Will Laufen shape the bathrooms of tomorrow?

Swiss bathroom manufacturers Laufen first presented SaphirKeramik two years ago as a prototype. It is now presenting the first series of products – and details of the impressive performance of the new material, so is this really the shape of things to come?

Laufen SaphirKeramikMain
Minimalist bathroom design: the wash basin unit has a light and elegant look thanks to the washbasin bowl made of Laufen’s SaphirKeramik.

I get slightly itchy teeth when I hear of a company ‘reinventing the wheel‘, because usually there is nothing wrong with the original wheel, and the new kid on the block is frequently a poor imitation of the original product at a slightly cheaper price point.

One could argue in the case of bathroom ceramics, the material we have been happy to use for years, is ideal for the job. But while there is undoubtedly life in this old dog for many years to come, SaphirKeramik does have a few new tricks up its sleeve – and you know what they say about old dogs, don’t you?

In its choice of name, Laufen is referring to the addition of the mineral corundum, which occurs in nature in different modifications as a component of sapphire, a material with a hardness only surpassed by that of diamonds. Consequently, the new ceramic is considerably harder and has a greater flexural strength, which is exhibited in entirely new washbasin designs.

Manufactured from SaphirKeramik, the bowls are an ideal match for the designer elements in the Living by Laufen collection.

SaphirKeramik turns the old material into completely new shapes: closely defined radii and edges are possible – and thin walls which have until now not been seen in sanitary ceramic.

Previously, when the aim was to create a bathroom design in ceramic, manufacturers with production expertise had the choice between classic ceramic, so-called vitreous china, and fine fireclay. Vitreous china excels through the waterproof qualities of the surface – water absorption virtually zero – and therefore meets the highest hygienic requirements for WCs and urinals.

Soft, round and flowing shapes can be very readily achieved with this material, however, the arbitrary shrinkage during the drying and firing of the body makes the manufacturing process difficult to control. This material reaches its limits with very large ceramic parts and this is when fine fireclay is used. The slurry is stabilised through the addition of clay already fired and this permits the production of large ceramic products such as double washbasins or floor-standing washbasin pedestals.

With SaphirKeramik from Laufen, the hardness of the material permits shapes which were previously not possible. A more delicate design language, more defined in shape and line, becomes possible – exactly matching the ideas behind contemporary architectural design.

Draft designs where ceramic was previously not considered owing to the necessary material coating, can now be achieved – and therefore exploit all the benefits which ceramic has in the bathroom. In addition to high levels of hygiene, the advantages include the insensitivity of the material to abrasive cleaners and mechanical abrasion.

Finally, ceramic is also an environmentally friendly and sustainable product. It largely consists of the natural and widespread raw materials kaolin, clay, feldspar and quartz sand, it can be produced economically in large numbers, and it can be safely used in the bathroom in contact with drinking water for many years and can be completely recycled at the end of a long product life.

Dr. Werner Fischer, Research Director at Laufen, developed the SaphirKeramik together with his team and various university research institutes. The greater hardness of SaphirKeramik permits thinner walls and simplified structure of the ceramic parts, which in turn results in less material, lower weights and benefits in terms of sustainability: fewer raw materials required and lower energy consumption in firing, production and transport.

The light and elegant features of SaphirKeramik are immediately visible in this round bowl.

The material’s high hardness opens up new design possibilities, especially as regards the radii of the products, 1‑2-mm radii for edges and 2‑mm radii for corners are technically feasible with the new SaphirKeramik. This compares with the state of the art for classic ceramics radii from 7 to 8 mm.

The precise recipe for SaphirKeramik took Dr Fischer and his team over 5 years to develop and is said to be a better kept secret than the Coca-Cola recipe. What we do know is that SaphirKeramik gets its strength from an exactly specified addition of the material corundum, which is colourless in its pure form. Mixing the clay with silicate-ceramic raw material affords this material, in addition to its porcelain-like white, the strength with which the elegant and delicate products become possible.

The shape of the bathrooms of tomorrow? Possibly. A revolution in the design language of ceramic? Certainly, and we probably have not even started to grasp the full potential of SaphirKeramik.

The best really is yet to come.

Opening video from BMA Conference

The 2014 Bathroom and Kitchen Business Conference, organised by the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA), got off to a flying start thanks to this video intro.

Okay, it’s not quite as good as being there, but if you do not have the time to read my extended review of Conference, this intro will give you a flavour of the main issues and illustrate how social networking has turned the communication industry on its head.

Talking of heads, if you think that social networking is just a passing fad, your head is probably in the sand. But then again, you probably would not be reading this or any other blog.

If you did not make Conference this year, this video intro will give you an idea  of what you missed. And if you were there, it will serve as a reminder of what an important and useful day it was.


BMA chalks up another successful conference

Once again the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA), has delivered a conference the entire kitchen and bathroom industry can be proud of.

Conferences as good as the Bathroom & Kitchen Conference at Heythrop Park on 7 October do not just happen. They are, to quote the BMA’s president David Osborne, the tip of the iceberg. Behind this success was a team of hard-working, dedicated staff members headed by the Association’s CEO Yvonne Orgill, who this year pulled out all the stops.

