Next year will see PROcare Wetroom & Bathroom Specialists celebrating its 20th anniversary and over the past two decades the Wigan-based company has developed an excellent reputation within the social housing market for the manufacture and distribution of adapted products and associated services. This success has been achieved thanks to an unrelenting focus on providing high quality items and an ongoing commitment to improving its offering, as Karen Owens, Business Development Manager, recently explained to Construction Industry News.
“We’ve always strived to continually evolve as a business,” says Karen. “Having started out in 2001 supplying shower trays and now manufacturing to the construction industry, we now distribute our own ‘PRO’ branded products, alongside the leading names in showers, pumps and sanitary ware. The progress we’ve made has helped us become firmly established as one of the largest total solution suppliers of specialist adapted shower and bathing equipment within the UK.”
Underlining the forward-thinking and innovative approach that PROcare has consistently demonstrated, the company has its own specialist showroom facility and expanded into a purpose-built 25,000 ft sq ft distribution centre in 2009. From a staffing perspective, it currently has just over 70 employees supporting its activities and from a production point of view it partners with a number of manufacturers across the UK and abroad. “These are very well-developed relationships, some of which have been in place for over 15 years, so they know the quality standards we adhere to.”
More recently, PROcare has become the manufacturing arm for Invisible Creations, an organisation that has been working to develop a range of adaptive products that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
“Invisible Creations was formed in 2019, with the product development stage beginning around nine months ago,” explains Karen. “These products are now in the process of being manufactured and will be available Summer 2020. We have prototypes for demonstration purposes and interest is really building across the UK and abroad. This is a really exciting area of PROCare’s development and the feedback we received since launching the product range last year has been phenomenal.”
The catalyst for Invisible Creations’ formation stemmed from an idea that started life in the National Housing Federation’s ‘Creating our Future’ Greenhouse programme in 2018. While the relationship is still in its relative infancy, the two organisations have already made tremendous progress in achieving their shared goals.
“The link with Invisible Creations will be a particularly exciting development for us in 2020 because they are doing a fantastic job at removing the stigma that is so often associated with adapted products. Some of the adapted bathrooms typically seen in the past would be very functional but looked overly clinical, containing items such as white grab rails that would immediately be identified as a disabled adaptation. In contrast, we’re working with Invisible Creations to produce solutions that look like a safe, stylish home bathroom rather than a clinical bathroom.
“Our plan for the next two years is to forge links with more housing associations that don’t want their bathrooms to look clinical and institutionalised but still require stringent safety features and functionality. One such product is a toilet roll holder that doubles as a grab rail. If someone fell from the toilet one of the first things they’d immediately reach out for is the toilet roll holder, so if it’s just a flimsy item that’s been bought for five pounds and fixed with one screw then it’s not going to sustain the weight of an individual pulling on it.
“With Invisible Creations we’ve developed a toilet roll holder that doubles as a grab rail, so would remain attached to the wall in the event of a fall. It future proofs the home and improves people’s safety in their own property. In a similar vein we have developed a corner shelf for showers that also doubles as a grab rail.
“One of the critical aspects we’ve identified is working out ways to allow people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible in an attempt to stop the bed blockage issue that’s being seen nationally. We’ve got to make sure that we can supply products as part of preventative measures, rather than installing products reactively once an accident has taken place or a disability occurs. The aim is to develop a range that housing associations will fit into new builds as a matter of course, but without the stigma of a disabled adaptation.”
In addition to the link with Invisible Creations, PROcare has also continued to develop its own product range to further improve its offering to the marketplace, as Karen highlights: “Another product that forms part of our marketing push this year is the launch of a new bath panel. We’ve identified two elements in standard bathrooms that constantly cost social housing organisations a lot of money. One is toilet seats, as people tend to fit cheap and cheerful products that get damaged easily so the cost of repairs is massive. The other is bath panels, for the same reason, with cheaper materials being particularly prone to damage caused by water ingress.
“Our new bath panel is made from strong plastic that we believe will be a ‘fit and forget’ product. Unsurprisingly it’s not the cheapest in the marketplace but we’re not about being cheap, we’re about providing longevity and reliability. There’s a great deal of truth behind the adage of ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ and this is certainly something we’ve always strived to avoid within our product range.”
These latest initiatives have further assisted PROcare’s goal of becoming a ‘total solution provider’ for customers, whether they’re speciﬁers, contractors or end users. It also offers a national survey service so can look after the entire process from the very beginning right through to delivery. As there’s only one order and one invoice, this provides significant cost savings for customers. In addition, its technical advisors and Occupational Therapists can offer expert help and guidance when planning for the needs of the elderly and less able, to ensure they receive the product and services that best meet their requirements.
“Clients are not just coming to us for the odd item that goes into a bathroom – whether it’s an adapted or a standard bathroom – they can come to us and get the full package. This is where we can benefit the social housing sector.”
This is reflected in PROcare’s customer base, which includes some of the largest social housing providers, local authorities and construction companies within the country. It has also won many National Procurement Supply Frameworks, such as Procure Plus, Fusion 21, Procurement for Housing and Value Works.
Despite the growth that PROcare has achieved, there have been some hurdles that the company has had to overcome over the years, as Karen points out: “I’ve been in this market for over 20 years, not all of which have been PROcare, so I’ve seen how the sector has changed and evolved, particularly in terms of funding within local government. When Grenfell happened many of the bathroom programmes that social housing were planning to carry out were all understandably put on hold, as fire safety became the priority within the social housing sector. Bathrooms therefore did have a dip but we’re now starting to see a return to the level of investment seen previously. We just need that trend to continue.
“The other obvious headache has been the ongoing Brexit situation with the uncertainty continuing to cause issues. Hopefully we will begin to see a bit more clarity going forward.”
The dreaded B-word withstanding, with the burgeoning relationship with Invisible Creations adding another string to its bow, PROcare has ambitious plans for 2020 as it strives to continue its forward momentum.
“We’ve come a long way but we’re now looking to see our brand recognised more on a national basis,” concludes Karen. “We want social housing organisations to view PROcare as their first port of call for all their bathroom solutions, whether it’s a standard bathroom or an adapted bathroom; whether it’s new build, a refurbishment or even a reactive repair.
“We’re got the product range so now it’s all about raising awareness of what we can offer through a concerted marketing push.”
With over 50 years of experience within the industry, Directors Brian Lee and Anthony Turton created PROcare to bring a range of products to the market that are easy to install, easy to maintain and easy to use. It is clear that this philosophy remains firmly embedded throughout the company and will continue to serve it well as it moves ever closer to achieving its 20th anniversary.