Lakes’ Sales & Marketing Director and BMBI Expert Mike Tattam argues that lifestyle and space trends in home improvements are big opportunities for merchants and shower enclosure brands.
In general terms, home improvement retailers struggled with the weather and a less confident retail market this year. However, according to the latest Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) — which analyses sales-out data from over 80% of generalist builders’ merchants’ sales across Great Britain — RMI continued to perform.
Kitchens and bathrooms Q2 sales were 6.1% up in value on the same quarter last year, and also 6.1% up over the past 12 months compared to the previous 12 — making it the second best performing BMBI category.
Independent market research we commissioned earlier this year shows that while merchants’ prompted awareness of the main shower enclosure brands is good, as you’d expect, unprompted ‘top of mind’ awareness is low. In that respect, Lakes is not alone. The research showed it to be a crowded market, with over 50 brands stocked by merchants and bathroom stockists. And there’s lots of multi-stocking, with the average number of brands stocked at 3.6 a branch.
Compared to other ‘bathroom’ products, people spend less time thinking about shower enclosures: they look through the glass at the shower head, fittings, or tiles and then see the enclosure. That’s because enclosure brands have left it to others to promote showering spaces, and not explained why or how the showering space is important. Lakes plans to change that.
In the research, merchants were also asked to rate 20 factors for importance and rate brands for performance against these criteria. Lakes did well, coming top for service, quality, deliveries and guarantees. We also outperformed the market when rated for ‘A company I trust’ and for ‘They value my business’.
We commissioned the research to benchmark ourselves against the best, to improve our performance, and learned a lot from it. It’s guided our strategy, investment in new products and our support to help merchants and bathroom stockists grow with the key trends.
What are the trends?
Showering has become more important. As the price of land has risen, new homes have got smaller and housebuilders have adapted their designs to maintain the main living and master bedroom space while squeezing space elsewhere. Over the years, that’s favoured stand-up showers instead of baths which take up more space.
In many ways showers suit the way we now live. We don’t have the space or the time we had for long leisurely baths, but we don’t seem to mind — indeed, 79% of people (Faith in Nature survey, 2017) say they prefer the speed of a shower over a long soak in the tub.
Above all, the bathroom is a personal sanctuary, our own private space where we can look in the mirror without being overlooked; a place of quiet and seclusion where we get ready to go out or refresh and unwind after a stressful day.
It’s an important space, functionally and emotionally, and enclosures play an important role in good showering. However, Lakes has made the decision to move away from the word ‘enclosure’ — which has negative connotations of being confined — and we’ve changed our logo and trading name from Lakes Bathrooms to Lakes Showering Spaces. It more clearly defines what we make and puts the emphasis on the space that enables the showering experience.
It’s time we changed our perspective and gave showering spaces the attention they deserve.
Other important trends are changing our behaviour too, such as multigenerational households. The population has been growing fast, and living room is limited because we’re not building enough. More people are living together and sharing showering facilities. Young adults are returning to live at home, older parents are moving in with their children and grandchildren. We need more privacy and better use of our showering spaces.
The growth of the Haves
One of the most significant trends has been a growing division of the market into ‘The Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’ — driven by the rising value of homes, housing wealth and demographics.
The Have Nots, or the ‘Just About Managing’ as Theresa May calls them, are predominantly homeowners under 45. They may earn more than the over 55s, but their outgoings are higher on mortgages, general living, families etc. They like premium products but mostly buy cheaper because they must.
The Haves are generally older homeowners, especially the over 55s who own much of the housing wealth. They account for most of the UK’s savings too, and because of demographics they’re becoming more numerous. They have the money — one in five now own two properties — and with rising house prices paying for the purchase, why wouldn’t they invest in their home?
This powerful trend is driving most home improvement markets, not just bathrooms and showers.
The opportunities for exciting product development and solution selling rather than product selling — selling the right solution for the right lifestyle and showering spaces — are huge.
These trends and thinking have led to our new branding and strategic direction, focusing on lifestyles and space as we ‘follow the money’. We believe the market will continue to grow in importance and will rationalise on fewer brands that provide merchants and stockists with the support they need to develop the market and grow profitably.
Leading brands develop their markets so everyone — merchants, installers and homeowners — benefit. Lakes is going through an exciting transition driven by fact-based marketing. Watch the showering space!