Mike Nicholls: Why BathCom works and is more than just a buying group

InsightFeatures Mon 22nd Mar 2021 by Emma Hedges

Mike Nicholls: Why BathCom works and is more than just a buying group

Mike Nicholls: Why BathCom works and is more than just a buying group



The idea behind BathCom came about in 2019 when MD Mike Nicholls judged the time was right to bring together a collective in the bathroom sector that could benefit both retailers and suppliers – since then it has gone from strength to strength. Here he explains the concept behind BathCom, what's in it for retailers, and why it is a community rather than a buying group.

Q: How did BathCom come about?
A: BathCom was conceived while in discussion with three former colleagues who are all in retail. We felt this sector was being left behind partly by some suppliers, who can see the rich pickings elsewhere with merchants, DIY multiples and online. In recent years merchant buying groups have rejuvenated themselves and taken share from nationals – that gave us conviction that something was needed for our sector. From a supplier’s perspective the independent bathroom retail sector was fragmented – the collective membership of BathCom retailers changes that. 

As we all have worked in manufacturing, distribution, and retail we hoped we could deliver this for the benefit of retailers and the suppliers that support our sector. Also, while there are lots of commendable initiatives to gain consumer interest, our value proposition needs to be marketed collectively to consumers who get swept up on Google clicks to big online players or national companies. We see each retailer member as an elite commando and the thought of bringing them together into a united force really excites us!

Q: Why do you call yourselves a 'community' and not a buying group?
A: Both suppliers and retailers are members. We aim to use the collective to plan initiatives and secure the future by delivering enhanced results for member retailers and member suppliers, which should benefit consumers through improved opportunity and choice. Consequently, suppliers are not just facilitating the aspirations of others. We feel some are genuine stakeholders who support our sector. We want to encourage other suppliers to feel the same way and change tack for our member retailers and the sector overall. 

All terms and any rebates earned always go directly to member retailers – it is not our place to shoehorn into someone else’s profits, preferring instead a simple and transparent charge for our services. Believing across all industries that some (though not all) buying groups operate the same way. All transactions are between member retailers and suppliers. We have set agreements with suppliers, yet we will not coerce retailers, as we believe in giving people the option to make informed choices in the belief it will yield sustainable results. Within this we are happy to promote win/win initiatives from member suppliers for the betterment of all. 

Q: What key benefits are there for retailers?
A: Pre-negotiated terms and rebates with member suppliers. Logically a collective will deliver more worth to any supplier. This has already resulted in member retailers earning thousands more, many individually and all collectively. This is reciprocal by encouraging and delivering enhanced sales to the suppliers to offset and better overall profits. We need to use best endeavours to deliver both. Consequently, we saw a strong shift in spend patterns towards member suppliers in the last trading quarter of 2020. Even our larger member retailers have been surprised by the additional financial benefits which should yield increased revenues to member suppliers. 

We have own label initiatives with unique brands developed by trusted suppliers for BathCom members only. They come with set terms upwards of less 60% and rebates with the aim is to bring the retailer back the profits they deserve particularly on commodity items like a 1200 x 800 offset quad or 1200 x 500 ladder rail. This is not – and never will be – to replace brands, but to deliver more strings to bows and avoid where possible the quagmire on pricing that member retailers contend with. There has already been a considerable uplift in sales for these suppliers. 
An online directory is planned to help consumers find their local bathroom specialist. It will take three to five years to reach optimisation. For our members it involves identifying their undoubted value proposition and getting the message through to consumers beyond the repeat/recommends that typically use our sector. Online sales has its place, yet will not appeal to consumers that understand and value planning, designing, sourcing, installation and after care.

Our member retailers are specialists in key areas and can offer knowledge that translates into profit. We have an online forum and we also plan to use conventional methods too and look forward to the day we can bring members together, let them feel the strength of the collective and share ideas. 

Q: What attributes do you look for in your retailer members?
A: We look for the 'A player' bathroom retailer in any town or area. They must primarily be a bricks- and-mortar showroom-led business. We like a mix of established and younger businesses as it improves the dynamic. Once we get a member in a town or area, we do not look for another. They typically deliver the best possible opportunity for consumers in their area in terms of design, service, and choice. Every one of them has worked so hard to get to that position, yet also value their independence – we are also here to protect that.

Q: How many are there in your network, and how many are you looking for?
A: There are 69 member retailers, and we feel 100 as a minimum and 150 as a maximum across the four countries of the UK – we are keen to make each one feel they are the member for their town or area. 

Q: How has the pandemic affected BathCom and its members?
A: The lockdown afforded us time to really put the mainframe infrastructure in place, fast track initiatives with suppliers, and interact with their key team members on Zoom. Also, the realisation that we need to accept we are all often analogue in our approach to interaction. A member retailer recently said to me; perhaps suppliers need to think how they spend less on brochures, POS and exhibitions, and divert funds to creating footfall back to this sector by increasing digital initiatives. This made me think perhaps we are inadvertently carpet bombing rather than using guided missiles!

We feel the sector was harshly treated during lockdown and we know bathrooms (albeit consumer desirable) are building products (fixtures) and therefore we fell on the incorrect side of the restriction line. That aside, the pandemic has shown how resilient our members are. 

Q: What do you hope to accomplish over the next 12 months and beyond?
A: The next 12 months is about working with existing BathCom suppliers, continuing to develop win/win initiatives and catching up with retailers when restrictions ease. We will develop initiatives such as own label from within existing suppliers and seek new members in areas without coverage. We are also developing the web directory with an individual value proposition for each member retailer. Over time, we want BathCom to mean something to consumers as a 'benchmark' and we will have succeeded when member retailers tell consumers they are a BathCom member because it carries meaning. Right now with restrictions, it’s hard for members to sense they are already part of a big shift for our sector.

For further information email info@bathcom.co.uk, or visit www.bathcom.co.uk.

Tags: features, insight, bathcom, mike nicholls, bathrooms

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