62 HPM 1216

HPM-12-DEC-2016

62 SHOWERS Is plumbing Britain’s last dinosaur industry? Struggling to maintain its leadership and prowess in the evolving world of technology, so far, the plumbing industry has been left behind. Thomas Dee, e-commerce manager at Aqualisa, looks at how manufacturers can help turn this challenge into opportunity Today’s consumer culture is becoming dependent on a way of life where everything is online, instant and flawless, bathrooms and kitchens included. Even milkmen now take orders online and posters in the waiting room of my local GP inform me that I could have saved time by booking online. However, the plumbing sector has been resistant to change and is now facing an industry challenge of huge proportions. Manufacturers, merchants and installers who once co-existed harmoniously are facing a fight for customers and the means of making a living. For the consumer, options are restricted and confusing. The majority of manufacturers, from showers to boilers, do not sell direct or offer consultation or fitting services, the exception being warranty and repair replacements. Lack of service Homeowners often turn for advice on investment purchases online, but are usually disappointed by poor content and lack of service. This leads them to their local plumber who struggles to compete with large, often aggressive online retailers offering huge discounts on white label products sourced from the far east. The result is dissatisfaction all round. As manufacturers we have a duty to provide greater resources and services online for homeowners seeking to repair, upgrade, or install new products in their homes. We also need to provide more education and reward for professional installers while equipping them with the tools to survive in a changing landscape. Of course, the objection of small and independent merchants is that by going directly to installers and consumers, manufacturers are “eating their lunch”, but other successful industries have shown that this need not be the case. Omnichannel approach The rise of click and collect, showroom appointments and installer-influenced purchases in industries from kitchens to window fitting and home security have significantly made more progress than ours. They have also seen more rapid growth than the plumbing sector. By “dealing in” those retailers who embrace positive change and are willing to adopt an omnichannel approach, there is an opportunity. We can leverage the power of the internet to grow footfall into struggling showrooms and start an online customer journey that results in revenue regeneration for the bricks “The plumbing sector has been resistant to change and is now facing an industry challenge of huge proportions” and mortar outlets that built our industry, while also rewarding installers and manufacturers. Modern plumbers are shedding stereotypes The average age of UK plumbers is falling sharply; modern young plumbers have grown up in the internet age and are shedding traditional stereotypes. They operate smart, professional and agile businesses and will ultimately, shape the success of the major manufacturers. The winner of last year’s The Apprentice was a plumber from Peterborough, Joseph Valente, who placed great emphasis on providing a modern approach to a traditional industry gaining the confidence of a sceptical Lord Alan Sugar. Among his company’s offering is an elite network of specialist installers and a deliberate focus on fitting smart technology such as Nest thermostats in British homes. As responsible manufacturers, investing in the new generation of professional installers is the cornerstone of our future growth and survival. It is our chance to share knowledge and expertise, but also to cultivate and collaborate with a stable of experts closer to our consumers than we are. Well planned installer and manufacturer networks that equip modern professionals will ultimately provide better choice and level of service to end users. This will result in a self-perpetuating ecosystem for manufacturers, installers, merchants and homeowners. Our homes are getting smarter and the bathroom is no exception. Innovative manufacturers are spending time and money developing next generation products that will integrate with the rest of the home and provide the personalised, instant experiences we now expect. With these specialised tech products, the imperative to educate and enable expert installers will become even greater. The same goes for retailers. Industry realignment Our industry is leaving itself vulnerable to irreversible change if we do not address the balance between manufacturers, merchants and installers. The answer lies in an industry-wide realignment, developing channel relationships that nurture all parties to create a sustainable future. We need to listen to our homeowner customers and our loyal installers, meeting their expectations for modern, reliable and on-demand service. We can learn from other household goods sectors and grow meaningful service-based partnerships that will ultimately, satisfy all interests. Online technology will be the medium for delivering this service, but how and why is a conversation that manufacturers must engage in before it is too late. www.hpmmag.com December 2016 enquiry number 147


HPM-12-DEC-2016
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