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How independents bounced back after lockdown

Independent tile retailers have bounced back strongly post-lockdown and continue to give bigger brands a run for their money, says Peter Vann, director of Ceramique Internationale. Here he explains why they continue to hold their own in a highly competitive marketplace.

Independent floor and wall tile retailers had to weather one of the most serious challenges in their history when lockdown shut the doors on showrooms across the UK, imposing a shift to online purchasing.

Many were, understandably, not overly optimistic when the restrictions finally lifted. Would online sales gradually fall away and be soaked up by bigger brand names? Would footfall into showrooms fail to return to pre-pandemic levels?

However, fast forward 18 months since ‘normal service’ was resumed I’m glad to report that in reality the opposite has happened for independent retailers (such as Ceramique Internationale). Not only do online sales remain buoyant, but the number of people we welcome into our showroom has also bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.

The reason for this is simple: added value. Purchasers expect to get maximum return for their financial outlay and independent retailers offer precisely that.

Big name brands offer slick online sale platforms. So do we. And we deal directly with the tile manufacturers rather than middle men, so we have the flexibility to compete on price too. These strong connections with tile designers and manufacturers also mean our sales team is always up to date with the latest trends.

It’s good to bounce ideas off a person who knows their market. This is true whether you’re a developer looking to achieve a top quality finish on a tight budget, an architect with a close eye on the latest trends and technology, or an installer helping clients inject some unique style into their home.

And this is where independent retailers can leave faceless big brands far behind.

If you need to call us for advice, we won’t offer automated responses, endless recorded messages or “press 2 for” options. You’ll always speak to a human.

Likewise, when you do speak to us – whether in the showroom or on the phone – you will be engaging with sales staff who are employed precisely because they can offer technical expertise and advice such as: will large slabs or intricate mosaics work best? Does this tile offer sufficient grip in a wet environment? Which laying pattern will create the most impact? And most importantly – how much will you need? Their friendly face or voice is an added bonus to the comprehensive range of tiles on display and in stock.

Even if you have a specific commercial or private project design in mind, nothing can compete with being able to see and touch an actual tile and visualise how it might add the finishing touch to your finished project.

One unexpected benefit of lockdown is that it kickstarted a ‘shop local’ revival. People have gained more purchaser power, and they are prepared to use it support independent suppliers – more than 60% of the visitors to Ceramique Internationale’s Leeds showroom had been before or had come on the recommendation of others.

Shop local, shop independent = shopping wisely.

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