Over its 25-plus years of operation Ashford Heating Supplies Ltd has established an enviable reputation for service and quality, something that was further underlined last year when its Bathe and Beyond concept won the KBB Review, Bathroom Showroom of the Year category. The consistency the company has been able to demonstrate is also clear given that it has been nominated for a further two accolades in the 2015 Awards.
“Winning the award last year was a great honour and to follow it up with a further two nominations this year is fantastic,” explains Cliff Payne, who is Co-Director of the company along with his cousin Tanya. “Potentially we’re competing against 3,000 similar businesses in the UK, many of which operate to an extremely high standard, so we’re absolutely delighted to come out on top and win these types of award. The recognition also helps to raise our profile within the marketplace and generate additional business, which is great.”
As for the reasons behind the Showroom of the Year success, Cliff believes a collaborative approach paid dividends. “We made sure we got a designer involved at a very early stage and we gave them a brief that emphasised how much we wanted to produce something that was a little more interesting to walk around than your traditional showroom. We also enlisted the help of various manufacturers with the creation of the design, something we felt was important as they were obviously taking the lion-share of space. We were very pleased with the end result.”
“Walking around the showroom is now a much more pleasurable experience,” adds Tanya. “Prior to its creation we had the idea bubbling away for a couple of years but at the time of the recession we had to carefully cost our plans as we wanted to make sure we financed it ourselves rather than having to borrow money. As a consequence we waited until we were in that position.”
The showroom opened towards the end of 2013 so has recently clocked up its first 12 months of trading, garnering a hugely positive response in the process. “The feedback from customers has been extremely encouraging,” says Cliff. “We have a good cross-section of designers, architects and existing trade customers bringing their retail customers because we’re drawing on our many years of experience in addition to the advertising that we’ve undertaken. It’s been very well received.”
Last year’s award was just another landmark in the long list that Ashford Heating Supplies has achieved up over the years. The ‘offspring’ of a business formed nearly 50 years ago; there has been continuity of trading at its Staines-Upon-Thames site since 1976 when the family run business moved from its small original site in Ashford to its current location at 193 London Road, Staines. 13 years later the trading entity Ashford Heating Supplies Ltd was formed and it celebrated 25 years in business during 2014.
“In 1997 the trade counter operation was extended further and our first small, dedicated bathroom showroom was created,” outlines Cliff. “This proved very successful and within a few years we found we were outgrowing the space and were seeking to display more products and a wider range of brands.
“During 2013, in readiness for our 25th anniversary, we underwent a major re-investment programme, creating the ‘Bathe and Beyond’ bathroom showroom, a new trade counter area and a large customer car park. We now aim to offer trade and retail customers a ‘one stop shop’ for all their plumbing, heating and bathroom equipment. We maintain stocks of thousands of basic products, boilers, radiators, controls, plastics and so forth, and are able to supply to order tens of thousands of other items, within a very short timescale. In addition to our end-user customers, our current client base includes plumbers, builders, architects, government departments, Heathrow Airport and a variety of local businesses.”
Having continually demonstrated a high degree of progression over the years, the objective now is to build on Bathe & Beyond’s award-winning debut year by further developing the concept. “We’ve had a full year of trading so we’re now rationalising some of our brands as roughly 50 per cent of our showroom in the 12 months has changed. We’ve brought in a couple of new brands this year that have been really good for the business. We’ve got excellent links within our existing supply chain, whilst we’re also forging strong relationships with the newer ones too. This is key to the business. Our suppliers are our partners and it must work from both sides so that all parties are happy and the benefits of the relationship are fully maximised.”
This is obviously a successful formula that the company has been able to build on over the years but there remain a number of hurdles that need to be contended with. “One of the biggest challenges is always maintaining the high levels of customer service that we set ourselves,” says Tanya. “This is paramount in getting our business right. As customers grow ever more discerning they’re becoming increasingly demanding. It’s therefore imperative that we continually improve and develop our service in-line with these growing expectations.
“We’ve found that we’ve become more known for our bathrooms and as a consequence bespoke solutions are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Customers now expect to have the same type of bathroom at home as they’ve experienced on holiday or in a top boutique hotel.
“At the moment all our showroom consultants use the Virtual Worlds 3D design package, but for the third quarter of 2015 we plan to offer an enhanced service. We will be offering a free one hour consultation with our in house designer and follow up home or site visits on a chargeable basis, redeemable when placing an order.”
This ongoing commitment to continually improving has provided a firm foundation for the longevity that the company is enjoying, underpinned by strong family values, as Cliff points out: “Either myself or Tanya are always onsite and the business has retained a real family feel even if staff members aren’t actually related to us. It’s all about providing a personal touch and a comprehensive level of service that meets the customer’s precise requirements.”
With 2014 having proven to be an award-winning year for Ashford Heating Supplies the company is now looking forward to potentially going one better at the forthcoming KBB Review Retail & Design Awards ceremony in March, where it has been nominated in two categories: Showroom of the Year once again and Retailer of the Year.