Interview: Julian Pearson on Atlanta's ambitious plans for growth

InterviewFeatures Thu 30th May 2024 by Tim Wallace

Interview: Julian Pearson on Atlanta's ambitious plans for growth

Interview: Julian Pearson on Atlanta's ambitious plans for growth

Feature by Tim Wallace | Thu 30th 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

After restructuring its sales and design teams, redeveloping its product ranges and launching a major new Vanity Collection, Be Modern brand Atlanta is on a pathway to significant growth. Tim Wallace talks to group commercial director Julian Pearson.

They might be better known for their cast iron stoves and fireplaces, but the Be Modern Group is now making serious moves in the bathroom storage market. Based in Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, the family-run company turns 60 this year and has chosen the anniversary to redevelop its mid-to-upmarket furniture and launch a major range of vanity products. The plan from here is to gain market share in a drive for growth, largely through retail showrooms. To that end it has also restructured its commercial and design teams and launched a more user-friendly brochure.

The Kirby vanity unit from Atlanta Bathrooms' Fitted Collection

“We have ambitious plans,” says commercial director Julian Pearson. “We’d like to see the bathroom side take a big leap forward. We’re a £10m business and we’d love to double that in the next 3 to 5 years. Our aim is to improve our product offer and service proposition to our customers which in turn will help us to gain market share. Storage has never been more popular for the bathroom environment.”

The firm has been manufacturing furniture for 60 years now, so if the Be Modern name isn’t familiar then its Atlanta brand probably will be. Pearson joined the business from shower manufacturer Roman in March 2020, while MD Mike Spink, who was also previously at Roman, joined 3 years earlier.

The minimalist Cruise fascia design comes in various sizes and styles, including floorstanding and wall-mounted configurations

“I arrived the day that Covid was announced – just as everybody else left – but I tried not to take it personally,” Pearson laughs. “I spent the first 2 weeks putting 2 metre social distancing measures in, then slowly bringing staff back. It became a very busy time.”

He adds: "Since joining, we have focused on customer acquisition, using our collective knowledge and contacts to develop our proposition.”

Pearson admits Atlanta is familiar to all the national showrooms, merchants and buying groups but insists it isn’t over distributed. Nor is it widely available online. As such he believes it’s an attractive proposition for independent showrooms.

“It’s one of the reasons we’ve launched a vanity range – our Complete Collection,” he says. “Fitted furniture is an important part of what we do but vanity is where the additional opportunities may come. As a UK manufacturer we can offer increased choice and depth of range providing a more complete solution for our customers’ needs.”

The Everest design features a sleek diagonal fluted pattern for a modern aesthetic

Pearson explains the entire product offer has been slightly restricted over the last 3 to 4 years while they enhanced the design and manufacturing process. “It was doing incredibly well but was ready for a refresh,” he says. “So we’ve added to the team in key areas, and restructured our design team which has brought our knowledge and experience together into a single focused approach.”

The ‘Made In Britain’ tag has also proved to have a strong resonance, particularly since the pandemic. It means raw materials are sourced locally, reducing reliance on imported goods as well as the company's carbon footprint.

“It’s a reason we’ve had a resurgence,” Pearson says. “People have realised the value of not having their entire supply chain signed up from a single source. We’ve since diversified our purchasing structure to ensure we have a robust and streamlined solution should anything like Covid happen again.”

The Evolve vanity collection, shown here in Angora Grey Matt, offers sleek curves and versatile storage options

In a crowded and competitive market segment, Atlanta’s key differential is choice, Pearson says, adding that the vanity range has been one of biggest product launches in the company’s history. It features 16 new units with 5 fascia styles, along with a choice of 5 sizes in 10 neutral finishes allowing customers hundreds of potential configurations. The basic idea is to supply products at a competitive price point that are easy to sell and install. It’s a pledge that’s underpinned by its new brochure, aimed at simplifying the process of buying and fitting a bathroom for the retailer, consumer and installer.

Showrooms are also promised superior levels of service and attractive display deals: “We find ways to work with retailers to give them an option without a huge investment,” Pearson says. “We are focused on building strategic partnerships with showrooms for long term mutual growth."

Embleton presents a fresh interpretation of the classic Shaker door style, blending timeless design with a modern aesthetic

“My message to showrooms is that the business has evolved,” he adds. “I would invite everyone to see our new products for themselves. We’re putting a show van on the road for the next 3 months and revamping our own showroom. We would love showrooms to engage with us and take a fresh look at the depth of range we have available. We’re competitively priced and offer a strong margin opportunity.”

Pearson rejects claims that the Atlanta brand might be too commonplace to make an impact in independent showrooms: “Unless you’re at the very niche end of the market I would argue that every manufacturer is supplying through every channel,” he says. 

 Sonar offers a contemporary twist on the classic Shaker design, and can be further personalised with sit-on or countertop ceramic basins

He admits costs are rising steeply but remains convinced the business is now perfectly placed for significant growth. “The cost of fuel and transporting freight is going up as well as material, energy and labour costs,” he says. “So we are being challenged to become more efficient – the key is to consolidate buying power, create new product lines that work for you and don’t invest into areas where you’re not generating any revenue. We have a strong history of product innovation and British manufacturing and are focused on providing good quality products and great service to our customers in our 60th year and well into the future.

There is a diverse selection of contemporary ceramic and gel-cast vessel basins – pictured is the Ripple Ceramic Vessel Basin

Tags: interview, features, julian person, atlanta bathrooms, be modern

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