Interview: It's all about the design for The Tap End's Justine Bullock

InterviewFeatures Thu 21st Mar 2024 by Nicola Hanley

Interview: It's all about the design for The Tap End's Justine Bullock

Interview: It's all about the design for The Tap End's Justine Bullock

Feature by Nicola Hanley | Thu 21st Mar 2024

Nicola is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about interiors for 15 years. A former editor of Essential Kitchen & Bathroom Business magazine, she has also worked in PR and is now a freelance writer specialising in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. More

The Tap End’s co-creator and designer Justine Bullock tells Nicola Hanley how its passion for bathroom design and customer-centric approach are key to its success.

At last year’s KBBFocus Awards, Pontyclun-based bathroom retailer The Tap End walked away with not one but two trophies after winning the awards for Bathroom Design and Installed Project of the Year. The company, says co-founder and designer Justine Bullock, were thrilled to add to its trophy collection with the double win and to see the business, which continues to go from strength to strength, recognised for its passion for bathroom design. 

Two of designer Daniella Fantini-Griffiths’ designs were recognised at last year’s KBBFocus Awards as The Tap End won in the Bathroom Design and Installed Project of the Year categories

It was that passion that led to Bullock and her business partner Lynda Rees founding The Tap End in 2017. “We had worked together previously for an interior design company that created bathrooms as part of their offering, but we both wanted to focus solely on bathrooms,” says Bullock.

The timing proved fortuitous as just as the duo were looking for a premises a few miles outside Cardiff, a former launderette, which had been closed for around 5 years, became available on a village high street. “It was local to where I lived and as soon as the lease sign went on, we snapped it up right away,” says Bullock.

The Tap End’s all-female showroom and design team

From the get-go, sales have been strong. “We had customers even before we opened the door, just from a sign,” says Bullock, who describes the showroom as modest in size, with three bath and one shower display, plus smaller vignettes. “People don’t actually like to have too much choice as it can be overwhelming,” she explains. “And the people who value the design side of our business like that the showroom is small.”

Social media is key to attracting new customers and The Tap End also does a lot of print advertising in local magazines, which is proving successful. Sales come through the showroom and Bullock says there are currently no plans for The Tap End to start selling online. "We prefer to focus on interaction with the customers. We are design-focused and I don’t think you can execute that online and we’re not interested in being e-commerce - for us it’s all about the design.”

One of The Tap End’s award-winning designs, which features a double vanity unit

On average, Bullock says the company does about 150 bathrooms a year but during the pandemic, that number was closer to 300. The average spend has changed over time too. “There’s been so much change we don’t really know what ‘normal’ is anymore,” says Bullock. “But on average, it’s probably around £15,000.” Over the last few months the company has noticed a slight drop off at the lower end of the market but not so much in the mid-to-higher end. “We’ve maintained our mid-to-high-end clients and I’d say their budgets have actually gone up. So we’ve maintained our sales but it’s because we’ve had fewer low-end customers and our higher-end customers are spending more.”

Inside The Tap End’s Pontyclun-based showroom

Brands have been carefully cherry picked and include Roca, Laufen, Hansgrohe, Axor, Vogue UK, Coalbrook, Ca' Pietra and Origins Living. “We’re 100% open to new brands but we evaluate whether the relationship and support is there as well as the product. It’s no good having a nice product if the support isn’t there so we prefer to deal with fewer brands and have better support,” says Bullock.

The team – currently there are 6 in the showroom but Bullock is recruiting for a new designer – work closely together and hold frequent team meetings where they discuss logistics as well as design. Other inspiration comes from websites, magazines and social media, and they make sure they’re always on top of the latest trends.

The Tap End has had its own installation company for 3 years but also uses recommended fitters. “We did see a gap for us to increase our revenues and profits by having our own installation team. But quite quickly we realised it was going to have to grow slowly because installation is so important,” says Bullock. “If we had double the amount of installers our business would double and they’d have back-to-back work from us.”

With an eye on sustainability, The Tap End was able to reuse rather than replace the 15-year old Bette steel enamel bath in this monochrome bathroom

Bullock says the shortage of installers has prevented The Tap End from opening a second showroom but the company is currently setting its sights on opening a flooring studio. “A flooring studio wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on other trades,” says Bullock. “We were hoping to open one last year but we’ve had trouble finding the right premises so that will hopefully be this year or next year.”

And what advice would she give to anyone looking to replicate The Tap End’s success? “Our focus has always been on having a good, honest company. We’ve always tried to ensure our customer service is more important than figures, which are generated as a result,” says Bullock. “Obviously there are times in business when you have to flex that and have a focus on sales but I think you have to have a passion and a bigger goal. If you don’t have passion, how can you weather the storm when times are hard?”

This spa-inspired master ensuite by The Tap End features a bronze-tinted shower screen and oversized backlit mirror, which is centrally positioned above the wide matt metallic vanity unit

Tags: interview, features, the tap end, justine bullock, bathrooms

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