Tile wholesaling is ripe for modernisation and lacks a model like Tool Station or Screwfix. So says Mo Iqbal, chairman of Tile Mountain, as he unveils expansion plans and also proposals for a new trade format to be launched in the near future.
Tile Mountain is now the largest privately-owned tile retailer in the UK, and Mo Iqbal’s comments follow the acquisition of both Capitol Tiles and Walls and Floors in the past year.
Since those acquisitions Mr Iqbal has spent the last few months speaking to customers and trying to understand their needs.
“It is really obvious that wholesaling is still lagging behind retailing,” says Mr Iqbal. “It really hasn’t changed for years. Everybody is using technology in their daily lives so much now – finding information, ordering things online, paying online. The consumer is very familiar with all this, but wholesalers need to up their game and move with the times.”
Following some intensive industry research, Mr Iqbal says that Tile Mountain is now ready to roll-out a number of innovations which will modernise the wholesale side of the business. The company recognises that some of its customers still require physical paperwork, but it is hoping to meet the requirements of those who are ready to trade electronically.
It will do this by creating a new online portal, where customers can place orders and track order fulfillment. By doing this, it is hoping not just to improve the customer experience, but also to drive efficiencies through the business, gaining cost savings along the way.
To meet the needs of independent fixers, Tile Mountain also plans to launch a new trade format in 2020. This will be unique in the market and Mr Iqbal hopes it will become a “Screwfix or a Tool Station” for the tile market.
So what about developments on the retail side of the business? Following the acquisition of the Walls and Floors business, Tile Mountain now has a total of five retail showrooms, and has plans for two more in the next six months, building up to a total of around 15 over the next two to three years.
But Mr Iqbal is certainly not planning to build up a massive chain of stores. “The days of retailers having 350 stores are past – with the internet there is no demand for that,” he says. “We need to look to the next ten years and what the market will be looking for. Our industry needs to evolve.”
Tile Mountain showrooms are already radical in that they carry no stock. “Customers can come in, look at the product, touch it, feel it – and then make their purchase online. People can still sometimes be nervous about buying on the internet – this format makes them feel more comfortable.”
“I’ve run shops in the past, so I know the kind of issues retailers have to deal with,” says Mr Iqbal. “My aim is to have separate product portfolios in our different channels, which means we’ll be putting exclusive products out through the wholesale side of our business.”
Mr Iqbal believes that TTA can be part of the much-needed modernisation of the industry. “I’ve spent a lot of time engrossed in our stores, getting to know the consumer. They are increasingly getting their inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest. We are delighted to be involved in TTA, in particular the website, which is much improved, helping it to provide inspiration and act as a portal for the entire industry.”