Bringing a “fashion skill set” to bathrooms: Retailer Q&A with QS Supplies
Back in July, I discussed the fragmented and increasingly competitive bathrooms market, raising the question of “what independent bathroom retailers – whether offline, online, or both – can do to distinguish their own offer in terms of service or brand”, and highlighting the work of one North East-based designer and manufacturer, Dovcor, to showcase the independent stockists with which it works.
As I mentioned then, I get to work with many bathroom retailers nationwide through my Home Interiors Directory website, so I was pleased to invite one of those – Touseef Hussain, from Leicester-based QS Supplies – to talk about the challenges and opportunities from a retail perspective as part of my regular Retailer Q&A series.
For Touseef, it seems that product innovation, two-way communication and overseas growth are key ways of future-proofing and differentiating the business amid a difficult economy and the unrelenting growth of the Internet as a sales and marketing channel.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your business – where is it based, what’s its history, and what does it do?
Our company, QS Supplies, has flourished since its inception in 1990, though the cards of the formula of its success are kept close to our chest.
At the outset, we started as an entity supplying fashion garments to various reputable names like Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, New Look and so on. It was imperative to be in the vanguard, especially when it was about innovation in the fashion industry, offering a myriad of affordable options to those retailers’ end customers.
Realising the dearth of quality bathroom showrooms within the East and West Midlands, and, particularly, in Leicester, the company decided to establish a quintessential bathroom showroom, capitalising on the skill set of the fashion industry. A noteworthy share of the credit also goes to our suppliers, planners and fitters, who are equally crucial in ensuring the smooth and timely installation of the bathrooms and fixtures.
The company has grown since its inception, and has also expanded on the heating and plumbing side.
Q. What’s your own role in the business?
Our company sells different types of bathroom products and offers diverse solutions based on customers’ requirements.
So, mine and the company’s major role is to identify the needs, priorities, tastes and preferences of our customers, to understand the dynamics of the industry, and to organise what we do accordingly. The main focus, substantiating our role, is to promote the latest, en-vogue bathroom products to customers who are looking for luxury, and who intend to transform their bathroom space, which is as important as any other realm in the house.
All of that comes from communication – our interface and customer feedback – which is like a catalyst, empowering us to serve customers better and also to improve our range of products and services. Today, we have so many avenues to propound views, ideas, suggestions and feedback, like Facebook, Twitter and so on.
Q. What’s your business model, and why? Is it bricks, clicks or both?
Undoubtedly, we realise that both have their significance in today’s businesses. It is far easier to have an online presence, compared to a physical store, but the reality is that both are equally important. The customer researches and compares the best products online – for availability, price, pattern, colours or other features – at his or her convenience, but the same product can be seen physically at the retail store to give that person a more vivid idea about the product, and bought via either avenue. Thus, neither is above the other: they are both tantamount in their propositions and appeal, and we therefore value both a physical presence and the virtual presence through the Internet.
In fact, for those looking to purchase a luxury bathroom, which is a one-time investment and involves a lot of planning and money, there’s always a desire to see the bathroom and products that might be incorporated.
Over the years, the footfall at our retail stores has dwindled drastically, but a buyer always desires to see, feel and sense the products and their look. At the same time, people have become net savvy and Internet buffs, and like to scour the Internet for the latest innovations and trends. Buying online also tends to be more transparent and convenient, as everything operates at the movement of one’s fingertips. Therefore, it is imperative to have both options.
Q. Looking forward, what do you see as the greatest opportunities for a business like yours at the moment?
Well, that’s quite a question because growth is always one of the visions of every business and organisation. However, though it may be desirable to think about reaching every corner of the world, the logistics of transporting fragile commodities or goods is a task and a concern that needs to be immediately addressed.
However, we do believe there’s a massive and lucrative untapped market in and around Europe, and we are looking to prioritise this. We feel people in those parts of the world also desire to have the best bathroom products, so we are planning to expand in that space. Ostensibly, it’s all based on our research and study of our customers worldwide: we recognise and identify with the needs of customers in the whole of Europe, and we believe we have the right products to meet their requirements.
Q. What about the main challenges?
As I said earlier, the industry is dynamic, and customer desires, preferences and trends keep changing.
Obviously, there are no clairvoyants to tell you what is in store. So, for us, the biggest challenge is to research, develop and transform our products and services alike. Supplementing that are the economic conditions and volatile market scenarios. However, amidst all this, we feel that we’re always prepared for the challenges that keep coming our way.
If there’s no challenge, then things seem far easier, yet meeting targets and surpassing roadblocks give us the truest sense of achievement and accomplishment.
They are the real tests of our abilities and adeptness. Believe it or not, our customers’ satisfaction eventually serves as the reward for the hard work we put in, and that is absolutely invaluable.
Q. Where do you hope your business will be in five years’ time?
We have a very pragmatic vision. It is more technology oriented, and will provide our customers with software solutions where they can explore their creativity and design their desired bathroom at their leisure, alongside specifying certain aspects like the amount of money they would want to spend. In return, this software would empower them, giving them a myriad of options to create the bathroom of their choice.
Q. Any final thoughts or comments that you’d like to add?
We would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk about our business, and put our views forward regarding the industry at large. We wish you all the best – keep up the good work!
Retailer Q&A is a new format where Soult’s Retail View talks to retailers – large or small, and whether bricks, clicks or multichannel – about their current innovations, aspirations and challenges. As always with Soult’s Retail View, the features are not paid for – it’s all about providing interesting stories and content for the blog’s readers. If you run a retail business and are interested in taking part in the feature, please drop me an email or a tweet!