Just a couple of months after completing an MBO at Lakes Showering Spaces, MD Mike Gahir talks to Nicola Hanley about why the industry is sitting up and taking notice of the brand again.
On 17th November 2023, Mike Gahir and his three fellow directors – Darren Bedford, sales; Chris Thain, operations, and Bev Brown, finance, – completed a management buyout at Lakes Showering Spaces, acquiring its entire share capital and becoming joint owners.
The Tewkesbury-based business was founded in 1986 by Robin Craddock and his father and had remained very much a family-orientated company, even after Robin’s death in 2016, says MD Gahir, who joined the company in 2020.
“For Darren, Chris, Bev and I, the MBO was about preserving Robin’s legacy, building on the history that he’d created in this business and realising some value for his hard work for his children. That was really important to us,” says Gahir. “The DNA of this company is something you shouldn’t mess with and the MBO gives us an opportunity to preserve all of that history and culture while providing certainty for the staff.”
The company employs 130 people, half of which work in the UK and the rest at Lakes’ wholly-owned subsidiary in China, where its manufacturing base is located. “I wasn’t anticipating this but the relief staff felt when the MBO completed was huge because they knew what they were getting with us. They knew it would be business as usual and it provided that level of certainty that we’re not going to change the culture of the business.”
Change, however, is afoot at Lakes, but it’s not a consequence of the MBO says Gahir. “We were already on a journey, which we will continue, of re-establishing Lakes as one of the most prominent brands in the markets that we serve.”
Recent years had been challenging for Lakes, which had struggled to keep up with the fast-changing market. “Lakes had lost its way a little bit in that post-Brexit, pre-Covid sort of time, which came after Robin’s death,” Gahir acknowledges. “Part of that was down to how the business was built as it had quite a narrow product range and limited colours. The market became more fashion-led pretty quickly and the business needed to change to remain relevant.”
Until around 9 or 10 months ago, Lakes only sold silver enclosures. “Last year we launched new colours within the Wave range and it was the first time this business had ever introduced colours. So in that respect we were a little bit behind the curve.”
The new Black and Brushed Brass finishes have proved popular with customers and this year they will be joined by more, says Gahir, who is planning to launch the new Aspire Walk-in range in April. It will be available in various glass thicknesses and a range of 6 colours on launch – including Brushed Nickel, Brushed Bronze and Gun Metal. The range will expand with more colours later in the year. “We expect it to be very well received by the market and it should elevate our product portfolio even further,” says Gahir.
Lakes currently has an extensive customer list spanning a number of retailers and Gahir says it is keen to grow that further. “We don’t want to saturate the market but we want supporters that want to be on the same journey we’re on.” Customer service is a key priority for Lakes and making its retailers' lives as easy as possible and satisfying consumers are equally important. “I’d say our competitors would struggle to match our customer service team and the overall service that we deliver,” says Gahir, who points out Lakes’ “no quibble, lifetime guarantee” on products.
“The other thing that sets us apart is that we were, we believe, the first in our industry to achieve Carbon Neutral Plus status. We spend a lot of time maintaining and enhancing our green credentials and the industry is on a bit of a catch up as our competitors wake up to this.”
Gahir is well aware of the challenges of transitioning the business in the current economic climate but says the directors will continue to invest in the company to demonstrate its commitment to the market. “Lakes has always been a safe player but 2024 will be about showing we’re an innovator and a market leader. The industry is already starting to sit up and take note so it’s going to be quite interesting across 2024. We don’t know how much capacity our competitors have got to maintain their market positions and although we might be coming in late to the party in some respects, we’re doing very exciting things.”