You’ve been working with Living North since the early days.
I think we were in on Living North’s second or third magazine, so we’ve been in either 197 or 198 issues. We’ve never missed one. Twenty years ago we were all told the internet was for information, and it has given people a lot of information, but you still have to read it – so why not go out and buy a magazine? The internet is not a tactile thing. Living North is a tactile thing – it sits around for months, and people pass it around between them.
That’s one of the reasons that we’ve always stuck with Living North. It’s a family business, and you write about people as though they’re family. You care about the magazine, and we as a company care about it too.
How has what you do developed over the last 20 years, in terms of style and design?
Twenty years ago it was all white bathroom suites with gold taps and wooden panels. Now it’s much more modern and select. We’ve seen the advent of walk-in showers – people have less time, so they now prefer to shower more than bathing. We also store more products in a bathroom now, so we need different designs for storage.
It’s also true that some things which were traditionally in bathrooms have migrated to other parts of the house. Washing baskets, for example, have moved to bedrooms, and people have ensuite bathrooms now.
Times have changed – simple things like a standard tile size used to be 200mm x 300mm, whereas now they’re much larger. People are moving back towards some traditional looks now… but I’m not sure why.
Have environmental concerns had an impact too?
The way we handle water has certainly changed. Twenty years ago it took eight to 10 litres of water to flush a toilet – now it’s four to six litres. We have showers now that are 30 percent more efficient (and work off combo boilers) and there are less and less electric showers. We do have a lot more lighting in the bathroom – instead of one central light, we went through halogen lights and now it’s all LED. But halogen lights were 60–100 watts, while LEDs are just six to eight watts, but you have more of them.
And has the market changed?
The average life of a bathroom is about 15 to 18 years. Most high-value products like that – cars, carpets etc – you’d change on a much more regular basis. We could actually still supply a bathroom today for the price we did 20 years ago – but it would be exactly the same boring old bathroom!
What’s been the biggest challenge for you?
The recession! In 1997, we were just three years off the Millennium, and everybody thought the world was going to fall over – planes would drop out of the sky and computers would crash. And it didn’t happen. But what did happen was the business just grew and grew, people were investing in houses and homes, and then 10 years ago we had the recession and it all changed. So our biggest challenge was just getting through it, but we invested in advertising throughout. If people don’t know you’re there, they can’t shop with you.
Can you pick out an outstanding project you’ve been involved in over the years?
Every customer that walks through the door has a different requirement. We use the same skillset that we’ve used for the last 30 to 40 years, which takes into account that each customer’s requirements are special.
One of the interesting ones over the last few years was a listed building in Durham: 52 Old Elvet, which has just been developed into premier apartments. The team there were really passionate about the building, and when we walked through the site we found a toilet in there which was produced in Durham, and was around 170 years old! It’s a real piece of heritage, and ended up being donated to Beamish Museum.
What is it that you love about the North East?
It’s the world’s best-kept secret. You go to Northumberland and you’ve got some of the best beaches in the world; Durham in autumn has the most beautiful river walks; we’ve got the most friendly people and amazing cuisine, a lot of which is local and fresh, but also takes in different cultures. It is a very, very special place