BATHROOM RETAILER PROFILE | Versatile Bathrooms and Tiles

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The foyer area at Versatile certainly has the wow factor

wellness are two areas that managing director Andrew Treacy tells me they will be looking at very seriously in the future, in an area set aside towards the rear of the ground floor. At the time of my visit, there are plans for a new working spa. Andrew tells me that they have even taken on a wellness specialist, Michael Kelly, who has attended several European seminars on how best to design for that area and carries out training sessions for Versatile staff. “Trying to develop those skill sets over the years has helped our turnover and helped our growth,” explains Andrew. To offer the best customer experience, Versatile also makes

sure that there are nice smells in the showroom as part of its experiential approach – appealing to all the senses. In Versatile’s kbbreview Retail & Design Awards entry (it was a finalist for Bathroom Retailer of the Year), they said: “We have created a sensory retail experience, delighting visitors’ five senses upon entry to our showroom. Pleasant scents (through diffusers and fresh seasonal flowers) and an impressive split staircase to wow them [visually], plus improved sound system with relaxing music, and varied textures for their sense of touch.” But Versatile, with its 29 staff and two divisions – Versatile Bathrooms and Tiles and Versatile Heating and Ventilation – started 35 years ago on a much more modest footing when Catherine and husband Billy opened a 1,000sq ft bathroom boutique shop in the centre of Navan, with tiles as the main focus. Billy’s background was in importing radiators, and Versatile

is still the Irish importer for Zehnder and Jaga, among others. Catherine, however, came from the world of fashion and was a model for many years. She tells me she believes that this stood her in good stead to bring a lot of fresh ideas into the bathroom business. They soon outgrew their first shop and moved on to the high street itself into what had been a haberdashers for 100 years. Soon they were selling bigger and bigger pieces and needed even more space, so they moved into their current premises in 2003 with just four staff – the first year they entered the kbbreview Retail & Design Awards, when they won Bathroom Retailer of the Year and then repeated that success in 2005. Catherine adds:


“Billy had acquired the property and had intended to develop it and rent it out, but I suggested to him that we hold on to it and we got an architect in and turned it into what it is now.” Versatile has survived a couple of recessions and Catherine recalls: “In the first recession, we had to go on a four-day week. We tailored our product ranges to people’s budgets. The engineering [commercial] side held up well. “We have more designers now. You have to put your cards on the table to help people. Then the customers will get the best and be thrilled to bits with what they get.”

And I was rather surprised to learn that the vast majority of

Versatile’s retail bathrooms business was whole-house projects. Catherine explains: “Meath and Kildare are good for us but we infiltrate the whole country, as the population is so small. Straight refurbs are just 20%. It’s different from the UK. Houses are being built bigger and bigger. People don’t build a small house anymore – it’s all going to be 2,000sq ft to 2,500sq ft. It used to be that you’d get one bathroom and en suite and a downstairs cloakroom, but now you can have a couple of en suites, a statement bathroom, and outside back and guest toilets. And they are future-proofing with showers that are accessible, washlet toilets, etc – we’re an ageing population. The shower can be as big as you like with no step.” I ask MD Andrew about the Versatile business model and am interested to hear more about their commercial projects. He elaborates: “We’ve been growing throughout the 35 years,

but the recession for us was very good. We didn’t see one. We were blessed with our team. We adapted. We’re not your typical retailer because we want to put a lot of depth into the projects we support. With the structure we have in the Versatile Group, we have the engineering mind-set, the interior mind-set and the architectural mind-set. We have been able to merge the three. In the recession, it continued to grow because a lot of customers were worried about the retailers they were dealing with and they wanted someone solid, who was going nowhere. Customers felt that because they were dealing with Versatile, that’s like a lifetime warranty.”

„ kbbreview · June 2019

It used to be that you’d get one bathroom and en suite and a downstairs cloakroom, but now you can have a couple of en suites, a statement bathroom, and outside back and guest toilets

Catherine Treacy, director and co-founder, Versatile Bathrooms and Tiles

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