Crosswater London's founder, David Hance, is one of the most influential—and interesting—CEOs in the plumbing industry. In 1998, Hance began to build his 100 million dollar company using his cellphone and the "boot" of his car (British English for “trunk”). To this day, Crosswater’s most valuable differentiator for success is Hance’s promise of same-day or next-day delivery within the United Kingdom.
We caught up with Hance during his most recent trip to Shanghai, China, and he shared with us a few moments from his humble beginnings, as well as his product plans for the near future. Apparently, Hance didn’t always dream in shades of stainless steel and chrome.
From Young Rascal to Entrepreneur
Hance wasn’t the most academic youth, but he always had a talent for athletics. Hence said he would skip school to play golf or snooker instead of attending class. He had a lot of excess energy which transpired into some mischievous activities until he was able to focus on challenges that met his level of interest.
“I had an influential church youth group leader that was a police officer. He was the guiding force in my teens,” Hance said. “He suggested that I join the London Metropolitan Police, so I did.”
For every 200 applicants, the force would select one person. Hance was chosen and quickly excelled, becoming the top student in his class. “It was a great introduction to some stability in my life,” Hance said. “But I was too young at the time—age19 and into my early 20s— and I was a fully-fledged police officer on the beat. I was walking the beat on a Friday night while my friends were having fun at the pub.”
When Hance’s father offered him a sales job at his plumbing company, a 20-something year old Hance accepted the role and left the police force.
“The police force was a great university of life. Actually, probably the best education of life,” Hance said. “It gave me a great understanding of people and how to deal with many different situations, but I decided it wasn’t for me. Yes, every day was different, but I decided I was too young and I wanted to grasp the opportunity my father was giving me.”
Fast Forward to The Plumbing Industry
Hance worked for his father for four years and during that time he absorbed an overall knowledge of the plumbing industry, taking a particular interest in showers and faucets.
But as it goes with some family businesses, Hance became frustrated working with his father and left to for an employed representative role at faucet company.
“My knowledge of the plumbing industry grew massively over those years. In 1998, I saw a niche in the UK market not only on product design but essentially on service and readiness of product,” Hance said. “I went to my mother, cap in hand, really. You know, it’s a good old English expression. I had come up with this idea and I researched buying a company. I bought my company from Company’s House, which is the official structure in the UK to form a company. I bought the name Crosswater off the shelf for 50 pounds.”
Hance borrowed $15,000 pounds from his mum and was also able to secure a $15,000 pound loan from the bank, because his best mate, who Hance says is still his best mate, was a senior bank manager. Hance had to guarantee the loan against his home.
“I didn’t have a brochure and I didn’t have a price list. I just bought what I called ‘chic designer, single lever faucets’ from Italy, which had never been seen in the UK before and provided same-day or next-day delivery,” Hance said. “I had already built up a really good network of bathroom retailers, like Edelman, and they let me display my products in their showrooms. I would go around to retailers and showrooms with my trunk filled with product, in London we call it a boot, and I would say, ‘look, I’ve started Crosswater, what do you think of this?’ Some of them would like at me and say, ‘Dave, you’re mad, but because it’s you we’ll support you and give you an opportunity.”
Crosswater’s beginnings were very much a “hand-to-mouth” operation, Hance said. “Looking after the pennies so the pounds will take care of themselves.”
Expanding Across the Pond
Nineteen years later and the same ethos of exceptional customer service takes precedent over everything that Crosswater provides.
“Yesterday, our sales in the UK were 320,000 pounds or $400,000 USD. In one day. And 95% of that $400,000 USD will be delivered today. That’s how we operate,” Hance said. “We have 9 million pounds worth of stock in the UK. This year, Bathrooms Brands Group, will do just about 100 million pounds in sales.”
The business has grown 100 times in 20 years.
“In my first month of Crosswater, November 1998, I did 37,000 pounds. In my first trading year, I did 907,000 pounds,” Hance said. “This year, we will do about 100 million pounds.”
Crosswater grew from only offering faucets to also including showers, bathroom vanities, bathroom mirrored cabinets, heated towel bars, vitreous china, bath tubs and more. The company offers only a tenth in North American of what is available in the United Kingdom. The greatest restriction on this growth in the United State and Canada is the investment needed to obtain code approval.
Crosswater has an exclusive relationship in the U.S. with the Forte Buying Group. Hance said the main attraction for partnering with Forte was that the members grasped the opportunity to have an exclusive, well designed, exceptional customer service concept in the US and Canada that was not available online or through many other channels.
“Growth has been quite rapid over the first year with our relationship with Forte and it comes down our relationships with companies like Edelman investing in our displays,” Hance said. “Once the product is on display, once the staff are trained and once owners like Sheldon get behind us, Crosswater is a great asset to Forte because the product isn’t available elsewhere.”
Although there is considerable differences in the geography of the United Kingdown versus the United States and Canada—the UK probably fits into Florida and Georgia—Crosswater guarantees next-day delivery along the east coast and 7-day delivery to the west coast. “A tub like the beautiful Balthazar freestanding, an Old-English tub, is guaranteed to be delivered in no worse than 7 days,” said Hance.
Passion Meets Success
“Happy staff and happy customers. That’s what drives my passion,” Hance said. “My biggest ambition is to keep the happy ship afloat on both sides of the pond. Respect is how I do that. Respect to the cleaner that comes into the office at 4am so the office is presentable. A ‘good morning’ costs nothing, doesn't it? No matter who it is—whether it’s the Queen or the cleaner—the respect in my business is level. There’s nothing I expect my staff to do that I wouldn’t do myself. I believe that’s why my business is the way it is today.”
Over 20 key staff members have worked with Crosswater for 10 years. Four more will hit this milestone in 2017 and 56 will reach it in 2018.
When Crosswater staff hit 10 years of service, they are gifted a Rolex watch with the Crosswater logo engraved on the back. By chance, the logo, an “X,” is roman numerals for 10.
“It [the 10-year gift] promotes loyalty, professionalism and that ‘can-do’ attitude,” Hance said. “Next year, there will be over 80 employees that have done over ten years with us and I know everybody individually by name.”
What’s In Store
Crosswater’s forthcoming line is what Hance calls, “Project Grey.” It will first be available in the UK and then later in North America
Project Grey toilets will be designed slightly higher than standard, so when a person sits they don’t have to go down as far as you would on a normal basin, and showers will include grab bars. There will also be a basin that can be flexible in height, in that the basin itself will be on a frame that can slide on the wall for some someone in a wheelchair.
“It’s an area in the UK that is untapped, pardon the pun,” said Hance. “We are launching 2018 in the UK and have future plans for North America.”
Another large force that will take the plumbing industry by storm next is digital control of water, such as preset temperatures, controlled flows and the like. Crosswater is already ahead of the masses on this, said Hance, and more innovation is to come for both UK and North America markets.
Crosswater USA products are on display and available to purchase through Edelman. To learn more about Crosswater, or to visit a showroom, give us a call and speak with one of our expert sales associates.