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#003: The Future Of The Bathroom Industry

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Inside The House Podcast 006

On this episode of Inside The House, we travelled to Leeds to visit Just Trays. Whilst visiting Just Trays we interviewed Sales and Marketing Director, John Schofield, learning about the future of the bathroom industry both online and in merchants.

Host: Darren House

Produced By: Freddie Dalton & Darren House
Copyright: Inside The House


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Podcast Transcription

Darren: John, when you were at school and you had these great ideas of being what? What did you want to do?

John: Oh interesting, now the original plan was to be a pilot.

Darren: A pilot?

John: A pilot!

Darren: Wow

John: Yeah, yeah. I was too short for the police.

Darren: Yeah, yeah I had that problem

John: Yeah and but unfortunately those plans went out the window and I feel into civil engineering and surveying.

Darren: Yep

John: Four years of university and then a couple of years land surveying and then over to Hong Kong, worked on major civil engineering projects over there on the new airport and a couple of other projects. I then came back and decided to get into more commercial areas, selling.

Darren: Yep

John: So after a couple of, couple of roles I ended up as a as a rep for a company called Reliance Water Controls, selling valves and showers and so on. And then from there it progressed through to a company called Gummer’s who made thermostatic showers in Birmingham, they were acquired by Masco and I went through a number of roles with them. Through de mixer, looking after B&Q and then onto looking after the overall retail programme for Bristan and the DIY.

Darren: Yeah

John: And then ended up selling shower trays with Just Trays.

Darren: Really? Wow and you joined the business roughly when?

John: Ten years ago.

Darren: Ten Years ago?

John: Ten years ago now.

Darren: And from my point of view from what I’ve seen obviously, I think I was there when you guys celebrated 30 years.

John: 30 years last year at KBB

Darren: Yep

John: Yeah we made a bit of a song and a dance.

Darren: Yeah, with literally a song and a dance.

John: With our brass band.

Darren: Yeah, making a lot of noise around KBB. The business has been here 30 years so you’ve been here obviously a good chunk of that. And your role when you started?

John: Sales and Marketing Director, same role.

Darren: And it’s evolved quite a bit through that time, not only with the product but as a business as well. Got a lot bigger and moved forward.

John: It’s, it’s been a really interesting 10 years because and we’ll come onto the market and so on later on I’m sure, but in terms of the business I joined, I joined. Great time to join as a sales director just as the recession hits. So sales go back rapidly, the market shrinks

Darren: Yeah

John: And obviously that shock the market up as well in terms of where we were positioned, the customers that we were dealing with, where we positioned our brand in the marketplace. And we had to go through some significant changes. From a production perspective we had to, we had to unfortunately let a load of people go, no different to anybody else in manufacturing at the time because the market had shrunk by 25, 30%. So we, so we it was a chance to re-evaluate the business and the business people within us always say that a recession is not actually a bad thing for a business, because it gives you chance to look inside yourself and re-establish and re-establish what your values are, take out where the fat is in the business and become leaner and become more efficient and become more effective. And that’s very much what we did, very painful as I say but as the market grew back we developed a new product and we’ve as you rightly say, we’ve grown the business to past where we were at the time. So, so it was a long, it’s been a long and tough time but we, you know we’re very pleased with where we are with the business. We are a manufacturer and we’re hugely proud of being a manufacturer in the UK because there are very few of us left.

Darren: Yeah, well here in Leeds obviously and it hasn’t been too dismal today, which is quite interesting on the journey up here. But with the whole manufacturing process, you know shower trays have come a long way. Obviously I’m sure you guys have had to change over time. You can remember shower trays being you know sort of like a good 110-150ml deep, stepping up into them and in some instances that would have been on legs as well.

John: Yeah

Darren: So there’s always been a decent sized step up to get into a shower tray and nowadays with fashion pushing things forward obviously bathrooms are now trendy, definitely fashionable and obviously different colours and stuff but you guys have certainly sort of evolved a long way in that time. So what are the bits or the key points that you guys have got to factor for challenges?

