SPECIAL REPORT: Specialist shower sector tapping into consumer trends

Clos-o-mat believes showers are an attractive alternative.

Providers of adapted bathroom solutions will know that specialist showers and showering aids hold a solid place in the mobility market. But with constant competition from new bathing innovations, retailers have to be on their toes when choosing which products to stock. Here, we explore how dealers can navigate the showering sector and what to expect in the near future.

There is now more education and knowledge than ever around the importance of hygiene and good quality bathing for people with limited mobility. The growing understanding of the benefits that good bathing has on the health and mental wellbeing of people has led to OTs and end-users increasingly seeking high-quality solutions from dealers.

For dealerships looking to stock bathing equipment there is certainly no shortage of solutions on the market. It may occur to some dealers that buying in adjustable baths is a sure-fire way to ensure they are prepared to meet consumer demands. However, customers these days and OTs specifying equipment for them need a diverse range of products to choose from. And that includes alternative solutions which can be diverse and cater for multiple needs.

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Clos-o-mat believes showers are an attractive alternative.

Distributors may take a minute, then, to consider bathing solutions and look at showers, which often present a cheaper, easier to install and more diverse alternative to baths, some would argue.

Not only do shower solutions present dealerships with a good retail opportunity, but there are a large number of aids and attachments on the market to accompany shower sales — many of which are deemed essential living aids by OTs.

One company which works with dealers to bring showering solutions to end-users is Clos-o-mat — a leading figure in the adapted bathroom world. Originally specialising in adapted toilets, the firm has since sensed the opportunities available in the mobility shower sector. It now offers aids including shower chairs and shower seats and markets the Apreshower body drier.

“Showering solutions are more diverse, from trays with a low lip to level threshold, seats, chairs and everything in between. They can be used for a wider range of issues and for a longer time even as the user’s condition changes or deteriorates”

While Robin Tuffley, Clos-o-mat’s marketing manager, recognises that the choice of a shower or a bath ultimately comes down to the individual user’s requirements and situation, Tuffley believes that showers are an attractive alternative.

“Bathing solutions are comparatively limited and primarily require the bather to at least be able to step in and out. Even a walk-in bath still requires a step action. A bath lift still requires the user to have the strength and stability to lift their legs to bridge the top of the bath,” Tuffley explains.

Impey has the manufacturing muscle of Coram behind it.

“Showering solutions are more diverse, from trays with a low lip to level threshold, seats, chairs and everything in between. They can be used for a wider range of issues and for a longer time even as the user’s condition changes or deteriorates.” Similarly, AKW, another leading accessible shower and bathroom firm, has designed its solutions to offer something different to traditional adapted baths. It recognises one of the key benefits of showers over baths as being the reduced risk of falls and the cheaper and easier installation process. In fact, the necessity for a smooth and inexpensive install means suppliers are producing equipment that dealers can work with easily. The understanding that a lengthy and problematic install can reflect badly on a brand means suppliers are continually driven to design easy-to-fit units.

“We approach things from a ‘no excuses’ install approach. We still want to give people the best product even if the site conditions are very unsuitable”

James Dadd, marketing director for AKW, outlines how showers are increasingly being seen as a suitable alternative: “Existing shower cubicles can be modified to reduce fall risks with grab rails, seats and safety screens, or a level access showering area can be installed. Wet rooms with level access floors not only greatly reduce the risk of falls, thanks to the removal of step-in thresholds, but they open up the space of the room, enabling free movement for mobility aids. Although it is possible to install grab rails within an existing bath to reduce fall risk, for those with compromised mobility levels, level access showering is strongly recommended.”

AKW offers an advanced range of showering solutions

AKW offers an advanced range of showering solutions

AKW works with dealer partners to promote a wide range of access and mobility solutions, including the iCare which the firm claims has made a significant impact on the industry since it launched two years ago.

It is the world’s first wireless and Bluetooth smart electric shower than can be controlled remotely and aims to capitalise on the rapidly growing trend for tech that can control household systems remotely. Dadd says: “iCare is a giant leap forward in smart shower design and has brought unique innovation to the shower market. Its features allow it to be used by people with disabilities but its non-clinical aesthetics appeal to multi-generational households, care homes and local authorities. In addition, the functionality of iCare enables users to maintain their independence for longer in their own home.”

Sealing success in the market
While the popularity of adapted shower solutions and specialist mobility showering aids grows, the segment is by no means immune to the challenges gripping many parts of the industry. As ever, when it comes to care and funding for equipment, money is a major issue. The entire market and everyone within it knows that most consumers have to struggle through grant processes, which are currently being cut.

Many dealers are already adapting to offer flexible payment options and adopting different retail strategies but grant cuts are, for many end-users, making it harder to fork out for adapted showers.

AKW’s iCare Angle

For many retailers, government cuts are making it tougher to access grants like DFG. When pressed on whether this presents a significant challenge to the sector, Tuffley responds: “The funding is in theory ring-fenced. The impact isn’t so much on the provision of equipment, but on the ‘back-room’ staff to asses people’s needs and then process their requirements. The whole process is taking longer. We have always, and continue, to maintain that provision of equipment is, where appropriate, the preferred solution, in that it delivers best use of resources and enables people to retain their independence and dignity and feel in control.”

Likewise, Dadd is fully aware of the knock-on effect the industry has felt from cash being pulled by the government. “There has been a perfect storm in the sector since 2008; the drastic reduction in Public Sector budgets, the cuts in local services and local authority redundancies, have all led to many end users having to either fund any necessary changes themselves or wait much longer than normal for funding approval for bathroom adaptations. This has all put increased pressure on manufacturers, contractors and distributors that provide these facilities,” he states.

But while these trends can bite, Dadd outlines how the industry is benefiting from the revival of multi-generational households, which he says has fuelled the growth in both independently-funded bathroom adaptations and the design of equipment that suits inclusive living.

Clos-o-mat’s bathroom offering

In the face of a challenging market, Dadd sees developments like AKW’s Bluetooth smart shower as creating installation opportunities. Any industry knows that while it may be pulled in one direction by certain factors, the need for progression and better products demands that business goes on.

Both suppliers and distributors recognise the importance of moving forward and as a result often look to work closer and closer together to ensure both parties overcome the challenges. With strength in collaboration in mind, Tuffley urges retailers to consider some key points. According to him, at the top of the list when selecting shower products are product quality, relevant certification and technical support. It is also important to consider what service and repair options are offered in the eventuality that there is a problem.

AKW

In a similar vein, Dadd stresses that AKW works closely with OTs and installers when designing products to ensure that they are not only fit-for-purpose and long-lasting but are aesthetically pleasing, easy to install and receive positive customer feedback.

While providers of adapted baths will maintain that the solutions are a viable and suitable option for many consumers, some dealers will already know that the market for showers and showering aids is expanding.

As financial pressures mount and the need for easy-install, non-intrusive equipment increases alongside multigenerational homes, dealerships that choose to enter the showering sector are likely to be well placed when it comes to matching trends.

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