Tom Reynolds, chief executive at the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, calls for future Government support for UK exhibitors at KBIS, highlighting missed opportunities in the vast US market.
The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) 2024 is almost upon us. Owned by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), KBIS is North America's largest kitchen and bath expo, held this year in Las Vegas from 27th to 29th February. The BMA has facilitated a pavilion at this year’s event for 5 exhibiting companies adjacent to the Global Connect Pavilion, covering a ‘tradition of innovation’ theme.
British manufacturers, integral to global sanitaryware evolution, began shaping bathroom design in the 18th century. The UK excelled in pioneering ceramics and plumbing, marked by milestones like the 1775 patent for a flushing toilet and Thomas Crapper's 1866 opening of the first bathroom showroom. Today, British manufacturers seamlessly blend tradition with cutting-edge technology, leading the global sanitaryware landscape. At KBIS, the UK stand showcases traditional designs with Fitzroy of London, Croft & Assinder and Thomas Crapper, alongside modern innovations from Zuma (smart lighting and sound technologies) and SENSTEC (anti-slip shower tray technology). We secured the space through our close ties with NKBA and our presence at the show over the years.
BMA has always championed our members’ global aspirations, helping make connections and sharing intelligence across boundaries. For many companies, the expansive US market could have a significant appeal. With a bathroom market 60 times larger than that of the UK and some segments being particularly drawn to British design and provenance, the opportunity is real.
While many leading British and European brands already exhibit at KBIS, due to the scale of the opportunity and strong transatlantic direct investment, the costs to exhibit can prove restrictive for too many businesses. Government trade support would help us make a bigger impact, so we remain disappointed by the Government’s reticence to back a sector hungry for global growth. The UK’s lack of enthusiasm is in stark contrast to the zeal shown by, for example, the German federal government.
The problem is that our industry does not fit into the narrow idea that too many policymakers have of what the UK economy is about. We are outside automotive, fashion, food, and tech, so we are left on our own. In contrast, via the German associations, their government significantly co-funds companies’ presence. This generous support ensures an impressive showing. Unfortunately, due to the absence of support from the UK Government, our presence at these events remains modest, failing to realise the full potential of tapping into the vast US market.
The advantages of Government support for export promotion are undeniable, helping to raise brand awareness, secure deals, network, and build relationships. It is of much more tangible benefit than any trade illusive deal, negotiated at great cost over many years. The potential the US market offers to UK bathroom manufacturers should be reason enough to support the show. It is a frustration I hope to see remedied in the future.
A shift in strategy is long overdue. The Government's approach of ploughing resources into trade negotiations and backing only a few favoured sectors for practical international trade support is short-sighted. The next Government should adopt a system where all industries can access resources to enhance overseas market access for UK companies, provided they have access to sector-specific trade advice backed by a reputable trade body. Only by doing so can we truly harness the immense potential of the global marketplace, ensuring that no sector is left behind in the pursuit of economic prosperity.