Flush with success

On her latest visit to a leading supplier, Annemarie Harte, CEO of HAI, stopped off at the headquarters of quality bathroom products provider Sonas Bathrooms and found a company dedicated to putting its customers first.

Producing a catalogue that looks the same size as the Bible is no easy task but that’s what I find the owner of Sonas Bathrooms, Dermot Usher, doing when I meet him on my recent visit to the company. Dermot is in the middle of proofing 2016’s mammoth Sonas directory for the sector, a product that has trebled in size in the last 10 years. “This should be the go-to guide to the industry. That’s what we aim for,” says Dermot. Judging by the amount of Post-It notes on this year’s edition, Dermot takes great care to ensure that this does become the bathroom product bible for contractors, retailers, merchants and consumers.

The Sonas Bathrooms headquarters are located in Ballycoolin, Blanchardstown.

INVESTING IN THE BUSINESS

“We started investing in our product ranges before the market started to come back,” he notes. One look at the Sonas showroom, which takes up a whole floor in the building, gives testament to this. Open to members of the public and builders alike, this display of all things bathroom-related is very impressive, I was particularly taken by the quality of the wall-hung bathroom furniture. It’s a far cry from avocado suites and pink vanity units!

The furniture is slick, modern and space-saving and lends itself to the achievement of a designer bathroom effect, even if the investment in the units themselves is moderate. “Our slogan would be ‘Easy to do business with’. The variety we offer and the quality we demonstrate in the showroom is all about supporting our merchants,” comments Richard Sloan, Managing Director of Sonas, “We have invested heavily in generating interest in the Sonas brand and believe we offer much more to our customers, in addition to competing on price.”

NEW WEBSITE

The new Sonas website is a key element in the company’s efforts to support the industry.

The Sonas warehouse

All products from the Sonas catalogue are listed on the site with their recommended retail price. Although built on an e-commerce platform, the website doesn’t facilitate the purchase of products directly but Sonas is aware that online research is now a crucial part of the end-user sales journey. “Everything we do promotes the brand” says Richard. “We will be increasing our digital activity in 2016 and have taken on a full-time staff member to work on this.”

Sonas prides itself on a next-day delivery guarantee and concentrates its business on the Irish market. “In many cases, we can deliver quicker to Northern Ireland than some local suppliers,” says Dermot. “The customer is king and we always put the customer first, that sums up the Sonas philosophy. We quietly go about our business while seeking every opportunity to instigate meaningful change in the market.”

TRENDS TO WATCH

The Moda Rimfree. Rimless technology is set to be the next phase in the evolution of toilet design, according to Sonas.

So, what’s new for 2016? I’m quite excited to hear about the advent of rimless toilet technology, which may well spell the end for Toilet Duck. Sure to be a hit among all haters of toilet cleaning and, having seen it for myself, I’d be happy to vouch for the future success of this new and innovative product. Looking forward to opportunities and threats, Dermot says that new house builds will have the biggest positive impact on the market, while building regulations look set to drive up the cost of new builds and access to finance will continue to be a significant obstacle for builders and developers, as well as those seeking mortgages to finance the purchase of new homes.

REPORT FROM THE UK

The bathroom products market is estimated to have grown by around 5% in 2015, reflecting the continued steady improvement in the UK economy and the building and home improvement markets. The market has seen a steady increase since 2013, following a period of comparatively volatile market performance, with growth in 2014 estimated to have reached around 5%.

Baths and sanitary ware is the largest sector of the bathroom products market, accounting for over 35% by value, followed by bathroom accessories, taps and mixers and bathroom furniture, while whirlpool/spa systems account for a significantly smaller share. Key trends include investing in products that offer better quality and longevity combined with luxury. Materials that have a natural appearance and texture in combination with a subtle use of colour in soft, neutral tones have also grown in popularity while the use of industrial designs, which use rough textures with visible pipes and brickwork, has also continued to grow.

“Another key trend which has become increasingly important is the growing use of digital technology in UK bathrooms, something which has added value in a number of product sectors over the past two years” said Hayley Thornley, Research
Manager at AMA Research. ”Examples include digital taps and sensors to control temperature and flow, mirrors featuring entertainment systems that use Bluetooth technology, whirlpool systems with chromotherapy, aromatherapy, integrated heaters and voice activated controls.”

The outlook for the UK bathroom products market in 2016 looks positive with good growth also anticipated in the medium-longer term. By 2019, the market value is forecast to have increased by 14% compared to 2015. However, the bathroom market is becoming increasingly price competitive as low-cost imports continue to account for a sizeable proportion of bathroom products sold in the UK. In addition, the growing use of the internet to source the best deals is also having an impact.

The UK bathroom products market is forecast to continue to fragment and the number of own-label products, often sold via the internet, is likely to increase. Competition from non-UK suppliers is also likely to grow as they increasingly develop their own concepts and designs rather than providing copies of existing products. Pricing pressures are likely to remain intense due to a growing number of competitive distribution channels such as the internet, DIY multiples and multiple retailers.

If you have a story to tell as a supplier or manufacturer in the Irish market, please contact Annemarie on 01 298 0969 or annemarie@hardwareassociation.ie for more information.