Jane Blakeborough, Research Manager at the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, reviews the results of recent research on the importance of merchants for installers.

Interest rate rises and continuing inflationary pressures are putting pressure on household budgets like never before. However, although the latest BMA poll conducted by Opinium shows that 50% of homeowners with mortgages are 'less likely’ to plan home improvements due to the cost-of-living crisis, homeowners who own their properties outright are much more positive, with 53% saying the cost-of-living situation has had ‘no impact’ on their likelihood to plan home improvements, and a further 13% saying they are currently ‘more likely’ to plan home improvements.

Against this backdrop, the ongoing consumer demand poll by Opinium for the BMA shows that 22% of homeowners are planning a complete bathroom refurbishment within the next two years, compared to 23% at the same point last year. A further 21% plan to replace a bathroom fitting within the next two years, with shower controls being the most popular.

These findings are no doubt positive, considering the economic situation. Paired with research produced by Trend-Monitor and the BMA in 2022 exploring consumers’ thinking when purchasing a new bathroom, it showed the bathroom installer's high level of influence throughout the whole consumer purchasing journey.

This led the BMA to want to dig deeper. So, earlier this year, in partnership with Eureka! Research, we set out to investigate what installers themselves thought about their role in the bathroom purchasing journey.

Six hundred and seventy-eight verified bathroom installers took part in the research, providing a robust and representative picture of all those actively working in the bathroom installation space.

The research told us that national merchants are the store of choice for almost a third of installers supplying and fitting products for their customers. However, the independent sector is the most crucial channel to installers overall, with 44% preferring them.

Of the varying factors influencing this choice, ‘a good relationship with staff and sociability’ came top of the list (53%). This is particularly relevant in the case of small local independent merchants where staff knowledge and advice are also important. This type of merchant is also the most likely to recommend an installer to a customer, providing another reason for an installer to be loyal to a particular outlet. The service factors - aftersales, ease of returns and reasonable credit limit and discount - are all rated higher by installers than product factors such as brands stocked and product availability.

We also asked about installers’ inclination to try new products. The merchants lead on this, and half of the installers like to learn about new products from the counter staff. Reps or promotions in merchants are also popular ways to learn about new products (33%), along with posters and leaflets in the merchants (21%).

Our overall research findings point toward a bathroom improvement industry that can hold its ground with remarkable resilience. The correlation between merchant and installer affiliations underscores the potential for a strategic advantage that merchants can exploit. This interplay empowers merchants to influence consumer preferences while installers benefit from the trust and recommendations they garner. As economic headwinds persist, merchants armed with this understanding can navigate challenging waters and harness the power of close relationships with installers.

-> Understanding the Bathroom Installer