John: I think, I think there’s two things really Darren, and you’re absolutely right from a from a product perspective things have changed quite considerably and I’ll touch on that in a second but I think from our perspective as a manufacturer we’ve developed internally as much as anything else because what’s really, we only make shower trays. So our number one USP is that we do it better and brighter and more efficiently than anybody else and we’ve over the last six to seven years particularly, we’ve invested a huge amount not only in the machinery, in the way that we operate but in the people. And we’ve invested in people who have come from manufacturing excellence outside of the bathroom industry and outside of shower trays to bring that excellence into our business.

Darren: Yeah, for efficiencies as well.

John: Efficiencies but not just efficiencies but consistency, consistency of quality because we sell a tray it’s a first fix item. If we sell it to a distributor, they sell it out through the line and it ends up with Mrs. Jones’ house, if it’s wrong it has to come all the way back through the chain and the plumbers sat waiting because he can’t progress to the next stage of the fit.

Darren: Yeah

John: So, so we have we are constantly looking for ways to improve the minutest element of quality to make sure that the fewer trays that go out that have issues the better. From, from, from a fashion perspective you’re absolutely right, we launched the JT40 well that would have been, that would have been 12-14 years ago now and that was the first major step to go from the big trays that you were talking about to something a little bit more slender and a little bit more slimline. Trays have still gone further and we’re now with the JT Evolved, 25 mil.

Darren: Yeah

John: Very easy to fit flush to the ground, so they they give that confidence of a shower tray but they’ve got this sort of wetroom appeal and the hotel look that everybody’s looking for.

Darren: With that as well some, you know with the modern bathroom with the extra heads you can get some big drencher heads, so obviously with only the sort of 25, you’ve obviously got a lot of water coming down on a very small run of water, you’ll know all the technical terms. But from that point of view, that’s a challenge in itself no and I think with some people and some manufacturers of maybe lesser quality products that’s definitely been an issue with consumers.

John: The engineering, there’s two elements there, there’s the perception from the consumer and there’s the engineering element. As you say, the fact of the matter is if you’ve got a relatively small shower tray and a whacking great head sticking out 35-40 litres a minute, you’re never gonna you know you literally pushing water uphill. But, but you’re absolutely right for the vast majority of showers where you’re talking about 12-15 litres a minute we have to make sure that the trays are engineered so the water disappears and we do that very well we make sure not only in terms of the way that the trays engineered but also the wastes that we use have the capability to get rid of those large amounts of water that where it’s necessary.

Darren: That’s a lot water.

John: Absolutely, absolutely.

Darren: And from a point of view of like having you know giving the customer the extra value for money, I think for me you look at the whole range of shower trays and moot for us as a business is challenging to move some of these big shower trays around.

John: Yep

Darren: And obviously, but from a value from a customer’s point of view having a nice fusion tray sorry it’s over in the background with the evolve shower tray over there that’s why I’m looking at it. But form my point of view to have the extra value for that huge tray in the look and the feel how do you quantify that in your opinion with that actually. The design, the R&D, all this has to go into this tray but bringing the value of product to the consumer, that’s, is that a challenge for you guys?

John: It is a challenge, of course it is especially when a consumer will only buy a bathroom once every eight or nine years.

Darren: Yeah  

John: Yeah and we’re, we like many, many other bathroom businesses are not recognised by the consumer, so we very much rely on the retailers, the partners who are selling these products and the trades people who are used to see, who are used to fitting our product to reinforce the fact that it’s a quality product. It has to look right for the consumer to like it, of course it does, so design, colour, function all of that has to be right for the consumer to be attracted to the product.

Darren: Yeah

John: But then they need that reinforcement and the reinforcement comes from I mean we’ll make a quarter of a million shower trays this year.

Darren: Yeah, it’s phenomenal.

John: For a little old place in Leeds.

Darren: Yeah

John: So, so we need, we need the reinforcement of the of the plumber, of the people who are selling our products through retailers and internet and so on to make sure that, that they’re selling it because they know it’s a quality product.

Darren: Yeah

John: That’s where the, that’s where the value to the consumer comes and they know that they’re getting a quality product. It’s the foundations of the shower, it goes in as a first fix item and everything else is built from there upwards really, so it’s so important.

