us. If we gave everything out, what reason would they have to come back?”

Wollerton is not alone in this view, Paul Crow, the managing director of Ripples estimates that only 10% of visitors to their 20 showrooms leave with a supplier’s brochure under their arm, and even then it’s probably only because they’re not seen as a strong prospect…

“Brochures are tools that vary in usefulness but they’re usually used at the desk to help research and make decisions,” Crow says. “If I’m honest, when they are handed out it’s often to save time for the designer in the showroom because the client is more of a shopper and they’re just asking a lot of questions that tell us that they’re possibly not ready or in the right showroom. So most of the time brochures are a tool for us and nothing more.”

This view of brochures as a practical device for designers rather than a catalogue for customers is, unsurprisingly, prevalent among premium retailers and showrooms keen to push their own design and service credentials.

For those operating at the more volume end of the sector, they can still play more of a traditional role. For retailers here, the ability to give brochures to browsing customers is a key method for remaining front of mind once they’ve got home.

“No customer leaves our showroom without one,” says Mark Kiely from Clonmel Plumbing Supplies in County Tipperary, Ireland. “For a supplier, having their brochure on a showroom floor certainly gives them the edge over those who do not, and we personalise each brochure with our own showroom sticker which means the customer will always remember where it came from, especially if they have visited more than one showroom.”


So, we have a product that already needs to be for both consumers and designers depending on who might be picking it up and that leads to the obvious question – what actually needs to be in it?

Nathan Damarell, KF Kitchens, Plymouth

“We have created our own brochure that  gives the client a snapshot of relevant content as there is still a place for something that people can sit down with and read through. It hasn’t replaced supplier brochures, but we condense it into the most relevant parts so clients don’t take away lots of information they will never need.”

Quarrybank Boutique Bathrooms in Cheshire is another premium showroom that doesn’t give brochures out to clients unless specifically asked and while the design service element is a big part of that thinking, there is also something much more fundamental about it that will send shivers down the spine of any supplier marketing manager – they simply confuse the customer.

“People don’t know what they’re looking for,” says co-founder Koralia Hume. “Navigating through hundreds of pages of measurements and options is overwhelming and, most of the time, they don’t understand what they can have and what will fit.

“That’s what designers and salespeople are for, to help a client feel inspired enough to not need any more information from books, that’s why I still love working with brochures for pricing and ideas and always have my own set close by. But before we opened the showroom, I did mystery shopping around other bathroom retailers and I always left with at least six thick brochures and very little information on what was actually adequate to my requirements. It was very off-putting.”

Brochures do have another role too, of course, and that’s the physical projection of brand values and quality. The more high value the product, the higher the production values of the brochure need to be with thick paper, glossy finishes and hardback cover. A flimsy pamphlet does not embolden a premium customer’s choice or, indeed, a designer’s.

“When I think about the brands that I use a lot, like Axor, their brochure somehow just gives a feeling of quality and an air of ‘oh, this is a good brand to use’,” says Wollerton at Bathroom + Kitchen Eleven.

“Like most showrooms, we get a lot of sales guys popping in and saying ‘oh, have you heard about this new brand?’ and they’ll give us a brochure. There’s no question you’re making a judgement about the market position of that brand based on how it feels. A trade book is generally quite glossy but then might have really thin paper inside. Whereas the more quality brochure just does have more of an edge.

“Thinking about the brochures that we grab every day, they do use a similar quality paper and similar level of quality photography and the clients don’t even see that side of it, that’s purely me!”


On the checklist of all the things brochures need to be, one is a little more contentious – should they include prices or not?

If they do, they clearly give guidance to both designers and customers and while the same information could be found online, it is very convenient to have it all in front of you as a reference.

The problem comes with the lifespan. Once it’s in print, you obviously can’t change the published price so what do you do if it goes up? And is there any excuse for not coordinating planned price rises with new brochures?

Ryan Harris, Harris Bathrooms, Southampton

“Brochures are essential. Many of our customers request a printed brochure which then allows us to track and follow up. Our showrooms can show the best sellers but we need these expensive tools to show our customers more options to create a bespoke bathroom. They are a vital asset.”


“We use manufacturer brochures to refresh our knowledge and for when manufacturer websites are rubbish, but we never give them to clients,” says Justine Bullock from The Tap End near Cardiff. “We also use them to price from and we loathe it when manufacturers have a price increase before they print and distribute the brochures. You know who you are, please update your prices and your brochures at the same time!”

Bullock is not the only one with a passionate dislike of this practice, Stephen Atkinson from Waterloo Bathrooms in Chester is a kindred spirit…

“I would love all independents to boycott any suppliers that send the price increase email and not reprint their brochures at the same time,” he says. “The supplier never ever loses out when prices go up, but I’d bet every single showroom has forgotten about that email sent two months ago telling us about the X% price increase on pottery, Y% on brassware, Z% increase on vanity units – it’s so frustrating!”

Price rises can, of course, be an unforeseen necessity for suppliers and certainly through the post-lockdown supply chain problems, they would arrive in the average retailer’s inbox almost daily.

But any empathy for problems beyond a supplier’s control can be short-lived, especially for big multinational brands and even more so when the solution provided is seen as inadequate.

“It is very annoying when you get a brochure and then suddenly a sticker arrives in the post to put on the front telling you to add 5%, especially as the onus is on us to remember to do it.” says Wollerton. “That is frustrating, because part of me as a designer ends up wondering whether I can trust that price if I’m doing a quote and maybe I’ll use another brand instead because I know that one’s up to date.

“I do understand that there’ll sometimes be unforeseen rising costs but I do think most of the time suppliers could align price increases with brochure releases.”

The infamous stickers also rub against a raw nerve with Ripples’ Paul Crow…

“Well, I mean, don’t put stickers on,” he sighs. “I can understand why it happened during Covid but the reality is that it’s just really poor planning by whoever is the owner of the brochure. It looks cheap, it’s naff and it should just be outlawed and shamed at every opportunity.”

The role of traditional printed brochures is changing as the availability of real-time information through digital channels increases. The convenience of having a printed price list that gets updated annually may be the first casualty of this new approach but the role of the brochure as a brand ambassador shows no sign of abating. While many suppliers wish they could reduce the often astronomically high cost, very few would risk not producing one.

What will change though is the scrutiny suppliers put on how they’re being used and how many copies a retailer has measured against how many sales they make. If you can’t reduce cost, then return on investment is the only thing you can control.

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