Roca and Laufen launch online stores slammed as “misguided”

According to kbbreview, the Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom trade body and resource, plans by Roca and Laufen to launch online stores to help support showrooms against growing competition from the internet have been slammed as “misguided in the extreme” by Patrick Riley, chief executive of UK Bathroom Brands.

The web stores were launched after the brand recognised the success of similar ‘bricks and clicks’ initiatives by independent retailers, which use a combination of online and offline facilities to allow consumers to browse and shop in a way that best suits their needs.

However Riley – who recently revealed plans to launch a fully subsidised October sale to protect his showroom network – told kbbreview he had considered the same idea in the past but rejected it as likely to antagonise local dealers.

“You’ve got to look after your retailers,” he insisted. “The idea is misguided in the extreme. Which dealer do you give the order to in that area? What should the price be? Does the dealer believe that you’ll deal with them all the time? We looked at this with Crosswater, but our idea was to help our dealers not upset them, so we dropped it completely.”

Orders placed on www.uk.roca.com and www.uk.laufen.com will be made available to participating retailers for fulfilment and the brands’ Click-and-Collect service will allow consumers to have their order delivered to the most convenient location.

“How Laufen think they’re going to be able to look after the retailer when they’re supplying via a distributor, and don’t even have a relationship with them, I don’t know,” Riley continued. “When I heard about this, I was delighted because they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot. It’s the same old story – they want more and more sales because they’re under such pressure in Spain and they’re ruining their supply chain.

“I look at this and wonder if Alan [Alan Dodds, managing director, Roca Group UK] has been told he has to do it or he’s dreamed it up on his own?

“You have to be sophisticated with that kind of operation. Our industry is not there yet. It probably will happen, but certainly not now, so it’s going to be very interesting.”

One Laufen dealer told kbbreview he had been approached two years ago to become a Shopatron dealer in a similar Laufen initiative. But he claimed that since then they have had no leads through the site.

“The theory with this is that a customer could go into a showroom, see the product and be quoted retail price through the showroom,” he said. “They could then go home, launch Roca’s online stores and get it potentially cheaper from another retailer or directly from Roca. If the transaction went straight through Roca’s online store, as a retailer we would only make a very small margin yet be responsible for everything. Who truly benefits?”

The retailer went on to suggest the strategy was the first step on the road to selling direct.

“The dealer will see this as the first step of these brands opening their first online, direct sales site,” he said. “How do we know they divert the order to the retailer and not just keep it for themselves and ship direct?

“This looks like Roca’s first step in a direction where they’re going to start a direct-to-customer market route and they’re fluffing it over with how good it’s going to be for the dealer. You could have five dealers in one area? How will consumers choose which retailer to buy from? You could just end up with Roca and Laufen dealers in similar areas fighting with each other.”

However, Alan Dodds, managing director of Roca Group UK, argued that the initiative was “based on a true partnership approach”.

“We take our relationship with our retail partners very seriously and have launched the stores to help contribute to their long term success,” he insisted.

“A number of early adopters have already signed up as recommended retailers and all sales through the online stores will always be via signed-up dealers, without exception. All sales are at list price and so provide a good margin for our retailers. There is absolutely no intention either now or in the future to sell direct. The online stores are purely to support our dealers with the rapid growth of internet selling and to ensure that consumers are directed towards outlets that understand and support our brands. 

We’ve had an overwhelming positive response from our dealers as they recognise that we are investing in new ways to support them and opening up new markets for them.”

Despite his concerns, Riley admitted that an industry debate over the best way to support bathroom specialists had become essential. “The fact that two big hitters are focusing their enormous resources into providing workable frameworks that support independents is both energising and timely,” he said. “Consumer confidence is growing and, if over the next few months businesses like our own can help position the designer retailer as the first-point of contact for a bathroom refit, we will have done our job. Whether our own approach or Roca’s is the best is immaterial as long as the retailer and their consumer are the overall winners.”

Kitchens Kitchens, editor Jeff Russell:

The issue of online channels, traditional retailers and online-only retailers is somewhat of a hot potato at the minute and perhaps the Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom brands could and indeed should take a leaf from the likes of PWS in the kitchen industry.

PWS have a couple of hundred UK dealers and offer a comprehensive range of kitchen furniture but they moved from a distributer only and into online marketing in what can only be described as a positive way, that supports the independents as whilst PWS have invested heavily in their online marketing for the Second Nature brand and now the Metris kitchens brand, they ask the web user to input their post code and the local dealers pop up, making it very easy to support the retailers/dealers.

They don’t, as has been alleged by many brands (even a few of the German kitchens ones too) take the customers details and cherry pick who their favourite retailers/dealers are and speaking to many independents across the UK, we have been told that by and large, PWS have much respect from the independents so perhaps others could learn a lesson and level out the playing field?