I could spend from now to next year’s conference talking about the highlights of this year’s event but for so much of it, you really had to be in the room. And quite frankly, if your business is the retailing of bathroom or kitchens or supplying those that do retail them, you should try to make it your business to attend the 2015 Conference, because your business can only benefit from you being there.

Conference this year kicked off with Juliet Mann whose previous experience includes working for the likes of CNN, Sky News and the BBC. She was the host and facilitator for the day, skilfully managing the speakers, chairing the various open forum sessions and running the whole event to time – no mean feat.

The first speaker, Dick Strawbridge, spoke about how difficult it was to run a green business successfully pointing out that for a business to be truly sustainable, it needed to make a profit. He was followed by Fiona Hawkins of Plinkfizz who explained how the emergence of social media had changed the way companies approached marketing. She pointed out that the 12-month marketing plan was dead in the water. What was needed said Fiona, were short term strategies that could quickly adapt to a market that was constantly changing.

Nick Stanhope of the behaviour change company We Are What We Do brought the morning session to a close with a thought-provoking presentation that examined social psychology and behavioural economics. If you want to have a real effect on sustainability issues you have to engage with behaviour change Nick pointed out, going on to explain that the environmental impact caused by staying at a hotel with poor eco-credentials, to say nothing of the impact on the planet of flying to the hotel, were hardly likely to be offset by reusing the same bath towel a second time.

The usual soporific post-lunch session was replaced by an interesting presentation by Clif McLellan of NSF International who explained how a quality mark could be used to pinpoint products that were of a high quality threshold and serve as a ‘visual shorthand’ for consumers. One of the examples he used was the NSF logo on a Dyson hand dryer that instantly reassured consumers in the USA who were not as familiar with the Dyson brand as UK consumers.

This session was followed by a lively presentation by Matt Hunter from the Design Council. He explained how large the bathroom market is for older users with a high disposable income, and how poorly this sector was currently being served by UK retailers. Within the next 20 years the number of UK citizens over 85 will double, and they will be demanding better said Matt. But the big problem is that while many product solutions exist, we struggle to find the right language to sell them.

BJ Cunningham was the next speaker and he gave one of the highlight presentations of the day. A naturally funny speaker with an ability to bounce back from one business disaster after another, he was both entertaining and a provider of sound business advice that would help any business of any size in any industry. Companies are like people he said and made up of three separate perspectives: how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us and how we want to be perceived. The closer these three perspectives can merge, the more successful the company (or individual) will become.

The final speaker at this year’s Bathroom & Kitchen Conference was David Schneider, an actor, writer and Twitter user of some note with almost 200,000 followers. David used his session to provide the audience with a series of top tips to make Twitter a more effective business tool, peppering his presentation with some examples that had been very effective and explain the importance of engaging effectively with other users.

All in all, this year’s event, the first official kitchen AND bathroom conference by the BMA, was an outstanding success. Including ‘kitchen’ in its title was acknowledgment of a long-established fact: the content is business-linked, not bathroom or kitchen product specific. Judging by the number of delegates that stayed to the end this year, most of those who attended understood that.

This event looks certain to continue its track-record of year-on-year growth and I for one hope the Association re-book this venue for the 2015 Bathroom & Kitchen Conference.

Finally, Conference concludes with a Gala Dinner and Media Awards when the BMA presents the kitchen and bathroom publications, exhibitions and digital platforms selected by its membership for awards. I am thrilled to report that one of this blog’s sponsors Pro Publishing Media & Events were the winners of no less than three awards and were also selected as finalists in two further sections –a unique achievement this year.

So it is congratulations to Jo-Anne Wright, managing editor of Utopia Kitchen & Bathroom Magazine for winning Consumer Journalist of the Year and consumer Magazine of the Year, and Martin Allen-Smith, editor of Designer Kitchen & Bathroom the trade Magazine of the Year.

The reward of kitchen and bathroom awards

Prior to a nationally recognised kitchen or bathroom industry qualification being available, industry awards let independent kitchen and bathroom retailers strut their stuff to Jo Public.
Designer Awards 2014We are slap dab in the middle of the kitchen and bathroom awards season. This may come as a shock to some who were not even aware that there was a season for awards, but four award announcements in less than a week certainly suggests a season to me.

It’s all too easy to cast a jaundiced eye over the various award events –especially if you either cannot be arsed to enter the open awards or are not eligible to take part in, like the KBSA’s awards that are only open to members of the Association. But that, dear reader, is to miss the main point of value these awards have to those kitchen and bathroom independents that do enter and win their category.

Take Diane Berry of Diane Berry Kitchens for example. She has just won the KBSA’s Kitchen Designer of the Year Award for the second time. You can bet your boots that anybody going into her Manchester showroom on a ‘just looking’ expedition will soon be made aware that they are in the showroom of an ‘award winning kitchen designer’. I’ll bet both of our cats that not one of them will say: “yeah, but that award’s only open to KBSA members”.

