Are you on your own?
The bathroom industry has changed greatly over recent years. From water saving regulations in the UK to global manufacturing, from production technology to retailing, from standards to new product developments.
One thing they still all require though is control to ensure that products actually meet the requirements, regulations and best practice. We are seeing a boom in ‘own brands’ typically - but not exclusively - sourced from the Far East, and in relocation of manufacturing of traditional British brands to those parts of the world where manufacturing costs can be reduced.
But here lies a problem” says Gary Hawkins, General Manager of Impulse Bathrooms, itself a China based manufacturer of ceramic suites, baths and brassware. “To ensure consistent quality and compliance with standards cannot be successfully maintained from thousands of miles away. It is essential to retain ongoing and diligent supervision of production quality and technology. You simply must have technically knowledgeable people on site at all times.”
He quotes as an example the issue of vitrification to ensure that vitreous china products really are vitreous i.e. they do not absorb water.
“Vitrification occurs only when the clay body is fired at a temperature over 1200ºC” he explains “With the cost of fuel around the world rising rapidly, an unscrupulous or uncontrolled supplier can be tempted to save substantial fuel costs by turning down the kiln temperature by a few degrees. Whilst there may be no visible evidence of a sub-standard product, when exposed to water it may well absorb water causing crazing, allowing germs and bacteria to gain a hold, or swelling resulting in cracking with catastrophic results. Take a look at the inside of a WC cistern - under UK standards for vitreous china, it will hold water without absorbing. If it is glazed inside it’s a good indication that it is not fully vitreous and the rest of the WC will be the same and will therefore be sub-standard.”
There are other potential problems too if the ‘own brand’ does not own and control the manufacturing process. Parts of the Far East have been notorious for infringing copyright with impunity, even using someone else’s actual moulds to make for another customer. There are those in this country who have purchased, under exclusive UK arrangement, supplies of ceramic suites, only to find another company selling the same product under a different brand - or unnamed. And some countries have a reputation for simply selling to the highest bidder i.e. if a big, say, retail chain comes along with a larger order, the original smaller customer may find he suddenly can’t obtain more supplies and he is left with highly dissatisfied customers - and he has probably invested in marketing the product too. You cannot assume loyalty, especially if a particularly keen price has been negotiated and someone else comes along who is prepared to pay a few pence more or commit to a larger order
Will quality be maintained as per samples provided or will subsequent product fail to live up to expectation? What about spares or replacements for breakages in transit? What if additional product is required to complete a contract for which insufficient quantities have been ordered - can the customer stand the likely delay? Is there sufficient stockholding in this country to cover these situations? Are you sure the company you are dealing with is the actual manufacturer? Are their accreditations (eg ISO 9000) valid or are they just £10 specials over the internet? Do you have to pay in full up front before product is released and how does this affect the supposed economies? What if the supplier goes out of business? Do you actually have the facilities and space to accept 20 pallets at one time and are you able to handle them safely and within the time before demurrage charges come into play? These and many other similar questions give rise to concern for the importer. ?
“Own brands may seem like a good bet to those manufacturers wishing to add suites to their existing portfolios or for distributors or merchants looking for higher profits - and they can be, but caveat emptor. What may seem a good buy may turn out badly for any part of the supply chain from manufacturer to end consumer.” says Gary.
For further information: www.impulsebathrooms.com