Darren: I suppose that’s another challenge that caught me for you guys is having easy for the installer to install as well, because obviously extra cost goes into that, the other guys from having it make sure it fits the installer to make it easy for him to want to fit it again and not have a problem, but equally obviously that probably cost you guys a bit more money to do it so you’re sat there.

John: Well no because it comes, it comes down to the engineering element you know. Two well again two things, one is how you communicate to the installer how that tray should be installed properly so that that’s making sure we invest time, our engineering process and marketing into the instructions so that they’re clear.

Darren: Yeah

John: So the people of air, so it’s very clear both pictorially and through words to show how we fit it and we use videos on our website to help with that as well and then when we’re putting things on legs you know engineering those leg sets to make them as easy as possible. You know making the adjustments as easy as possible for the plumber because as you say the last thing they want to do is A. get it wrong and B. be difficult for it to be fitted. So yeah you’re right.

Darren: And with fashion ever changing in the bathroom, with the likes of obviously kitchens, bathrooms follow a huge trend in you know probably from the likes of Grand Designs and people’s inspirational magazines and designers all the way through. How do you guys as a business, kind of be the forefront of that innovation and in fashion.

John: We’ve seen, we’ve seen over the years, we’ve seen many, many manufacturers in various product categories, they introduced change for change sake and that’s not always a good thing. So we’ve concentrated on the right style of product and as you rightly say colours, colours are one big thing that do change and we’ve made our mistakes. Historically, we’ve tended to look at sort of window frames and kitchen cabinets and so on and look for colour changes and trends but very much we take our, we take our mantle more from bathroom tiles these days and the towel manufacturers and seen what’s coming through there and that can help us determine which products we’re gonna launch, in which could have colours.

Darren: Under that, just out of interest how longs that cycle tend to take for you guys if you’re sort of seen identifying a range of say new tiles and think yes it’s gonna be the next big thing because you never know obviously if I try and sit on the back of the wave and you think oh it’s great, you know you might just pick a new colour and then start to evolve with the grey or something. How long does that sort of take? Quite quickly?

John: It can be, if you know we are a mass, we’re a mass volume producer so we have to be we have tie be we tend to come in on the back of those trends

Darren: Yeah

John: When they’re established if the truth be known rather than, rather than take a risk in terms of launching something because to launch a new product in twenty six sizes.

Darren: It’s a lot

John: It’s a lot of investment and so on, so we need to be pretty certain that a colour is going to stick when we’re talking about design and actually launching a new product in a new style will that could take that could take eighteen months because people spend a lot of time on the engineering as you mentioned earlier and making sure it works properly

Darren: Yeah

John: Because we only sell shower trays right so we’ve got to make sure they work.

Darren: Yeah, 100%, yeah definitely

John: So, so yeah about eighteen months from the design conception, all the way through to the prototypes then we will get, we will get our customers and our plumbers involved to see to get there to you know to play to make sure that actually we’re doing the right thing. So that’s when we’re launching a brand new product yeah.

Darren: that’s good and from a manufacturers perspective obviously the markets changing now, especially obviously through our passion at Trading Depot and myself, we’ve got that sort of like the shift from traditional bricks and mortar merchants, the shift to online. How as manufacturer you do you see that playing out, just didn’t your.

John: With my crystal ball you mean?

Darren: Yeah, you seem to have got ideas about what we think is going to go, everyone’s got an idea. Does it follow the retail or does it follow it’s tradition, it’s gonna stay the same because plumbers are still going to be plumbers are they still going to be today’s typical forty year old plumber. Will still go to a trade counter and buy, is that going to stay.

John: It’s a fascinating conversation, you know and as an internet retailer you’ll have a very strong opinion about the way that it’s going to go. Look I have, I don’t think we’ve seen change from a technological perspective that we’ve seen over the last ten years and we’ll continue to see, we haven’t seen that for since the Industrial Revolution in the way that, in the way that technology is actually changing the way we live and the way that we operate.

Darren: Yeah

John: My personal opinion is that bricks and mortars won’t disappear, not a chance, online won’t take over the world but there will morph into some form or format. There will be a, there will be a new form of format where online obviously plays a huge part both in terms of transaction but also research as it’s doing more and more.

