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Scope Bathrooms Derek Miller talks KBB and Internet

kbbreview columnist and Glasgow-based retailer Derek Miller looks at selling to the i-generation.

As I watch my sons navigate their laptops and iPads with an ease that leaves me slack-jawed, I am left in no doubt that the younger generation now regards IT and associated gadgetry as central to their universe.

Instant communication is the norm and they have no recollection of a world where information was not available at the touch of a button. Even for an old codger like me, the iPad is outrageously simple to use.

I class myself as a technological dinosaur, yet am able to download music, books and apps. My wife’s Christmas and birthday gifts were purchased online with the help of that great icon of middle-class desirability John Lewis, and I would be happy never to set foot in a shopping mall for the rest of my life.

In short, if a Luddite such as myself is happy to make lifestyle decisions on the trusty laptop, then such an option must be genuinely appealing to at least 75% of the British population.

So, is it time for every British bathroom retailer who prefers to sell from a nicely presented showroom to shut up shop? Before reaching for the white flags, I refer you to the old proverb: “Every convenience brings its own inconvenience”.

Only the most narrow-minded retail puritan could deny that the internet is increasingly influential in our industry. However, does the bathroom industry sit as comfortably in the online domain as homewares or electricals?

To all those traders rushing to invest in a more powerful e-commerce package than the next bloke, I suggest that you heed the ancient words of caution in the above proverb. Online sourcing of an entire bathroom, while not impossible, must surely bring with it a truckload of inconvenience.

A typical Scope purchase, for example, especially if made for a multi-bathroom project, can often involve around 10 to 15 different manufacturers and suppliers. The days of a straightforward suite purchase are long gone – if indeed they were ever a factor in quality-end retailing. Coupled with that, the huge levels of design support, technical planning, liaising with contractors, arranging part deliveries, ordering with a deposit, that good showrooms offer, simply cannot be replicated online.

Certainly, the intrepid, investigative client can do some research and haggle an extra 5% off a specific enclosure or tap on our quotes, but does that really matter? Having waited at home for the ‘some time between 9am and 1pm’ online delivery, how does the purchaser plan to return the 1,800mm super-steel bath or the 1,700mm walk-in enclosure, when they find it to be scratched?

Whom do they call? Do they repackage it and fix it back to the pallet? Indeed what did they do with the unwanted pallet in the first place? Do they wait around all day for the uplift and then another day for the arrival of the replacement? Does the online company give them the benefit of the doubt when the damaged goods have been lying in their garage for a few days? Whom do they shout at when the tray doesn’t arrive on time, causing their tiler to walk off site?

Taking it to another level, will the shower work with their water system? Can the fully back-to-wall pan fit with their soil stack arrangement? Can the shower trap be concealed in their floor to allow that highly desirable flush-to-floor look on the website? Will it all fit and, even if it does, will everything look like a well-planned bathroom or will it resemble a dog’s breakfast?

The answer to all of the above of course is possibly so, but probably not.

Websites can and should be used by all bathroom retailers to enhance their USPs and the associated retail experience. Online trading at its most effective will undoubtedly sound the death knell for average showrooms full of average staff, selling average products, with average service.

As a dedicated free-marketeer, I have no issue with that notion. However, while it may force the rest of us to sharpen our acts (and indeed our pencils), I firmly believe that most serious customers will continue to purchase their bathrooms from knowledgeable staff in an inspiring showroom environment. Good retailers should sell the virtues of their expertise and, if necessary, remind customers of another old proverb: “If you buy cheaply, you pay dearly”.

The above article written for kbb review and by kbbreview columnist and Glasgow-based retailer Derek Miller.

Derek Miller runs Scope Bathrooms in Glasgow. Established in 1999, Scope has become one of Scotland’s leading bathroom companies in both the Retail and Contract sectors. Scope is proud to have provided many of the UK’s finest hotels and best known housebuilders with quality bathroom specifications and has designed and supplied countless bathrooms and shower rooms for private residential clients.

Kitchens Kitchens Editor Jeff Russell on Derek`s comments

As Derek points out Websites can and should be used by all KBB retailers to enhance their USPs and the associated retail experience. Online trading, or more so online marketing, at its most effective will undoubtedly sound the death knell for average showrooms full of average staff, selling average products, with average service.

No more than the Luddites stopped the Industrial Revolution, dinosaurs in the KBB sector cannot switch off the Internet and the KBB sector in general should have a harmonious marketing strategy where online and offline marketing work in tandem to both attract potential customers and give them a reason to proceed or a call to action.

Derek is very true in what he says about USP`s or unique selling points and this is where I suspect the crux of the Luddite argument is in that many KBB dinosaurs have relied on location based selling and footfall in an uneducated market where they are simply distributers for a given brand and are not selling themselves different to any other distributors of the same brand and the internet, like the telephone or your feet will result in people shopping around for the same brand to find the cheapest one, all things being equal.

Some retailers have shrugged off the distributor moniker and created an experience based on USP`s, be it in the designs and/or advice they give or the combination of brands they sell, or the uniqueness of their offering.

Bettaliving sell flatpack kitchens to a budget conscious market, whereas firms like Lincoln Jordan the Manchester kitchens specialist near Oldham based Bettaliving manufacture bespoke kitchens and rival the likes of Harvey Jones Kitchens but with their unique  Colour Palette and Colour Match Service can supply their handcrafted kitchens in more than 6000 colours.

This is a huge USP and when you consider a previous article we did looking into the info on offer from Bettaliving and compare it to the likes of when we did a previous piece on brands such as Wickes, Harvey Jones Kitchens, Mobalpa Kitchens, Kitchen Design Centre, Kutchenarte, etc and the lack of info from Bettaliving again leaves you somewhat underwhelmed.