Untapped potential

Ron Blount spent 25 years as head of Blanco UK before stepping down last January. But he’s made a surprise return to the industry with the UK launch of a new 3-in-1 boiling water tap brand – HotSpot Titanium. Tim Wallace hears how he’s now setting up a nationwide sales and service network…

Q: What made you return to the industry with HotSpot Titanium?
A: People say I retired, but I was specific at the time that I was stepping down. I could never go out to pasture. I tried it, but it’s not me. Business is stimulating and I missed it. So I had an opportunity to meet with [Dutch manufacturer] Inventum at last year’s kbb Birmingham and one thing led to another.

Q: What do you miss most about heading up Blanco UK?
A: Probably the camaraderie. That’s hard to swallow when you first step away.

Q: Is there room for another hot water tap in what’s becoming a crowded market?
A: There’s no question that the market is awash with hot taps. It’s inevitable. If you’re a sink or tap brand, or a distributor, you’re expected to have a hot tap product in your portfolio, because you’re being asked for it. Having said that, kitchen retail is unforgiving and some are being rejected. There are one or two brands on the market that have received an adverse reaction. But the vacuum will be filled by others coming into the market.

Q: Tell us more about the product. What’s different about it?
A: The single most important thing is the heater. It’s titanium, which is antibacterial and anti-corrosive. It’s also extraordinarily strong. And the engineering behind it is critically important. You don’t want the heater looking like your kettle does after a couple of weeks. You need a strong filter. It removes 80% of all the lime scale.

Q: Is that a USP?
A: Anybody selling a system would be crazy not to include a filter to take out the lime scale. Some do, some don’t. The UK has hard water, so it should be mandatory. If a retailer gets complaints back from the consumer, his integrity and competence are questioned.

Q: What level of the market are you aiming at?
A: The premium end, where it’s a must-have product. Retailers seem to be selling a hot tap with nine out of 10 kitchens. I’m looking for all specialist premium-end kitchen retailers who are interested in putting a product on display.

Q: How long will that take?
A: A year to 18 months. There are vast tracts of the UK where we have no representation. I’m not knocking on different doors, it’s more about being reactive to what’s coming in. I hope Blanco don’t hear that, because their salesmen would never forgive me.

Q: What have been the challenges?
A: Establishing an excellent service company to support it has been the single biggest challenge of all. It’s a small company of eight engineers – experts in heating and plumbing. It’s so important to get that right.

Q: Most premium dealers will already have a trusted hot water tap brand. How do you convince them yours is better?
A: With great difficulty. It’s hard work. It’s telling retailers the story and, depending on how committed they are, they may, or may not, move. Fortunately, many of them do. Also, many opt to have more than one brand in the showroom, so they and the consumer can see the differences.

Q: And you’re not using a distributor?
A: No, I need complete focus on getting product into the retailer. You can’t get that focus if you have a portfolio of different products. At the moment, it’s about the retailer having a working display.

Q: Will it be available online?
A: No, the only channel is going to be the kitchen specialist market. There is excellent margin for that kitchen retailer and those that make the investment to have a working display will enjoy a higher margin opportunity than someone who doesn’t. I can’t dictate their margins, but the ones they make currently are pretty derisory on some of the hot tap products. It’s maybe cheaper to buy the product from Costco than it is from a distributor, without mentioning any names.

Q: Are you looking at the contract market?
A: If you dispense at over 100 degrees you won’t get WRAS approval for projects. So we’re coming up with a moderation tank. There’s a big difference between a tank that heats water and a pressure tank that takes water above 100 degrees.

Q: Who are your main competitors?
A: Anybody, but if you’re looking at boiling water it’s the Quookers of this world. It’s a good product and all credit to them for building the market. They’ve done a fantastic job.

Q: What kind of growth are you expecting?
A: If the market is growing at 10 to 15% a year, I’ll happily take that. But you wouldn’t get anyone else to share their business plan and I’m not going to either. I’m optimistic. We know it’s a first-class product and there will be no surprises for the kitchen retailer. To have something brand new to get my teeth into, and to grow the brand in the market, is an exciting opportunity.

Q: How are you marketing the new product in the UK?
A: There’s myself and another guy and we’re visiting retailers. It’s a slow process, but it’s the only way. There’s no point pouring money into marketing until we have a good network of customers. Most importantly, the market is looking for a 3-in-1 tap that dispenses cold water, but also filtered boiling water. It’s about hot taps or boiling water taps and there’s a distinct difference between the two. My guess is consumers are looking for boiling water. The word boiling is being thrown around the market like confetti at the moment. We were also the first to have an electronic operation. You get instant boiling water. I was looking at a YouTube video of a competitor brand the other day where they said, ‘after a few seconds you get instant boiling water…’ How can it be instant after a few seconds? With most of the products, it’s coming out at 93-94 degrees because it’s in the tank at 98. Ours will dispense at 100 degrees.

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