FEATURE: Style and functionality driving accessible toilet market

Like most mobility products, accessible toilet solutions are undergoing change as consumer tastes shift. Accessible toilets do not escape the need to be both stylish and functional, and the demand on suppliers to innovate new solutions and dealers to stock them is always increasing. This is continually pushing designers and manufacturers to come up with new solutions to bring to the market.

One key innovation driving the toilet sector, as well as most other product segments, is aesthetics. Leading bathroom adaptation supplier Closomat understands the growing role style is playing in disability toilet aids. Not only this, but the firm has noticed a move in the private sector towards products that provide a more complete solution. “There is more choice in wash and dry toilets, from basic bolt-on units, to complete WC solutions. It is up to mobility retailers to decide where they want to ‘pitch’ their business, but if they carry a range, they have potential to up-sell, particularly if the customer needs a long-term solution in their home,” explains marketing manager, Robin Tuffley.

Ideal Standard looks to incorporate aesthetic design with functionality.

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To help retailers capitalise on the trend for a comprehensive solution, Closomat has poured significant investment into its range of wash and dry toilets, which it says is the biggest selling brand in the sector, with more than 50,000 units now sold. The company’s most successful wash and dry solution, the Palma Vita, can be fitted initially or retrospectively with a range of accessories to tailor it to individual needs. The latest additions, the Lima Vita and Lima Lifter, offer respectively a wall-mounted option and height adjustable version.

“It is up to retailers to decide where they want to ‘pitch’ their business, but if they carry a range, they have potential to up-sell”

Aside from aesthetics and a boom in wash and dry solutions, another trend in the toilet sector comes as a result of shrinking bathrooms. According to Tony Rheinberg, head of marketing at Ideal Standard — a major Belgium-based bathroom provider — there is a large design consideration in raising things off the ground because increased visible floor space helps to create the illusion of a larger floor plan and more space within the room. As a result, wall-hung toilet bowls, which are raised off the floor and appear to float above it, are increasingly popular now.

Ideal Standard has therefore geared much of its R&D towards this new trend. Its raised WCs are designed especially for people with mobility issues and back pain sufferers. They are around 25% higher than average and available as close coupled, back-to-wall and hung. There is also an elongated wall hung bowl option, which projects 75cm out from the wall — again to aid mobility for wheelchair users. The WCs do not look like traditional ‘accessible’ bathroom products, which Rheinberg feels are often stigmatised because they are considered unsightly intrusions in
the user’s home.

Additionally, with many accessible toilets now incorporated into new homes, manufacturers have to offer dealers and the end-user a solution that meets all the criteria people expect from mainstream bathroom solutions. “Dual flush option toilets are increasingly becoming the norm, especially in new homes, because they allow users to not only save water but save money and reduce water bills. A dual flush toilet allows you to choose an economy, reduced volume flush, which uses less water than the full flush option does. The smaller level is designed for liquid waste, and the larger flush is designed for solid waste,” comments Rheinberg.

Ideal Standard believes raised WCs are a popular market trend.

While specific functions and aesthetic styles are at the top of the list for some manufacturers, Andrew King, sales manager for specialist bathroom supplier Etac, has condensed trends down to two main factors. To put it simply, customers want choice and value for money, according to King. People need something that looks good in the bathroom, but this doesn’t always mean buying something at the cheapest price, he says.

“More people are self-funding, which again is where look and durability often become priority over price. With this in mind, it is important for retailers to offer their customers a good choice which offers value for money,” King comments.

The fact that looks and durability are now primary concerns among end-users and specifiers gives evidence to the claim that there is now a growing focus for specialist WCs to be designed to help people remain independent in their homes, rather than move to a care home. As nursing home costs increase, the desire to stay independent for longer rises and so consumers are hunting products that fit into their own or relatives’ homes seamlessly, while offering full functionality.

Etac’s products are designed with optimum practicality and quality in mind.

LiftSeat is one business that is hoping to help dealers capitalise on this trend. Its range of toilet lifts are made to deliver safe and reliable assistance to people who battle conditions that compromise their strength and need help toileting.

But Steve Campbell from the company acknowledges there are challenges in getting retailers to pick up on the market and help it expand.