Darren: Than today

John: Bricks and mortars, brick and mortar businesses will not be able to survive without the support of an online presence in some way shape or form but they will be able to add value, there will there will definitely be how about how that format ends up in the next ten years I can’t wait to see.

Darren: Yeah

John: You talk about the traditional role of the plumber and the merchant counter, again very very interesting as we move through a generation, you know the next 10, 15 years we move into a generation of people who have grown up with a phone in their hands, they have no fear about ordering stuff, the fear of ordering product and having to get it back to the source as that’s been delivered that’s been dissipated because you’ve got a 360 supply chain now where it’s as easy to take something back as it is to have it delivered.

Darren: Yeah

John: So, so there’s no question that the dynamics will change. I wish I had a crystal ball I really do but, but it will continue to evolve and it will continue to change, I’ve got no qualms about that.

Darren: Well I, well I. No go on.

John: No I was just saying but I still feel there will be a role for both to play.

Darren: Yeah definitely, there will be 100%. I mean something that we’re seeing more and more on a daily basis is manufacturers are starting to to trying to segment the market to try and understand each section. So actually before whereas before they were starting to see the online as a bit of a pain maybe and they were also saying you know yeah it does serve a purpose and we need to cater for that in its own area. So a lot of people are getting an online channel manager, so what channel directors and they’re looking after this online channel and they’re dealing with the retail side which was the traditional sheds as I call the B&Qsof the world.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Darren: They’re quite used to having that side and traditional merchants separate channels but they always use the online, it was sat with the B&Q of the world or its sat with the traditional merchant. I think we’re starting to put these three places in the retail side, the trade side and the online side and kind of treating them differently because they all need different avenues. So we’re starting to see that shift at the minute.

John: So you’re absolutely right and any manufacturer that ignores online or think that the internet is never going to take off is obviously, it’s obviously a blind fall. Managing it, managing it in conjunction with existing channels can bring a lot of challenges for manufacturers there’s no doubt about that particularly where you have a strong brand and there’s a strong presence but we as brands and businesses have to embrace it, we have to understand that it’s not in its final format now and we have to you know we have to use it as a research tool, we have to use it as a transactional tool and we have to work with the guys who are doing very well in it like yourselves.

Darren: Yeah

John: And the challenge we’ve always had being a big lump of stone is

Darren: Is moving it

John: Is moving it exactly.

Darren: Don’t want it all damaged, all broken

John: Absolutely

Darren: And now still remains an issue, whether you deal with a trade merchant to a certain degree or an online that part of it will still exist. That’s definitely an issue for everybody.

John: Yeah, but it but you’re right you know and as we’ve said the online presence is playing more and more of a part and be that from a transactional basis for the for the, for the tradesmen or for the consumer who then buys and brings the tradesman in, the market is changing on a very rapid basis and we need to be aware of that and we need to work with the people at the forefront and we need to work round these solutions. Sorry with these problems and deliver solutions for them because it’s not going to go away.

Darren: No and definitely not, I think if you do treat it in different channels what you tend to find is that actually what the online needs is something maybe slightly different and then if you can do really well at that, I think the people who are doing well will win that market early and it’s like anything in any other thing. No that’s really good and then form the future obviously from the smart home is a big area, you know not you could say not so relevant to yourselves but I think it will be because the smart home with Google, Alexa and all of those sort of areas but where do you see the smart home in your opinion moving forward, for the business as well as personally?

John: I mean let’s focus on bathrooms and the one area that you, that you although there are gimmicks and they’re elements that are going to make your life better, my the fundamental thing that I think that the smart home will help from a bathroom perspective is water saving.

Darren: Yeah

John: You know and how we play our part in that because all we do is get rid of water, so whether it’s 20 litres or 10 litres we just get rid of it so it will I think from our perspective actually we’re in a better position because we’ve the tip, the biggest challenge we’ve had is getting rid of more water historically as people have gone bigger and bigger with the shower heads and more powerful showers as that changes our trays and wastes are more than capable of coping with that. From our perspective as a business, I’m not sure the smart element is the big thing, it’s probably about material, about recyclable material, it’s probably about you know the greener material that we can use to get out product to the marketplace and are there more intelligent materials that we can that can help you know enhance the user experience.

