Interview: Steve Breen on VitrA's new Vitality partner programme

InterviewFeatures Tue 4th Jun 2024 by Nicola Hanley

Interview: Steve Breen on VitrA's new Vitality partner programme

Interview: Steve Breen on VitrA's new Vitality partner programme

Feature by Nicola Hanley | Tue 4th Jun 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

VitrA UK MD Steve Breen talks to Nicola Hanley about listening to customers, and how the new Vitality partner programme will help double the size of the business over the next 5 years.

For VitrA UK MD Steve Breen, March’s KBB Birmingham exhibition couldn’t have come at a better time. As well as providing the perfect platform for the Turkish bathroom manufacturer to unveil a raft of new products, it also acted as the launchpad for Vitality, its new retail partner programme, which is replacing the existing Showrooms of Excellence. Its development has been a key priority for Breen since he took over the helm as MD of VitrA UK in July 2022.

VitrA introduced its new Vitality Partner Programme on its stand at KBB Birmingham

“One of the first things I did when I joined the business was talk to our customers and retail distribution partners,” says Breen. “And the good thing about this sector is they tell you the truth. And they told us we weren’t doing as well as we could be doing and that we needed to do things differently.”

Those conversations prompted VitrA to undertake further customer research with the help of an independent consultancy. “That research told us we needed to show more value to our retail partners and to simplify our product offering to our retailers because our ranges were too complex and too wide, which meant they became difficult to stock and sell. And we needed to give a better service around our lead times and our availability.”

VitrA’s 100% recycled ceramic washbasins made their UK debut at KBB Birmingham

Designed exclusively for independent bathroom retailers, Vitality offers a number of benefits including an exclusive product portfolio of over 1,200 SKUs backed by a stock promise and faster delivery, training, support and enhanced customer service. In some cases, lead times have gone from 12 weeks to one and there is now a dedicated customer service hotline for retailers to resolve any issues quickly and provide necessary support.

“Essentially our Vitality programme has been designed by our customers. They told us what we needed to do and we’ve put that into a package. We also recognise the bathroom industry has changed a lot over the last 20 years and we don’t exist in solitude. We’re fighting for share with our distribution partners in their warehouses against other suppliers and that’s why we’ve invested in our facilities in Didcot to have that stock proposition in place.”

The new M-Line Edge furniture finished in Light Oak

The brand currently has a base of around 500 retailers, 250 of which were on the Showrooms of Excellence programme and 200 or so that were Signature retailers, with the difference being what access they had to different products. “We’ve scrapped that now and we’re busy transferring a lot of those customers over to the Vitality programme and then we’re trying to attract new customers to it too.”

To qualify for the Vitality Programme, there are targets for retailers but it’s less prescriptive than previously. “Ideally, it’s a minimum of 2 displays but we’re flexible. We also want to set a reasonable turnover target but it’s very much a recognition on how far we can each reach. Yes, there is a turnover and display commitment but it’s much more collaborative than it’s ever been before. It’s about trying to drive value in their business and in ours.”

The new Origin Classic tap is seen here in brushed gold

The investment into setting up and marketing Vitality, as well as the stand at KBB Birmingham and new brochure, which Breen calls “the book of confidence”, has been significant. “We’ve invested the best part of a quarter of a million pounds,” he says.

“The response has been fantastic. I’m not going to sugar coat this – one of the reasons we did this was because we recognised we were not showing up as best we could with customers. And one or two customers said they were on the edge of whether they were going to continue to work with VitrA but this has convinced them to stay because they recognise that we’ve listened and put the work in, which is great.”

Washbasins made from 100% recycled ceramic are available in five shapes, including circular, pictured

Breen says he is looking to add at least 50 new retailers to the Vitality scheme every year over the next 3 years. He also has his sights set on growing in the DIY and e-commerce spaces – but is quick to emphasise that won’t be at the expense of independent retail – as well as its projects business. "Our ambition is clear,” he says. “We want to double the size of the business over a 5-year plan. So what’s next for us is we act on all the leads we created at KBB Birmingham and we have a strong process in place to do that. It’s really exciting to rejuvenate some of the business we have in that space and through 2024 and 2025 it’s about driving hard and taking share in the market.

“We’ve under indexed and have been quite quiet and conservative and although we’re not going to go wild, we know the brand has reach. One of the things we heard from our research, very loud and clear, was that VitrA is a strong brand with a strong quality, especially in ceramics. And our sales team and people are good. And if the market are telling you you have good products and people, you’ve made a really good head start. The foundations are there and it’s now about accelerating everything we do and making sure we grow carefully so we don’t loose that loyalty and belief.”

The V-Fix frame and concealed cistern have been designed to make installing wall-hung and back-to-wall WCs simpler

Tags: interview, features, steve breen, vitra, bathrooms

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