Interview: Derek Miller on Scope Bathrooms' brand-new high-end studio

InterviewFeatures Thu 16th May 2024 by Tim Wallace

Interview: Derek Miller on Scope Bathrooms' brand-new high-end studio

Interview: Derek Miller on Scope Bathrooms' brand-new high-end studio

Feature by Tim Wallace | Thu 16th May 2024

Tim entered the KBB world in 2004 with industry title kbbreview. He was appointed editor in 2011 before leaving to go freelance in 2019. In 2016, Tim was named Best Trade Journalist of the year at the Bathroom Manufacturers Association Media Awards. More

Glasgow-based retail and contract specialist Scope Bathrooms has just launched a brand-new design studio aimed at the top end of the market – general manager Derek Miller gives Tim Wallace the full story.

Q: What was the thinking behind the new showroom?
A: After 25 years, the time was right for some new vision. We made a decision to relocate our large-scale warehousing operation to a new state-of-the art facility, which led to the need for a new showroom space, and the opportunity to create something special. The new design studio/showroom is standalone, around a mile from the distribution centre. Although the current economic climate is fairly challenging, it puts us in a very strong position to win market share as things ease – ‘Fortuna Foses Adiuvat’: Fortune Favours the Brave. 

Q: How much influence, if any, did your suppliers have in the completed design?
A: The square footage of the new showroom is smaller than our old place so, inevitably, some manufacturers were slightly disappointed in their final showroom presence. However, we tried to be fair from the outset, and give our key partners a decent proportion of the overall space. The Scope team took feedback from suppliers about new launches and good sellers but, ultimately, all display decisions were made internally. Our suppliers know we are experienced operators, and trust us to do the right thing.

Q: At what market level have you positioned the store? 
A: We have unashamedly placed the new studio at the high end of the market. We were always fairly high-end but the old place didn’t shout that out. Our new showroom very much reflects our market placement.

Q: Has there been a change in strategy in the choice of products?   
A: The new showroom features some brands that have been part of the Scope story for decades, as well as some more recent additions: Laufen, Villeroy & Boch, Duravit, Hansgrohe, Axor, Crosswater, Vado, Burbidge, Ambiance Bain, Merlyn, Matki and Origins Living. Duravit became a retail partner as we started off the design process, so that brought something new to Scope. The biggest change in strategy, however, was in setting up the showroom as complete lifestyle settings rather than an open-plan space. Tiles have become a significant part of our strategy as a result. We have also massively increased our social media presence, though I leave that up to my younger team members as I am old school.

Q: What were the priorities and how long did the build take?
A: The main priority was to design and create one of the best showrooms in Scotland, and I certainly believe that we are now comfortably in the top 5. It was important to deliver the finished product in a timely fashion. In the end we took it from empty warehouse to completed showroom in 9 weeks. The biggest challenge was in pulling everything together within a relatively tight timeframe, and ensuring the contractors worked hand-in-hand to deliver on time and to budget. As the building was an empty warehouse unit, fundamental challenges such as heating, lighting, drainage, ceiling, flooring, and frontage had to be addressed as much as what displays were fitted. Our decision to have working water and steam introduced more pressures to the schedule, but was undoubtedly worth the additional headache.

Q: What have you learnt from the experience?
A: I could write a thesis on the process now, but if I were to choose 5 key pieces of advice, I would say:

1. Have a clear vision of what is to be delivered and stick to this throughout. 

2. Fully involve the team in all aspects of the process, from initial designs through to implementation.

3. Have clear contracts and budgets in place with top-quality third-party contractors, with a regular review process.

4. Procure everything miles in advance.

5. Stay as calm as possible in the face of adversity.

Q: How’s footfall and business generally?
A: Business generally is pretty steady. The high end of the market appears fairly buoyant, as interest rates and price increases have less impact on affluent consumers. Last year was similar to 2022, and 2024 is off on a similar footing. We have looked to diversify our contracts portfolio to offset any slowdown in new build, and our new distribution centre will facilitate efficiencies across our operation. Our retail position has undoubtedly been strengthened with the new design studio/showroom, and we experience decent growth through the showroom.

Q: What’s your prediction on business for the rest of the year?
A: There appears to be something of a supply chain realignment going on, with distribution and online coming under pressure. This is sure to continue. We have seen a few Scottish retailers going bust in recent months also. That said, I predict some growth from Quarter 3 of 2024 and for the market to be reasonably buoyant into 2025. My glass is currently better than half full.

Q: What’s a good business model for you?
A: Contract margins are very different but from a retail perspective I’ve always felt that it is better to make 30% on a high value sale than 40% on something cheap. I think some dealers lose sight of that.

Q: Which brands are fighting back against online pricing?
A: Most of our supply chain partners are developing strategies to support those showrooms that physically display their products, often by introducing sub-collections that are not available online, and indeed some ranges that are only available to showrooms that display those specific items. We would always be keen to form partnerships with such suppliers.

Tags: interview, features, derek miller, scope bathrooms, bathrooms

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