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Kitchen and bathroom installers are important – who knew?

The penny has finally dropped with the kitchen and bathroom industry that fitters have a huge role to play in its success.  Andrew Davies, managing editor of kbbreview, wonders why it has taken so long…

The kitchen and bathroom sector is often described by designers, retailers and manufacturers as being like the fashion industry.

The style, the designs, the trends, the brands, the launches – you can see why this would be a natural conclusion to come to. Given the photogenic and Instagrammable nature of the end of the process you can also see why the aesthetics get so much of the focus.

Let’s be honest, no one actually buys a new bathroom or kitchen because of the quality of the fit – I’m pretty sure that is such an assumed requirement that consumers don’t even question it.

The trouble is that for many years a lot of the kitchen and bathroom industry didn’t question it either. Installers were an important part of the process, of course, and they had a certain degree of influence over the consumer, absolutely, but the shiny interesting stuff happened at the design end.

In the last few years, however, that view has completely changed.

Slowly but surely, momentum has grown behind the idea that – brace yourselves – installers and fitters are a crucial part of the consumer’s purchase journey. Please, pick yourselves up off the floor at the revelation.

Many manufacturers – particularly in the bathroom – are now actively targeting installers in their marketing. The success of the bathroom specific area at  InstallerSHOW this year demonstrates this, so much so that a new kitchen area is planned for 2024.

The continuing influence of the British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom & Bathroom Installation (BiKBBI) can’t be underestimated here. In its CEO Damian Walters the installer has a loud and passionate advocate, and there’s no question he has played a massive part in pushing the importance of securing a vibrant, diverse, skilful and professional installation resource for the wider sector.

The most interesting part of this renaissance has been the drive for a much deeper understanding of how much the installer can influence what the consumer buys. It is this, more than anything else, that has piqued the interest of manufacturers, for obvious reasons.

At the end of 2023, the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) surveyed around 700 installation professionals to see where they felt their influence was and the conclusions won’t come as any surprise – they have power all the way through the purchasing chain.

For example, a quarter of installers said they design all of the complete bathrooms they install, with 70% saying they design at least half.

What this obviously doesn’t give us is how each individual installer defines ‘design’. However it clearly indicates the role they play from the beginning of the process in a significant number of projects.

It’s also no surprise that advice on specific products is where the main influence is felt. For example, virtually all the survey respondents said their customers were ‘very likely’ or ‘quite likely’ to ask for advice on shower screens and trays, closely followed by shower controls.

You can see why any shower brands would raise their eyebrows at those kind of numbers.

And when installers were asked what would make them recommend one product over another, a third said it was familiarity with the product and 39% said familiarity with the brand. That in itself isn’t surprising but it does leave a lot of floating voters willing to try new products – again, prime candidates for being on the receiving end of manufacturer marketing.

Being targeted for marketing sounds negative but it is a very broad description that basically means these brands want to engage with and listen to installers. It also means that they want to help them understand their products better and, ultimately, make their lives easier. That should only ever be seen as a positive.

However, this research also confirmed an issue that rings alarm bells for an industry slowly waking to the power and influence of its installer base – the average age of the typical bathroom installer is 50 and getting older.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of the renewed interest in the installer by those brands with money and influence is their willingness to talk it up as a meaningful, skilled, respected and prosperous career path for those wishing to join it at an early age.

The short term benefits brands might see in sales may just result in long term benefits for the profession.

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