Bath enclosures as profit centers

There’s money to be made, even in tough times
Katy Devlin
January 8, 2009
RETAIL : TRENDS

The Vertical Post System from C.R. Laurence Co., Los Angeles.

While 2009 will be a slow year for new construction, many glass company managers and owners speculate the residential remodeling market could see an increase as homeowners choose to stay in their homes longer. Glass shops could benefit, as bathrooms, complete with glass bath and shower enclosures, top the list of homeowner renovations. Shops touting knowledge of growing trends and the latest products for bath enclosures will be poised to capture that business, according to officials from manufacturers and suppliers. 

“Now that frameless shower enclosures have been around awhile, just having the same enclosure as your neighbor is not enough anymore,” says Brad Murphy, director of technical sales for C.R. Laurence Co., Los Angeles. “Having choice is important, and having flexibility of product offerings for larger and smaller bathing areas is a must.”

Options can increase the value of a unit, as long as glass shops know what to offer and when, says Linda Garman, director of marketing communications for Basco Shower Enclosures, Mason, Ohio. “Make customers and homeowners aware of the options. It sure can be profitable. There’s a lot of margin to be made in upselling frames, glass and coatings, and people really want to know.”

This article addresses the trends for each piece of the enclosure, and provides information about specific products and options that meet homeowner demands and can increase options for glass shops.

Framing

“Even in this tough economic situation, the trend for heavy-glass frameless shower enclosures continues to grow,” says Jason Walsh, sales manager for the Northwest, Agalite, Seattle. “Five years ago, that segment was 20 percent to 25 percent of the market. Now it’s well over 55 percent of the market.”

Homeowners want light and openness in their bathrooms. Frameless glass shower enclosures maximize that openness and provide a modern, luxurious feel. Most fully frameless enclosures feature 3/8-inch to ½-inch glass. “The thicker, the more luxurious,” Garman says.

For homeowners who want a frameless look at lesser cost, glass shops can use semiframeless units or enclosures that feature minimal framing, such as headers without framing at the corners where the glass panels meet. Semiframeless units allow the use of thinner glass without sacrificing the full feel of openness. “It gives the frameless look, but doesn’t carry the price tag of very heavy glass,” Garman says. 

Glass

Clear glass still reigns supreme in bath enclosures. Walsh estimates that clear glass captures 90 percent of the market. “People want to show off the extensive tile work, and designs that they’ve created in their bath,” he says. In smaller bathrooms in particular, clear glass can open the space.

A number of homeowners are looking to low-iron glass to allow increased light transmission and even clearer views of tile work and decor.

Despite the prevalence of clear glass, David Balik, president, General Glass International, Secaucus, N.J., says the use of decorative glass for shower enclosures is, and will continue to rise. “People want something other than ordinary,” he says.

Garman agrees. “People are looking for more options, and the glass manufacturers are offering some unique patterns,” she says. Acid etch has gained in popularity at Basco, and the company is starting to work with colored glass products.

The use of decorative glass also is on the rise in other parts of the bathroom, says Patricia Kennedy, director of interiors, Guardian Industries Corp., Auburn Hills, Mich. “Decorative glass options such as acid etch, patterns and slump or cast glass are used in other areas of the bathroom like shelving, sinks, countertops and wall systems,” she says.

For decorative and clear enclosures, more customers are requesting protective coatings on the glass, Kennedy says. “The number of consumers asking about a protective coating for their glass before the dealer mentions it is nearly 30 percent,” Kennedy says. “Awareness is up, demand is up.”

Walsh says he has seen the popularity of coated glass increase significantly during the last two or three years. “Showerguard [from Guardian] continues to become more and more popular, as have aftermarket protective coatings,” he says. Agalite uses ClearShield from Ritec, United Kingdom, for its aftermarket applications. Garman says Basco developed AquaGlide to provide glass protection.

Hardware

Silver, chrome and brushed nickel have been the predominant finishes in the shower hardware market. Oil-rub bronze and gold are gaining popularity, Walsh says. He estimates that oil rub bronze captures about 15 percent of the company’s sales, and gold, less than 5 percent.

Many hardware trends follow the glass trends. The increase in frameless enclosures has led to the use of stabilizer bars, in lieu of headers, and the use of clips, says Daniella Jones, manager of the shower department for Custom Hardware Manufacturing Inc., Keokuk, Iowa.
Just as more homeowners want more decorative glass options to stand out, they also want custom hardware. “Customers are demanding unique specialty hardware, personalized by design along with finishes that match popular tub and faucet manufacturer colors,” Jones says.

To keep up with bath enclosure trends, glass shops should keep close communication with suppliers and manufacturers to learn what new products are on the market. Get in the habit of visiting company Web sites and talking with technical service representatives, Murphy and Garman say.

Kennedy also recommends that shop owners and managers “develop relationships with interior designers to expand customer base beyond homeowners. Pick up design magazines and visit [tradeshows].” 

Most importantly, listen to customers. Providing customers with the options they want will give glass shops a leg up, even in tough times, Walsh says. “Things are going to get tight as the markets constrict, and glass shops will have to be much more service oriented and customer focused. … Make sure you are providing the very best products and customer support.”

Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at kdevlin@glass.org.

  • Sources

    Jason Walsh, sales manager for the Northwest
    Agalite, Seattle
    www.agalite.com
    800/552-2227

    Linda Garman, director of marketing communications
    Basco Shower Enclosures, Mason, Ohio
    www.bascoshowerdoor.com
    800/543-1938

    Brad Murphy, director of technical sales
    C.R. Laurence Co., Los Angeles
    www.crlaurence.com
    800/421-6144

    Daniella Jones, manager of the shower department
    Custom Hardware Manufacturing Inc., Keokuk, Iowa
    www.chmi.com
    800/262-2464

    David Balik, president
    General Glass International, Secaucus, N.J.
    www.generalglass.com
    800/431-2042

    Patricia Kennedy, director of interiors
    Guardian Industries Corp., Auburn Hills, Mich.
    www.guardian.com
    248/340-1800