Darren: Yeah

John: You know the last the last big launch we had was about anti-slip and that’s really developed. I mean one of five of our trays that go out of here now are anti-slip.

Darren: Yeah, there must be a big change because

John: Massively, yeah massive. And we started, we started with that from a more of a contract perspective and then as it’s filtered into the retailers and people see the benefit so if you’ve got little children, little kids and shampoo don’t tend to mix well on earth on a slippy slidey shower tray, so it’s so we’re, actually the retailer understands that the, that there’s actually a need for the consumer and now the fact that it’s you know you can’t see anything. It makes no difference to the appearance of the tray, you can’t tell about it when you stand on it so we’re seeing, we’ve seen a lot more of that sort of added value pull through but via the consumer as well as a contract level.

Darren: Yeah because I was thinking actually with it, with an anti-slip traditionally you would’ve though yourself it would’ve been a traditional anti-slip in the pattern on the tray quite abrasive on your feet when you stood in the tray.

John: Yeah

Darren: But it’s not like that?

John: No, it’s not, it’s not like that.

Darren: Consumers may think that in there

John: Yeah you’re absolutely right. Yeah it’s, it is a perception, it is a perception thing but in the same way that shower trays, 15-20 years ago were like baby trampolines. You know they’re not like that anymore, they’re very thin

Darren: Yeah

John: But they’re very solid. Yeah

Darren: So you could, you could even think like Alexa telling you when you’ve left you’re house that you’ve just dumped 55 litres down the drain or whatever.

John: I hadn’t even considered that but you’re absolutely right.

Darren: Yeah, pop up saying because you’re waste is now a smart waste on your tray.

John: Yeah

Darren: And it says you know, you have

John: Or well done you only did 20 litres today.

Darren: Yeah, yeah and you could have a little bit of a competition with yourself to who in the family who could reduce the amount of water. I mean I know that other brands from the showering perspective of looking at monitor watering, monitoring water.

John: Okay

Darren: But there’s no reason why, obviously any ones that have got a smart process that end

John: Yeah

Darren: Obviously from the other side if you’ve got standard valve then they’re gonna have the water measuring so

John: I guess

Darren: Could be like that form a green perspective.

John: You’re right absolutely, I think probably just to take that a little bit further we could probably play a part in water recycling and you know and using, recycling water to use whether that goes back into the toilet to flush the toilet or whatever it might be.

Darren: Yeah.

John: Yes so I’m sure, I’m sure there’s a, I’m sure there’s something in there somewhere Darren.

Darren: Yeah definitely, definitely

John: Sounds like you’ve got the ideas anyway

Darren: No I don’t, definitely haven’t got the ideas. So thank you for your time today John

John: Thanks for coming down

Darren: No it’s

John: Good to see you this far North

Darren: Yeah definitely, I don’t normally get much more North than Birmingham, but going round the factory today was amazing. I think it’s from a manufacturing point of view to see all the different sort of the individual pieces from the simplicity of it, I know it’s not simple to manufacture a trade but it looks very simple to go through the process of manufacturing a shower tray but obviously there’s a lot of expertise and you mentioned some of the guys have been here for 20 years or 25 years.

John: Yeah, I think that’s the one thing that we have uncovered is in terms of culture within the business and the people because it’s great me waxing lyrical how good the quality of the product is and so on and so forth but it’s about the people. We have such a low turn of staff here and we’ve had people who have been here for 25/28 years out of the 30 years.

Darren: Yeah, wow.

John: And you know, you can’t buy their expertise and we have a very, it’s a very family-orientated culture business you know we’re a small team and we’re very passionate about what we do and we’re very privileged, we’re very privileged in what we do and the people we work with within our industry as well

Darren: Yeah that’s a good little family

John: Absolutely

Darren: Definitely, well thank you very much for bringing us up here and yeah brilliant.

John: Good to have you, thanks a lot

Darren: Thank you

John: Cheers

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