Paul Rowland

‘Last year was very strange,’ admits CP Hart MD

Paul Rowland, managing director for contracts at leading bathroom chain CP Hart, has identified the key factors underpinning the company’s success in last year’s volatile market.

Speaking at the kbbreview Retail and Design Conference in Birmingham, Rowland (pictured) admitted 2016 had been a “very strange year” amid wildly fluctuating order levels.

“The first five months were good, but from June to September business was poor,” he said. “Then, from September to December, it was outstanding. There were two reasons for this major hiccup, but I’d put Brexit second to stamp duty, which affected the business and the market quite horrifically. If you look at the housing transaction stats, from June onwards houses over £1 million and houses from £500,000 to £1m slid by about 20%. That’s our marketplace. The uncertainly, plus Brexit, meant people didn’t really know what they were going to do.”

Rowland confirmed CP Hart was now a £42 million business with 14 showrooms. Contracts accounted for £12m of that figure and its online arm £2m.

Overall business was split roughly 50:50 between consumer and trade and the company dealt with around 100 suppliers.

Sold by German giant Nobia in 2008, CP Hart was originally run in tandem with kitchen brand Poggenpohl, but Rowland claimed that, in his opinion, kitchens and bathrooms “should not be under the same roof”.

“Primarily that’s because kitchen sales people are very different from bathroom sales people, who need huge technical knowledge,” he said. “So the first thing I did was to hive Poggenpohl back and set CP Hart up as a premium bathroom retailer. It made us more flexible.”

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Rowland hailed his newly-revamped flagship showroom in London’s Waterloo as “retail theatre” and not a place where products were “forced down your throat”.

He said collaborations with local companies such as fabric specialists had worked really well and that the new lighting arrangement was crucial. “A high percentage of our budget is on the lighting,” he said. “If a showroom isn’t lit properly, you lose the effect. Working with a specialist architect has made a huge difference. There’s a very noticeable difference from our other stores.

“The new café has really worked and we also have a sample area where we purely have finishes and samples. We don’t show any products. It’s a play area for consumers and architects. We’ve done the same at our Chelsea store.”

Questioned on the major issues for the CP Hart business, Rowland said the biggest one was training. “People are on top of the list,” he said. “They need to be a jack of all trades and are very difficult to find. We work with KLC School of Design.

“You also need to embrace technology – the internet, touch screens… see what’s available. Millennials are in a throwaway society. You need to react to that. You also need to make friends with your bank manager!”

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