A perfect storm: Bathroom Brands charts positive progress after a turbulent time

Bathroom Brands is now on the front foot after a difficult time. Its chairman, Roger Cooper, charts the progress

Chairman Bathroom Brands Group Roger Cooper, left, and Rey Shepherd, commercial director Bathroom Brands

There’s been a steady flow of new products from the Bathroom Brands Group over recent months – from the love-it-or-hate-it Crosswater MPRO Spectrum iridescent basin mixer to the Jet Black bathroom collection from Burlington and a raft of new launches from Britton – and chairman Roger Cooper says the business is now in “robust” health. “The Group is performing ahead of our expectations and we’ve got some very forward-thinking plans for the next two to three years,” he says.

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Britton Shoreditch furniture unit with Yacht countertop basin
Britton Shoreditch furniture unit with Yacht countertop basin

But Cooper is also candid about the “perfect storm” of troubles the Group suffered during 2018. “We went through a turbulent time,” he admits. Rene Maan joined as CEO in 2017 and left in mid-2018. “Rene had a global vision that was extremely ambitious,” he explains. “He drew up a proposal to double the size of the business in five years, but it was going to stretch the organisation beyond what it was capable of.” Cooper says they parted company amicably, but the departure caused “some concern” among staff.

Company profile:

Who are we? The Bathroom Brands Group is today made up of four main brands: Crosswater, Burlington, Britton and Clearwater. The Group currently has approximately 2,900 retailers across the UK and Ireland

Ownership Today, the Group is owned by a group of private shareholders, including David Hance, Patrick Riley, Nico De Beer and Tim Powell, and Investec also has a share.

Background Crosswater was founded in 1998 when David Hance spotted a niche in the market for Italian-designed brassware, choosing the company name because he was importing taps from Europe, across the water. After founding Bathstore in 1991, Patrick Riley went on to set up Bathroom Brands in 2004. The Bathroom Brands division of the Group includes Burlington traditional bathrooms, Britton modern bathrooms and Clearwater luxury freestanding baths

Sales stats “Total sales were about £90million in 2018,” says Roger Cooper

Staffing levels 320 across the Group

Crosswater brassware on display

Then one of Britton’s major and long-term partners moved factory with disastrous results. “We had the horrible situation of going to KBB with a series of products in March [2018] that by April were on long lead times along with our existing ranges, so by the summer we were struggling with stock across Britton,” explains Cooper.

Rolltop bath in a showroom
The new Burlington Balthazar double-ended bath with Kensington bath/shower mixer and standpipes with black indices and handles, shown with new Burlington Jet Gloss Black pedestal basin and WC

Completing the perfect storm of troubles were changes in the Crosswater warehouse that didn’t go to plan. “We had management change, a supply shortage in Britton, and less than acceptable service on Crosswater,” he says. “All of the board stepped up to the pace” to fill the management gap, running the business “as we were before Rene came”, which was with David Hance heading Crosswater and Patrick Riley on Bathroom Brands. The firm has also made new appointments, including Rey Shepherd as commercial director of the Burlington, Britton and Clearwater brands, and Alan Davey as operations director.

‘How to tackle market free riders’ 

In July, Bathroom Brands (Burlington, Britton and Clearwater) announced plans to tackle market free riders, publishing a new policy for retailers aimed at incentivising them to support its brand values and rewarding them for their loyalty. It says that those dealers that fail to conform to the new brand policy will be prevented from accessing its product portfolio. “This is a major issue to many retailers and we’ve got to do something about it,” says Rey Shepherd. “We want to grow our e-commerce and showroom business with dealers who buy into our brand values.”

The policy has been live since September and a notice period has been given to some dealers not meeting the criteria. “We estimate that we’ll end up ceasing to trade with some 20 dealers by January,” adds Rey Shepherd.

Rey Shepherd, commercial director of Bathroom Brands

Move forward to today and Britton has had major investment, with the launch of six ranges produced in new state-of-the-art factories. They include an entry level  MyHome collection, Shoreditch furniture and Hoxton brassware. “Now we need to win back the trust of customers,” says Cooper.

Britton Shoreditch furniture unit in matt grey
Britton Shoreditch furniture unit in matt grey
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Despite economic conditions, growth has been achieved in Crosswater from the success of its brassware, particularly its MPRO range and coloured finishes, plus the launch of Crossbox, a concealed thermostatic shower valve that delivers a one, two or three outlet solution from a single universal installation core. “Next year’s plan will see us growing our business with a series of actions across all brands,” says Cooper. A focus on more product innovations will include a major launch come March/April. “It’s an interesting way of addressing the issue of more customisation in bathrooms – and it’s not what people expect of us.”

Company Q&A

What is your greatest challenge? “At some stage, but probably not immediately, we need to take an increasing share of the contract market” Roger Cooper

What is your greatest opportunity? “We only have 8% of the UK market at the moment and the rest of the world offers opportunities galore” Roger Cooper

Strange but true “A lady wrote to us to say that she had made a much-treasured necklace out of a Burlington hot tap indice, which had fallen off a mixer in her favourite restaurant a few years ago. She was sentimental about it, so very upset to have lost it – and asked us if we could supply a new one. We did, and even found a jewellery box to send it in” Rey Shepherd