Cork’s new Tubs & Tiles opens new ideas

The Hardware Journal’s Aoife Kinsella was impressed by her virtual tour of the new Heat Merchants Group’s flagship Tubs & Tiles showroom in Cork. She speaks to Shane Colleran, Retail Director and Neil Ahern Showroom Manager.

After weeks of anticipation, Heat Merchants Group were delighted to welcome customers to their new flagship Tubs & Tiles showroom in Cork.

For everyone unable to travel or visit retailers during the pandemic, yet eager to get those bathroom and tiling projects underway, being able to enter, explore the huge range and chat to knowledgeable staff in person was well worth the wait.

The impressive showroom marks Heat Merchants Group’s forty years in business; joining their 32 Heat Merchants stores and 12 Tubs & Tiles branches to supply a comprehensive portfolio of heating, plumbing and renewable energy solutions for domestic and commercial projects.

Space to inspire

Shane couldn’t be happier with the Eastgate location. “The wonderfully spacious premises enabled us to open a bathroom and tile showroom that can showcase our extensive range of quality bathroom-ware, showers and furniture from renowned international designers.”

The 750m2 space also facilitates social distancing and safety measures so customers can browse with ease. Tubs & Tiles is home to a massive product portfolio from leading bathroom and tile brands. “Designer brands sit comfortably alongside our superb value ranges; all carefully selected to provide great options for every taste and budget.”

The bathroom brands stocked are renowned in the industry for their quality manufacturing and advanced designs. “These products are designed to stand the test of time, and the array of styles and colours offers something for everyone,” adds Neil. “We feature all the latest trends in bathrooms and tiling.”

Design solutions

Step inside and start soaking up ideas. Tubs & Tiles has teamed with Tess Stanford Interior Architects to present innovative bathroom layouts in extensive displays.

Dedicated brand areas, ‘shops within shops’, feature award-winning names like Duravit, Hansgrohe and Axor in bathroom-ware and Mirage and Ragno for tiling.

To make each customer’s vision a reality, extensive design services are delivered by an experienced specialist team.

Appointment-based consultation is dedicated to creating the dream bathroom, encompassing 3D virtual images, 360-degree views, detailed fitting plans and specification of materials.

As Neil Ahern explains, “Our 3D design software is a wonderful tool to help customers visualise their finished bathroom and be confident using bold or creative designs, as the realistic images give a very accurate representation of how the finished product will look.”

As part of their comprehensive service, the Tubs & Tiles team liaises directly with tradespeople installing the tiles and bathrooms; providing scaled fitting plans, manufacturers’ product information, or installation guides to ensure the project goes smoothly.

Customer-led technology

Coronavirus and its effects on business and society has spurred Heat Merchants Group to introduce changes that make life as easy as possible for customers and enhance efficiencies.

New services have been developed, including their new Showroom Virtual Tour, which is available on their website and which allows customers to browse their showroom from the comfort of their home!

According to Shane, “Technology has been increasingly important in our industry, however the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 means innovation has been accelerated and become more immediately critical to the business.”

“Our enhanced online presence now lets customers view products and services so they can plan and shortlist what they want to see when they visit any of our showrooms. This minimises browsing time instore and frequently reduces the number of visits, or even eliminates the need to visit the showroom at all.”

The Group’s e-commerce website goes live soon; a major focus, says Shane. “Customers are exceptionally well-informed and spend considerable time and energy researching their needs, so this new website will be a critical resource.”

It takes teamwork

Behind the success of the Cork showroom; Neil and his dedicated, experienced team of nine, work diligently to ensure every area is pristine and that “expert advice and customer service is always available”.

Amie Willmott, Nina Logar, Neil Ahern (Branch Manager), Dadiva Filadelfia
and Samantha Norton.

The Sales and Customer Services Team includes Deirdre Murray, who has been working alongside Neil for over 25 years, Samantha Norton, who comes from a family of tilers and brings in-depth practical expertise, and Dadiva Filadelfia, with her extensive knowledge on the sale and specification of large-format slab porcelain and marble tiles.

National Sales Manager Jason O’Connor has been with Tubs & Tiles Commercial for over 15 years, while commercial specialist Joe Murphy works closely with architects and designers in the Cork area.

In the know

Training for all employees is highly valued. Induction for new recruits is extensive and everyone receives ongoing mentoring from Neil and senior team members.

“Each week one hour is dedicated to training, often conducted by specialists from our supplier partners. We focus on topics such as the technical performance of tiles, substrate preparation, product features and benefits, tile maintenance and customer service skills,” explains Neil.

“Training and developing staff, ensuring a pleasant environment and demonstrating your appreciation for their hard work and willingness to go the extra mile are of immeasurable value to building a strong, motivated team who will deliver an exceptional customer experience. This is the cornerstone of any business success.”

The proof is in the accolades; becoming a Business All Star accredited company and included as a TRIBE (The Register of Irish Business Excellence) participant.

This year the Group was delighted to be recognised by The All-Ireland Business Foundation as Overall Best Enterprise and received the McEniff Enterprise Trophy for the second time.

Heat Merchants also retained their status as a Gold Standard Deloitte Best Managed Company for the sixth consecutive year.

Collaborative links

The Group joins with like-minded businesses to address social, environmental, and economic priorities. In addition to being a proud member of Hardware Association Ireland, Heat Merchants is one of 90+ associates in Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI), the national network for sustainability.

Alan Hogan, Heat Merchants Group MD states: “Corporate Social Responsibility is at the core of our business and we are committed to continuously improving in this area. We strive to be an asset to the communities where we live and work.

Embedding responsible, sustainable practice within our group culture is fundamental. Our memberships allow us to access a wealth of expertise and support”.

Heat Merchants has partnered with Roscommon Community College to help prepare students for the working world.

Through the Skills @ Work programme, volunteer employees guide students on CV writing and interview skills and share insights into job choices and career paths.

“It is extremely important that students are fully aware of potential job opportunities within their communities, as cities are not always the answer,” explains Alan Hogan. “This programme benefits local economies and can assure the future staffing needs of our company, along with providing skilled workers for other local businesses and prospective

Sustainable future

In 2018 Heat Merchants Group signed up to The Low Carbon Pledge; the first public commitment generated by Irish business to lead on the transition to a low carbon economy and reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions’ intensity by 50% by 2030.

“We have committed to making sustainability a central priority to help Ireland achieve its international commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement,” Alan confirms.

“This is demonstrated by supporting the Pledge and the significant steps we’re taking to reduce our environmental impact across our business network.”

The Group has installed a 470-panel solar photovoltaic system on the roof of their business support offices and central warehouse in Athlone is changing all lighting at every site to energy-efficient LED fittings, and replacing diesel forklifts with four electric Jungheinrich models in the distribution center.

Secrets to success

For Neil, Shane and their Eastgate team, the Group’s dedication to customer service is their guiding principle.

“All of us at Tubs & Tiles are very committed and passionate about the work we do. This carries into the customer experience, as we genuinely want to provide the best products and assistance to suit every individual,” says Shane, adding that extensive choice and services have been major drivers in their success.

“Our key selling point? The peace of mind we can offer our customers.”