It’s a numbers game
Despite well publicised difficulties in the sector during the recession, one segment of the showers market has been doing rather well. Formerly the preserve of the up-market, digital products are now more widely available and at increasingly affordable prices. The technology is tried and trusted too as digital technology has been a mainstay of the commercial bathroom market, where precise temperature control and no-touch technology are essential features in healthcare and other settings.
Hard numbers on the volume of digital products entering the market are hard to come by, not least because at least one manufacturer chooses to hide its light under a bushel and not share its data with either to the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) or BRG Consult.
That said, we do know that digital showers currently represent less than 5% volume share of the UK shower market; but the sector has seen considerable growth since it was first launched in 2001. That growth is anticipated to increase dramatically over the next few years as the technology becomes more accessible, prices reduce – and the smart home concept increasingly takes hold. It is estimated that digital share of the market will double over the next five years, though that estimate could prove conservative.
In the context of the smart home, the prospect of automation has been much vaunted over the past few decades, but has yet to make real inroads. However, a proliferation of new wireless and networkable devices is bringing the prospect of advanced control into the realms of the possible.
Digital showering is just one example, whereby showers can be turned on to warm up before getting in or flow times can be fixed for greater water efficiency. Other benefits include ease of installation, as the valve can be located away from showering area; remote or wireless control, whereby temperature and flow pre-selection are memorised for personalised shower experience; and the opportunity for iconic designs provided by hidden valves, touch screen displays, remote controls and sleek fittings.
Fully integrated wireless control could also deliver in a variety of applications for example, where a group of appliances are managed as a ‘unit’. Such networking (especially where joint-interoperability exists) doesn’t limit the use of such controls to any one device as they can also be deployed to operate lighting, home AV systems, security, and even climate controls.
Time for change
Consequently, market composition is anticipated to change from its historical split between traditional mixer and electric showers to further encompass digital, primarily because the products offer benefits to the consumer which are not available through traditional showers.
That said, anecdotal experience gained in a recent series of roadshows reveals that installers have yet to really try their hands at digital and, indeed, some seem quite reluctant to do so. The reasons appear to be a mix of partly technical concerns, and perhaps partly the nature of their relationship with the stockist.
Technical concerns appear to be diminishing as it becomes more widely known that the installation challenges presented by digital are actually less than that of the typical electric shower. And, like electric showers, they present a perfect opportunity for the electrician to ‘step in front’ of the plumber when it comes to this aspect of an installation.
Grab and go
Alternatively, research reveals that stock is king! A staggering 95% of installers shopping at the counter are so-called ‘destination grab and go’ in that they want to take the product away with them and they don’t want to wait for it to come into stock.
At the same time, they are very keen on brands and want to buy product from brands that they know and trust. This gives them the confidence that if anything goes wrong with the product once it has been installed it is the manufacturer that will sort it out. This applies to both good and bad installers!
It transpires that, in the hierarchy of needs for an installer, stock availability and brand are even more important than price and account terms. Consequently, it is the responsibility of the wholesaler to be able to offer digital showering to their installer customers rather than risk the loss of a sale to traditional plumbers merchants or possibly even sheds.