Two of the other awards that have been in the news this week are open to the industry as a whole. The Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Awards does, as the name on the tin suggests, focus on kitchen and bathroom design. It has just announced the finalists of the 2014 Awards that will have their moment in the sun at a lavish gala luncheon and presentation ceremony taking place at Supernova in London’s Embankment Gardens on 12 November 2014.

This week also saw kbbreview Retail and Design Awards announce it was open for entries for 2015. This is the KBB sectors’ longest established awards and used to be called ‘the industry awards’ but has changed its name this year – possibly in an attempt to distance itself from Al Murray the Pub Landlord who was the ‘special’ guest at last year’s prize giving event. This awards brief is wider than either the KBSA or Designer awards as it also rewards retail business excellence. Its website includes all the info you need to enter but please note that the closing date is 24 November and there will be no extension.

I have been involved as one of the judges on both Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Awards and the kbbreview Awards in the past and can tell you first-hand both how high the quality of design entry is and how scrupulously honest the judging process is. I am sure that the same is also true of the KBSA Awards as everybody gets to see the winning entries and retailers can spot a turkey when they see one.

The final awards event to mention is the Bathroom Manufacturers Association Media Awards. It too has announced its finalists this week and the winner of each category will be revealed at a gala dinner on Tuesday 7 October taking place at Heythrop Park Conference Centre, Enstone, Oxfordshire after the 2014 Bathroom & Kitchen Conference. These awards are only open to KBB media and they differ from the other awards I’ve mentioned insomuch as the media does not enter themselves but rather are selected by the Association’s members.

Pro Publishing Media & Events, sponsor of this blog, feature in every relevant category of the BMA Media Awards for 2014. Martin Allen-Smith, editor of Designer Kitchen & Bathroom is shortlisted for the Bathroom Trade Journalist Award; Jo-Anne Wright, editor of Utopia Kitchen & Bathroom is shortlisted for the Bathroom Consumer Journalist Award; their titles have also been shortlisted in the respective trade and consumer magazine sections too and kb-network is a finalist in the Digital Media section.

As is this blog! To say that I am pleased ‘between you and me’ has been shortlisted by the BMA membership for its Digital Media section may go down as my understatement of the year. I am ABSOLUTLY delighted!

BMA Media Award finalist
The between you and me blog has been shortlisted for the 2014 BMA Digital Media Award – yippee!

Candy reveals all with dishwasher research

No longer perceived as a luxury item, dishwashers have moved into the ‘essentials’ category amongst some consumers when it comes to home appliances, says Guest Blogger Steve Macdonald of Candy UK.

Steve Macdonald
Steve Macdonald, trade marketing director of Candy UK’s Freestanding Division.

But what are consumers looking for from their dishwashers? How is the market developing? And what features are not yet understood by the average consumer?

In order to understand the dishwasher market a little better, we launched an independent survey of over 1,000 consumers and asked what the main decision factor is when buying a dishwasher. And our survey discovered that although price was an important consideration, being energy efficient was up there and was regarded as being more important than the overall design.

As with the white goods market as a whole, energy efficiency is an increasingly important factor in purchasing decisions. An appliance that is kinder to the environment is also generally kinder on the bank balance when it comes to operating costs and consumers are really taking note! According to the Energy Saving Trust* consumers can save approximately £12 a year by investing in a new dishwasher, thanks to efficiency and water saving features.

This kind of research helps to shape the development of many domestic appliances including our own innovations with, for example, the Candy Maxi Plate features an A+ energy rating.

The majority of people in our survey said they used their dishwasher between three and seven times a week which perhaps correlates with consumer demand for an appliance with a large capacity and one that will accommodate larger items.

Candy Maxi-Plate dishwasher
The Candy Maxi-Plate dishwasher features 25% more place settings than a standard dishwasher and can accommodate items with a diameter of up to 38.5cm.

With increasingly busy lifestyles, it seems that consumers need a dishwasher that will handle at least a day’s worth of dishes, without the need to wash anything by hand – even large serving plates and baking trays.

In fact, 47% of respondents reported that the main reason not to wash an item in the dishwasher was because of its size. It is for this reason that some dishwasher manufacturers including Candy, have maximized the space in their latest models.

The Candy Maxi-Plate, for example, features 25% more place settings than a standard dishwasher and also accommodates items with a diameter of up to 38.5cm. This means that large baking trays, serving dishes, and even charger plates can fit in without a problem.

As manufacturers in the industry today, we believe it’s our responsibility to respond to consumer’s needs, in order to provide our retailers with products that will sell. Clearly, as the market changes and lifestyles become increasingly hectic, the needs of our consumers change too and it is our job to think creatively about product development in order to develop new and innovative appliances.

*Energy Saving Trust, 2014 – Product and appliances – energy efficiency [Online]

Steve Macdonald is the trade marketing director of the Freestanding Division Candy UK

If you have a comment you would like to make about kitchen and bathroom retailing in the independent sector I would LOVE to hear from you! But before you rattle off 5000 words on your pet subject please click here to check out the Guest Blog section. You will save us both a lot of grief – and quite possibly save me a lengthy jail sentence too.