Tradesmen’s choice Screwfix has opened Watersmith, a standalone bathroom store in Stoke-on-Trent. John Ryan assesses its prospects

In case you were unaware of it, Screwfix is a fascia owned by Kingfisher that targets builders, tradesmen and “serious DIY enthusiasts” (according to the website). It has 161 branches across the country and, for a little more than two weeks, it has also had a bathroom shop.

The name above the door of the latter is actually Watersmith, but look at the strapline beneath this and the words ‘A Screwfix company’ give the game away. The rest of the line goes: ‘Beautifully crafted bathrooms at trade prices.’

And this is the point of this trial store, located in Stoke-on-Trent.

Traditionally, Screwfix has been a destination for tradesmen working on domestic projects, and retail customers have been thinner on the ground. Watersmith is, according to Screwfix head of buying Andy Gault, intended to allow retail shoppers, accompanied by a builder or otherwise, to walk around a shop, instead of browsing the pages of a catalogue and then buying - the normal Screwfix modus operandi.

Sense of separation

The choice of Stoke was straight­forward, according to Gault. Kingfisher had a property in the area and many of the suppliers of baths, basins, toilets and suchlike have distribution hubs in the Midlands.

Watersmith is in fact in the same building as the local Screwfix branch and the two stores (for that is what they are) share a common warehouse-cum-stockroom behind the scenes. But for the shopper they might as well be separate businesses - they have discrete entrances and the logos are completely different. Walk in through the doors of Watersmith and that sense of separation from the parent company is complete.

Matt Tobin, head of trade counter operations at Screwfix and the man behind the Watersmith project, says the 3,000 sq ft store took about 16 weeks to put together from the moment a decision was taken to go ahead to February 3, when it opened. “We could actually have been open about four weeks earlier, but we wanted everything to be as we would like it, so we delayed things a bit,” he says.

Tobin employed Yeovil-based design, project management and build consultancy Resolution Interiors to work on creating the Watersmith format, with a brief to make it acceptable for both trade and retail customers.

The first thing you notice as you glance around is that everything is very clear. In essence, the store is in two parts, with a racetrack walkway taking shoppers around the space. The perimeter is about commodity, while the mid-shop, within the racetrack, is a series of installed bathrooms to give the shopper clues about how things might look.

Gault says it is important to provide the latter for retail customers, as it takes a fair amount of imagination to work out how a specific tap or basin will look when placed with other pieces. “It’s amazing when you have this kind of thing how often people will come

in and buy more or less what they see,” he says. This is in spite of the many options that are available.

Starting, therefore, with the perimeter, the interior of Watersmith is concerned to make the fairly mundane attractive, while offering a broad selection (there are 1,000 lines on sale in this store). Practically, this means the first thing that the customer, tradesman or retail shopper will encounter is a couple of wall panels of shiny taps, of varying shapes and sizes.

On tap

This might not sound terribly appealing, but what Resolution has done is to create a panel with a series of small, slat-wall sloping fixtures to which taps, in tiered rows, are attached. The backdrop to this is white, but each panel is framed by soft pastel light, purple in

the case of the taps, provided by hidden LED lights. Above the perimeter display are monochrome graphics of white basins, lavatories and showerheads - it’s all very tasteful. It is also worth noting that one of the more difficult tasks facing the prospective bath buyer is which tap will go with it. To make this more straightforward, each of the shelves bearing the 140 tap options can be detached from the tap panel and taken to the baths or sinks, which are further round the perimeter. It’s a simple device, but it does make light work of the matter of choosing.

Assisted sell

From taps the perimeter journey moves to showers. Again a lot of chrome but, in place of purple light, it’s a soft yellow. Tucked between the showers and the cash and service desk, which also forms part of the perimeter, is a small offer of pumps for power showers. “Because of what they are, these tend to be more of an assisted sell, so we need them next to the cash desk,” Gault explains.

Beyond this, there are toilets and basins, all displayed in situ on the floor and set against the perimeter wall so customers can inspect the merchandise. A run of baths, nine of them, follows and on the commodity side of things the display finishes with bathroom lighting. Close to the entrance again, there is a space for what is referred to as “furniture”, which turns out to be cabinets and cladding in which to put the elements you might have purchased.

All of which leads to the mid-shop, quite a large area, where there are multiple roomsets. From a technological perspective, the “wow” feature, as Tobin calls it, has to be the first roomset as you enter the store. As well as having an expensive bath, this has a built-in TV that can be viewed while you wallow, changing channels with a waterproof remote. It’s aspirational stuff and a world away from the ambience of the trade counter in neighbouring Screwfix.

The other roomsets show what is possible on a variety of budgets, but what is interesting from a design perspective

is the flexibility of the whole area. In the normal run of things it would be easy to tile the walls, lay the flooring and step back. This might look good, but when you want to change things it would be both inflexible and expensive to carry out. At Watersmith, touches such as wallpaper that looks like mosaic tiling are used, saving cost and making a change of décor rapid and simple.

Above the roomset is a series of white pendant lights intended to look like water droplets, a detail that wouldn’t look out of place in Heal’s. The other point about the central area is that you can see through it - sightlines matter and are so often overlooked. A tick is earned also for the level of detail in the roomset visual merchandising: you just wouldn’t expect it, but everything has been thought through.

The question about all of this is that, with its degree of flexibility and obvious visual appeal, how long will it be before we see more Watersmith branches springing up? Tobin says: “We need to give this six months. It is a trial, but we are very pleased with it.” Judging by the reaction of the shoppers who turned up on opening afternoon, this will not be a one-off.


Location Stoke-on-Trent - adjacent to Screwfix

Size 3,000 sq ft

Store design Resolution Interiors, Yeovil

Screwfix head office Yeovil

Standout feature Clarity of presentation