So unusual is it to come across a British manufacturer these days, Roman MD David Osborne sometimes finds himself bringing potential customers to his County Durham factory so that they can see, with their own eyes, shower enclosures and trays in production on UK soil. ‘The vast majority of our competitors are Chinese importers and the fact that we actually manufacture our products here in the UK is something people don’t always believe,’ he says.
Who are we? David Osborne, MD
Where are we? Whitworth Avenue, Aycliffe Business Park, County Durham, DL5 6YN
What do we do? Design and manufacture shower enclosures, screens, trays and accessories
Sales stats ‘This year we’re tracking to do over £25million, making us about 12% up on 2019,’ says David Osborne
Staffing levels 245 in the UK; 267 in total including staff at Roman Ireland and Roman Asia
Osborne, 49, runs the privately-owned company founded by his father in 1985. Over the last five years Roman has grown its facility from 150,000sq ft to 400,000sq ft, including a factory for fabricating solid-surface vanity tops and other bathroom structures and a new warehouse for export sales. ‘Last year, we invested just over £3million in buying land, buildings and new machinery,’ says Osborne.
It’s both a response to growing demand and to ready the business for further expansion, as he explains. ‘We’ve been growing at a fast rate for the last ten years, with more than double-digit growth every year, and this year we’re tracking to do over £25million, making us about 12% up on 2019,’ he says. ‘We’re predicting carrying on at double-digit growth rates [into 2021].’
‘We’re probably the largest shower manufacturer in Europe, and in Britain by a mile,’ he continues. In the face of Chinese competition, he emphasises Roman’s ability to bring new products quickly to market, to deliver on short lead times, to offer added value and new designs, and to manufacture using 100% recycled aluminium and to use 100% recycled packaging.
Together with colleagues at Made in Britain (he sits on its board) and the BMA, he is involved in lobbying Parliament to enforce CE marking compliance on relevant bathroom products, including shower enclosures, to ensure conformity with safety and quality requirements. ‘A significant percentage of imported product is not compliant, but the way the law is currently written – it’s legal to import it, but not legal to sell it – not everyone realises that you could be breaking the law if you are the final re-seller,’ he says.
Founded in 1985 by David Osborne’s father, Gerry, now 79 and chairman, Roman remains a privately owned company. The business operates from a 400,000sq ft headquarters, training showroom, production facility and warehouse in County Durham. All design and manufacturing are done in house. David Osborne has worked for the business for 28 years
There are now three factories on the site, including one for manufacturing shower enclosures (glass and metal), one for shower trays in Roman Stone and another for fabricating solid-surface (including Corian) bathroom structures, including vanity tops. Roman also operates a sister business, Roman at Home, launched in 2009. It is an online and mail order retailer of homewares and accessories, with current annual turnover of about £300,000
Roman has a subsidiary in Ireland, based in Naas, County Kildare, and Roman Asia in Malaysia, with sales and warehousing operations and a showroom, which it shares with Cosentino, in Kuala Lumpur. The company exports to over 60 countries. Exports currently represent about 15% of sales and are ‘growing at a very strong rate’, driven by sales to international hotel chains.
There are seven product ranges, including Liberty. Roman is active in every sector, apart from DIY, and sells in about 800 showrooms across the UK
Roman’s recent launches include the top-end Liberty range with its minimalist styling and silicone-free wall fixing technology, currently available in four frame colours: Chrome, Polished Nickel, Brushed Nickel and Matt Black, with Brushed Brass coming in July. Fluted Glass is new to the collection, too, driven by trends in the hotel industry. ‘Being the key player in the hotel sector, we’re bringing these design trends into the retail market,’ he says.
Osborne says we will likely see more frame colour options in due course (‘We’re doing up to 15 colours in the hotel industry,’ he says) and screens in new textured glass designs. He says that they also plan to bring the solid surface structures, such as vanity tops integrated with showers, currently geared to the hotel market, to the retail sector during this year or next. ‘We are playing to our strengths – and that’s about offering choice,’ he says.
What is your greatest challenge? ‘Generating continued high levels of growth across all areas of the business. Unashamedly’
What is your greatest opportunity? ‘We’ve genuinely got a strong international business – and the opportunity is to take it wider and wider’
Strange but true ‘At a time when lots of Chinese product is coming to the UK, we take great pride in the fact that we are taking British product and selling it in Asia’