Chief executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association Tom Reynolds reveals why, in spite of current challenges, he's remaining confident that the bathroom industry will survive and flourish.
The list of challenges facing bathroom businesses is significant and, it appears, ever-increasing. Despite that, I am staying upbeat and believe our industry can continue to thrive.
The tragic conflict unfolding in Ukraine is foremost in all our minds, and the retaliatory economic sanctions will have far-reaching consequences. The tentative global economic recovery after the pandemic will be rocked by Russia’s decision to start an unprovoked invasion. Sanctions, while necessary, will have an effect beyond Russia as we live in a globalised economy. This can already be seen in rising energy and food prices. The deepening geopolitical tensions are alarming to watch for everyone.
Speaking with bathroom manufacturers, the industry’s first thought is for the people of the Ukraine. We want to see a de-escalation of the conflict for humanitarian reasons, but it's important for business too. For some companies, the conflict is constricting their operations right now. Many bathroom manufacturers are part of global groups with Russian and Ukrainian subsidiaries. Inter-group trading has been made a lot harder, and in some cases impossible by the situation.
But despite this dark cloud over the continent, I remain positive for our sector because we’re getting used to defeating the odds.
Bathroom retailers, designers and manufacturers experienced an historic period of high demand from the summer of 2020. This high demand came with a heady mix of pandemic restrictions, supply issues, a labour shortage, and a global shipping crisis. Yet the sector faced these challenges head-on, with BMA members achieving a record-breaking sales year in 2021.
In this time of international crisis, the conventional wisdom is that consumer confidence will tank, and with it discretionary spending. I’m more optimistic. For one, last year the household savings ratio was at its highest level since records began in 1987. I don’t think consumers will want to see those savings depleted by inflation and will rather spend on lifestyle improvements while they can.
Spiralling household energy bills have also brought into sharper focus than ever before the benefits of housing retrofit. Reducing dependence on gas, decarbonising buildings and making homes more efficient could be considered the home front. The bathroom industry of course has a key role in water and energy efficiency. If homeowners become more aware of retrofit opportunities, as I believe they will, there are excellent opportunities for the bathroom industry too.