Toilet market clogged with competition

  • 1998-09-03
  • By Parker Ruis
VILNIUS - It has become a tradition for many visitors from Western Europe and America to give the status of Lithuanian toilets a less-than-impressive review.

But the Lithuanian toilet scene has been undergoing a major transition since the re-establishment of Lithuania's independence in 1990. In fact, the demand for new, better, low-maintenance toilets and sinks has spawned a highly competitive market for the companies which sell these products.

With Lithuania having no ceramic sanitary ware industry of its own, the population is forced to rely on other countries' exports. During the time of Soviet occupation, the majority of toilets were imported from Ukraine and Belarus. In current times, however, these products are arriving from over a dozen European countries.

Gustavsberg, a Scandinavian company which can claim to have supplied the Princess of Denmark with their version of the throne, has been exporting ceramic sanitary wares and faucets to Lithuania for five years.

Voitechas Gabrilevskis, Gustavsberg's Lithuanian representative, stated that the company is doing well in Lithuania despite an increasing amount of competitors, claiming 14 percent of the market.

"The market is already quite full," said Gabrilevskis. "New companies who wish to enter it must be large and strong and willing to invest plenty of money on introducing themselves."
The representative of another Scandinavian company called Oras, a Gustavsberg competitor, echoed Gabrilevkis' opinion and stated it was possible that some weaker companies may be flushed out of the market in the future.

"It's difficult to say whether some companies are to disappear or not. Some probably will. It depends on how they work. I don't expect ours to," said the representative with a laugh.

According to statistics, the sale of all imported ceramic sanitary products in Lithuania came to a total of 15 million litas ($ 3.75 million) in 1997, which is almost a 35 percent increase on the total sales recorded in 1994.

Gabrilevskis attributes the increase in sanitary ceramic wares sales to both Lithuania's changing economy and a different view of toilets by Lithuanians.

"While some people can only afford cheaper toilets, people and businesses with more money are becoming more interested in buying toilets and other products based upon the style, quality and life span. They want a toilet they do not have to spend time fixing."

The increase of competition in this field over the past few years has naturally left consumers with a wide selection of styles and prices from which to choose.

According to Gabrilevskis, the market is now often divided into three categories according to quality and price. He puts the products of Scandinavian and German companies at the top, Czech imports, which claim 40 percent of the market, in the middle and Belarussian and Ukrainian wares bringing up the rear.

"German imports are probably the most expensive, with toilets costing around 800 litas and up. Scandinavian companies produce toilets with the same quality of mechanical equipment for a slightly lower cost," said Gabrilevskis. "The Ukrainian and Belarussian imports have a completely different design, mechanical equipment and a relatively shorter life span. On the other hand, consumers can buy them at around 150 litas."

The three Baltic states, which are occasionally and unfairly considered as one country by outsiders, often strive to promote their individuality. To find a major difference, one needs only to look at their toilet markets.

"Probably due to their geographical location, the Scandinavian style dominates in Estonia," said Gabrilevskis. "Lithuania, located more south, tends to see a bigger variety of sanitary ceramic styles. Scandinavian, German, Italian and Spanish styles all have a piece of the market here."