Victoria + Albert Baths may have been founded more than 20 years ago, but it has gone through a decent dose of change in the last couple of years. Bought by American home and security company Fortune Brands in 2017, it now counts UK companies Perrin & Rowe and Shaws of Darwen as sister brands, and is now run by a new management team under the Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group banner.
Who are we? Jim Platt, sales director UK and Ireland, Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group; James Smith, director of marketing and innovation EMEAA, Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group
What do we do? Luxury freestanding bath and basin manufacturer, plus accompanying brassware and bathroom furniture
Sales stats “UK sales have grown by 10% in 2019,” says Jim Platt
“This year is the first that we have brought all three brands together under one UK management team,” says UK and Ireland sales director Jim Platt, who joined the firm in April. “What we are doing is finding and exploiting opportunities where we can create synergies across the three businesses and creating range offers that are complementary by using what we have across the product portfolio,” continues Platt.
Each brand, be it Victoria + Albert freestanding baths and basins, Perrin & Rowe brassware or Shaws’ heavy fireclay sinks, will continue to produce individually, with their respective head offices in Telford, Rainham and Darwen, but be brought together when collaborative opportunities arise.
Adds James Smith, director of marketing and innovation EMEAA, who joined in February, “They are all luxury brands, all about craftsmanship and hand finishing, and essentially sold into similar markets, so when you bring them together commercially, they make a lot of sense as a portfolio.”
It means, for example, that architects and specifiers may be offered a cross-brand range of products, and that the Victoria + Albert sales team may talk to relevant bathroom showrooms about Perrin & Rowe, although orders will go through existing distribution arrangements, as applicable. “We will be looking for opportunities for all three brands,” says Platt.
The company was founded by Chris Davies in 1996 and was more recently bought by Fortune Brands in 2017. It is now part of Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group, alongside Perrin & Rowe and Shaws of Darwen.
All Victoria + Albert baths and basins are manufactured at the company’s own factories in South Africa, and all are made of Quarrycast, its own mix of volcanic limestone and resin.
Brassware is made to Victoria + Albert Baths’ high spec specification in England, while accessories come from Italy. The head office, warehouse and European distribution hub are based in Telford, while the total enterprise is truly global with offices in the USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
The company has enjoyed a showroom in the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour since 2010, and one in Milan since 2016. Victoria + Albert Baths’ products are sold in total by around 200 retailers in the UK.
When it comes to Victoria + Albert Baths specifically, Smith says, “We want to develop a real design language for V+A going forward that makes it feel even more unique than it does now, and we want to make the most of our material.” He emphasises Quarrycast’s warm-to-touch, naturally white, stain resistant and strong-yet-light characteristics, and the ability to create seamless, flowing shapes.
Recent launches include Victoria + Albert’s most top-end design to date, the large round spa-like Taizu, which can also be used outside, and its first built-in baths, the Kaldera collection. It is well known that there are now other companies creating freestanding baths in stone-resin mixes, some at significantly cheaper price points than Victoria + Albert. So what keeps this brand growing – with sales up 10% so far this year? “Design leadership,” says Smith.
“We recognise the need to continue to innovate.” He says that a new cycle of launches will begin in about a year’s time, across space-efficient designs, ‘standard’ price points and top-end models. While Victoria + Albert is the largest of the brands globally, it is the smallest of the three in the UK, and arguably its attention may have drifted to robust growth in Europe, USA and China. But Platt is determined to bring focus home. “We want to build partnerships with our retailers and take a tailored approach to build sales,” says Platt. “The UK is a really important market to us.”
Your greatest challenge? “To prioritise the opportunities, because there are so many,” says James Smith
Your greatest opportunity? “To leverage everything that is good out of the brand and in creating a uniquely differentiated proposition,” says Jim Platt
Strange but true “When I joined V+A, I thought people were winding me up when they talked about sofa baths. But it is true – we do have some sofas made from baths, although we’re not planning on selling them just yet,” reveals Jim