Tom Reynolds, CEO of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, argues that opportunities still exist despite an economic black cloud.

The political and economic turmoil of 2022 is impossible to ignore. As the UK begins an estimated year-long recession, resilience and seizing opportunities will be the name of the game.

The prevailing economic headwinds, grim forecasts from the OBR and the Bank of England, tax rises and spending cuts, inflationary pressures, and interest rate rises are fuelling doom and gloom headlines. And, while the overall picture is not favourable, it’s essential to find opportunities and reap the rewards where they exist.

Understanding consumers and analysing their purchasing trends is the first step to seizing opportunities. The 2022 Bathroom Consumer Purchasing Trends research, produced by Trend-Monitor and the BMA, has explored shifts in consumers’ thinking when purchasing a new bathroom and provides a window into relevant activity.

A win for installers

Online research and retailer visits are more popular than asking for verbal advice when consumers conduct their initial research before purchasing. However, the 2022 survey highlighted that the most useful research method is advice from an installer, who will influence the consumer throughout the purchase journey.

Most fitters, around 28%, are appointed based on recommendations from friends and family, with 22% being already known by the homeowner. In addition, the researchers discovered that 45% of new installations are either designed by the homeowner or will keep the same layout. The installer will design 28%, with only 27% planned by a professional designer.

Trust in installers is paramount, and they will often influence consumers’ research, what to purchase and where to purchase based on the customer’s requirements.

Even though forecasts say that real household disposable income per capita in the UK will fall by 4.3% in the 2022/23 fiscal year, there are still reasons to be optimistic that the bathroom sector and installers will be busy. For one, there is still cash out there built up in the pandemic if consumers are confident to spend it.

Future-proofing for old age is a slow-growing trend and the motivation behind 5% of new bathroom installations in 2021-22, compared to just 1.4% in 2016.

Those in the high-net-worth bracket are sheltered from the ravages of the cost of living crisis and are likelier to continue with house improvements.

Additionally, one-third of UK households are multigenerational, a trend set to increase considering rising mortgage costs and rent prices that force adult children to continue living with their parents. This type of living drives the need for additional bathrooms and has increased from 20% in 2018 to 27% in 2022.

Also, consumers are focussing on energy and water efficiency like never before, primarily due to extortionately high energy costs. As consumers attempt to reduce costs, installers’ knowledge will become increasingly critical, resulting in increased retrofitting projects. This should be a win for consumer bills and the environment alike.

I’m not saying that 2023 will be rosy, but neither should we allow ourselves to believe that consumers will entirely refrain from household improvements. If we understand and grasp the opportunities presented by these consumer trends, 2023 can be brighter than the naysayers would have you believe.