At the end of the month, Levent Giray is retiring as MD of VitrA UK after a remarkable 30 years in the position, having first brought the VitrA brand to the UK in 1992. Here he looks back on the highs, the lows, his biggest challenges and his greatest achievements.
Q: How did your career with VitrA start? Did you expect to be with the company for as long as you have been?
A: I started to work for VitrA in Istanbul in 1988. Those were the early years when VitrA was venturing outside Turkey to build an international brand. I was responsible for the German market. There was a lot of travelling involved. My career at VitrA progressed quickly, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable one. I don’t think many 27-year-olds could imagine staying in one company for over 30 years.
Q: How has the company evolved over that period of time?
A: Over the last 34 years, I have seen VitrA go from strength to strength which is probably one of the biggest factors that made my career so enjoyable. I’ve witnessed VitrA transform from a local brand in Turkey with a limited product range to today’s international company with a global reach producing desirable products for the whole bathroom and more.
In the early 90s, VitrA pioneered the usage of CAD and CAM in ceramics manufacturing in Europe and played a key role in replacing the industry’s traditional production techniques with more advanced technologies, hence achieving significant improvements in quality, yield, and efficiency. This was one of the biggest drivers behind VitrA’s leap forward in the 90s. Then came big investments in design and research culminating in a dedicated Innovation Centre.
Also, in the UK we have continuously increased our staff levels in parallel with our increasing sales. With our ever-evolving and expanding product portfolio, VitrA has consistently had a position of being one of the leading brands with independent retailers. At the same time, we increased our presence in the commercial market. Over a year ago, we opened our new flagship showroom in Clerkenwell, London. It has been a great pleasure to see VitrA evolve and be an essential part of the UK bathroom industry. VitrA is still the same independent family-owned business.
Q: How do you think the bathroom industry has changed?
A: There have been many significant changes in the global bathroom industry from product innovation to the rise of e-commerce and, more recently, the influence of social media on consumer preferences. In addition, there has been a big wave of consolidation. Smaller companies have been acquired by larger groups. Familiar names from the 80s and 90s like Shires, Trent, Qualcast and Spring Ram in the UK have disappeared.
There have been major changes in products as well. Over the last thirty years, the UK market changed from siphons to valves, changing the look of the UK cisterns and the WC flushing technology. Wall-hung WCs became more popular, and bathroom furniture is now an essential part of the bathroom design rather than a luxury. More recently, there has been a rush toward introducing smart technologies into the bathroom space.
I'm proud of VitrA’s foresight in investing in the Innovation Centre in the early 2000s, enabling us to be at the forefront of these changes.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in your career?
A: The biggest challenge, probably, was to steer the business through the financial crisis of 2008; like many companies, we had to go through a period of significant uncertainty. The global strength of the VitrA business provided us with the necessary support to weather that storm, and we’ve been on a path of growth, excluding the year of covid, ever since.
Q: If you had to name your greatest achievement at the company, what would it be?
A: Witnessing VitrA grow to its current size and reach in the UK market starting from nothing must be my biggest achievement. This undoubtedly has only been possible with the committed work of a superb and very loyal team at VitrA UK. Being part of such a team is a big achievement in itself.
Q: What are you looking forward to doing most in your retirement?
A: Retirement isn’t something I’ve thought too much about as life is busy with other things outside of work, but I will enjoy some downtime and helping my youngest child settle into university life in September and then who knows... Let’s wait and see...