Tom Reynolds, chief executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA), looks at how bathroom brands are adapting their workforces to be ready for what comes next.
"Change is the only certainty in life, and in the last 12 months the pace has been so fast, at times it has been hard to keep up. With entire workforces instantly forced to isolate at home, the natural period of planning and adjustment was by-passed.
"Even as we return to a semblance of normality, it’s not like it was before – hybrid working is here to stay. We are seeing bathroom brands continue their workforce adaption, albeit in a more strategic and deliberate way, as they differentiate themselves in the virtual marketplace.
"Some traditional marketing activities are resuming, with supplier reps starting to visit merchants again, and trade days being scheduled in the calendar once more. But instead of a complete return to 2019 models, we are seeing a roughly 50/50 division. A re-balance is taking place, and digital and face-to-face operations are co-existing, on an equal footing.
"Many companies are still trying to figure out what this means for their long-term direction, but at the moment bathroom manufacturers' reps are visiting merchant branches to deliver product training and trade days, while webinar meetings and sales appointments are continuing virtually. We have heard of brands using their pent-up finances to bolster their online offer. Instead of paying for petrol and hotels for sales reps, they have grown their digital talent by recruiting social media marketing specialists, and have provided digital training for their traditional sales teams.
"E-commerce is booming and it’s not just the result of the pandemic, online sales in the UK have doubled every year since 2017. Exclusively web-based retailers are coming out on top. They were already providing the perfect socially distanced model, which has become standard operating procedure. But the rest of the market is also recognising the power of a digitally skilled workforce.
"Hybrid working is blurring the boundaries between sales and marketing, digital and face-to-face. The teams can no longer operate in silos – they must be aligned, working on the same campaigns and objectives, responding to data and adapting to feedback from those out ‘in the field’. Like every other industry operating in the digital arena, bathroom brands must drive engagement, work hard to connect with buyers and differentiate their brand and products."