“Cheaper imports or internet alternatives may offer a cost saving and provide a similar looking product. But in the long term the lack of design and quality of any inferior product will usually be exposed”

“The first challenge is we tend to be more comfortable talking about absolutely anything but what happens behind the toilet door,” Campbell states. “With the huge increase in the past decade of rise and recline chairs, people have started to realise there is also a solution for the toilet as the same problem of getting up and down exists there.”

Rheinberg agrees that there is still stigma attached around accessible bathrooms generally — and this is a big barrier to installation in the home environment, he feels. As such, companies like Ideal Standard are driving for toilets with aesthetic design credentials and models which customers are happy to discuss with OTs and retailers more openly.

Similarly, Tuffley is aware that as a nation, we don’t like to discuss going to the toilet, particularly if it’s something we have an issue with. “That has been the case for years, and is unlikely to change,” he says. “In our experience, a more discreet solution works effectively in feeling the way to discussing toilets, and once customers acknowledge it’s an area in which they struggle, they are actually very receptive to solutions. It is actually an area that potentially offers significant add-on sales. For example, if someone is struggling to get out of a chair, the chances are they struggle to get off the loo. So accessible toileting isn’t a challenge, it’s an opportunity.”

How dealers can choose a winning solution
With a wide range of toilet solutions marketed by manufacturers all competing for dealers’ business, it can be a challenge for retailers to know what to look for in a supplier partner. King advises that, importantly, dealers need to look for brands that offer a wide range of products that look good, are long lasting and offer the customer good value for money. This also needs to be coupled with a good margin, marketing and after-sales support, he suggests.

The point of value for money comes up time and again when discussing the products that are likely to prove successful for retailers. And professionals throughout the supply chain commonly agree that the cheapest option isn’t always the best. This is especially true in the mobility market where customers’ individual needs are complex and require specialist attention.

Wash and dry toilets like Closomat’s are increasingly popular.

“Cheaper imports or internet alternatives may offer a cost saving and provide a fairly similar-looking product. In the long term however, the lack of design, performance and quality credentials of any inferior product will usually be exposed and could end up costing more to repair or replace,” Rheinberg explains.

Tuffley, meanwhile, is up front that retailers must prioritise the return on investment and percentage return. Also, there are certain technicalities to ensure, such as any appliance connected to a mains water supply must be Water Regulation Advisory Scheme (WRAS) approved. Tuffley urges that dealerships need to check WC products are certified and warns that anyone involved in the supply chain could be subject to legal action if a toilet doesn’t carry WRAS.

Tuffley reveals: “In our experience, fitness for purpose, ease of use and durability are key factors. We would advise support is verified. Closomat is the brand leader, was the first into the wash and dry toilet market and brings with it 55 years’ experience in the sector. It is the only wash and dry toilet company to manufacture in the UK, offer in-house UK sales support and in-house service and maintenance, and have its own nationwide team of engineers to commission, service and repair.”

The considerations of dealers will be slightly different depending on the products they are selecting and the customers they are trying to target. Toilet lifts, for example, will need to be looked at from a different angle compared to when looking at WCs. For Campbell, the first question when choosing a toilet lift is ‘will it fit?’ The second should be ‘will it lift correctly?’, and the third should be ‘will it work for the client in the short and long-term?’

Ideal Standard’s Concept Freedom

Campbell explains: “If a product doesn’t fit the client’s toilet then it’s a non-starter. It’s no good trying things in the lounge when they don’t fit the required space. Toilets come in different shapes, sizes and configurations. Will the toilet lift work with the different toilet brands? Does the product have the right movement for the client’s specific condition? The majority of clients use sit-to-stand but some, like people that have inclusion body myositis, need a vertical only lift. Finally, if the client has a fall or their condition deteriorates – how are they going to continue to toilet? All Lift Seat toilet lifts can be moved bedside and, using our commode bucket, there is no disruption in their toileting whether the client can get themselves to their bathroom or not.”

Although there are inherent challenges with the WC sector, not least the stigma attached to the subject, when approached correctly, with research and an open mind, there are clear opportunities available to dealers. Demand for specialist toilets in the UK is only going to increase given that more consumers are now staying at their own or a relatives’ home for longer.

Picking up on the various style trends will help retailers to navigate products in the sector but the fact remains that quality and functionality are still the main aspects to consider.

Suppliers are now realising that a combination of aesthetics and practicality are the order of the day and those dealers capitalising on this are the ones placing themselves in the best possible position for profiting from this sector

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