Mark II and Ultra Finishing buyout leaves bitter taste for some

Nick Hopkinson, joint founder of Bolton-based distributor Mark II, has hit back at critics of the company’s recent buyout by bathroom supplier Ultra Finishing.

The deal will see Ultra, the Burnley-based company behind brands including Hudson Reed and Premier, become one of the largest kitchen and bathroom suppliers in the UK.

However, one leading distributor, who asked to remain anonymous, told kbbreview the new agreement displays a lack of loyalty to existing customers and leaves “a very bitter taste for the distributor and retailer alike”.

“In this day and age, it seems that certain manufacturers are pushing to get the most revenue from all their product ranges by pushing them down every sales avenue available, eg: distribution, internet and direct selling,” the source told kbbreview.

“Ultra is a prime example of this with its recent acquisition of distributor Mark II. All the Ultra, Premier and Hudson Reed product lines are now available through recently purchased Mark II – without any regard for the regional distributors who have shown loyalty over the years and have indeed helped build the Ultra brands in the first place.”

The distributor also criticised Ultra for selling some product direct to customers through its online channel, trueshopping.co.uk.

“On top of this, the direct internet arm also cuts out the retailer in order for Ultra to gain maximum margin and sell directly to the consumer,” the source insisted. “A win-win for the manufacturer, but leaving a very bitter taste for the distributor and retailer alike.

“Unfortunately, this only goes to prove that they have no loyalty to any of their customers and everyone is now getting wise to this. Therefore, it’s difficult for any customer or distribution partner to show any loyalty in return, which will result in them seeking goods elsewhere at much cheaper prices.”

However, Hopkinson rejected these accusations, saying those who criticised Ultra’s strategy were merely “industry doom-mongers… moaning their way to oblivion”.

“I can’t speak for Ultra but it’s a tough world out there and the only companies who are surviving are those who adapt to change,” he told kbbreview. “All manufacturers, distributors and retailers have to look at their business and do what’s right for them and their customers.

“Whingeing and whining about other people and their strategies is frankly a waste of puff. Real leaders embrace the changes in their lives and create their own change. Lazy managers don’t. Get up off your backside and do what’s right for you Mr Anonymous. That way you might be proud enough to sign your letters.”

Responding to the distributor’s accusations that Ultra had abandoned its principles in the hunt for quick profits, Hopkinson said: “The idea of a brand is to create a product of value for a consumer and ensure they’re able to buy that product without inconvenience.

“Manufacturers who sell their products through non-exclusive distributors cannot guarantee that their product is promoted in such a way as to maximise their sales. The answer is to sell through a number of channels. You only need to look at high-profile brands to see what I mean. Apple sells through its own shops, through buying groups and through independent distributors. Just look at Ralph Lauren, Levi, Nike, Rolex, Hewlett Packard, Sony, Timberland… and I could list hundreds more.

“Let the whingers have their say, it won’t change anything and it’s light entertainment for the serious business people who are actually grafting.”

Ultra Finishing declined to comment to kbbreview on the issue.