Please provide some background on Quiet Mark
Szkiler: Quiet Mark is the international approval award programme associated with the UK Noise Abatement Society charitable foundation. Conducting expert acoustic testing and verification of products, Quiet Mark has over the past nine years driven change in manufacturing worldwide to prioritise noise reduction within the design of everyday machines, appliances, technologies and house build materials, creating the first one-stop platform for third party approved noise reduction solutions for every living space to health and well-being.
Through specialist acoustic measurement and product assessment, Quiet Mark identifies the quietest products in over 60 product categories giving consumers and trade buyers a more informed choice about the sound levels of the products they buy. The Quiet Mark scheme drives designers and manufacturers to reduce sound levels of their products enabling households and workplaces to rebalance the soundscape reducing stressful unwanted noise.
What is the background behind the Noise Abatement Society?
Szkiler: The Noise Abatement Society (NAS) was founded in 1959 by my grandfather John Connell OBE, who believed that being exposed to excessive noise profoundly affected health, children's learning, productivity, and general quality of life – he called noise ‘the forgotten pollutant’.
John almost single-handedly lobbied the Noise Abatement Act through Parliament, when in 1960, noise became a statutory nuisance for the first time in the UK.
His practical problem-solving included introducing rubber dustbin lids and plastic milk crates to reduce urban disturbance, stopping night flights, and in the early 70s he commissioned detailed planning for a revolutionary Thames Estuary Airport directing flight paths out to sea.
Today the internationally respected NAS seeks to accelerate change to protect future generations from a worsening aural environment by disseminating new methods of sound management, running an awareness programme for schools, incentivising industry to design low-noise technology and providing the only national help line dedicated solely to the problems of noise.
NAS cannot change the human condition, but it can offer practical ways to support those who wish to exercise choice in an otherwise noisy world.
What is the essential business premise at Quiet Mark?
Szkiler: Quiet Mark provides solutions to unwanted noise. With the increase of lockdown and subsequent working from home arrangements for many people in 2020, that necessity which we have catered for has increased – whilst nobody wants a pandemic, it coincided with the need for solutions to problems that have always been there.
The damaging effect of excessive noise on health, productivity and social cohesion is seriously underestimated. World Health Organisation research shows that environmental noise pollution affects mental and physical health and is now second only to air pollution as the world’s largest killer pollutant. Across an estimated population of 340 million people, at least one million years of healthy living are lost each year due to noise pollution in Western Europe.
In our fast-paced lives, vibrancy is exciting and necessary. But this heightened state can only be valued if there is also the opportunity to choose the alternatives of calm, quiet and the chance to switch off. Quiet Mark was established to provide a credible, independent scheme that would help consumers easily identify quieter products for the home, at work and for public spaces.
How has Quiet Mark managed to buck the trend in the retail industry during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Szkiler: Quiet Mark has been waiting in the wings in terms of what we have all experienced in 2020 due to Covid-19. As many occupations and activities are moving under the home setting now – whether it’s home schooling, working from home or older people having to stay at home – all of these things means that noise is all under one roof. We are noticing this increased noise under one roof, which we have never noticed before. For example, that fridge making that annoying noise, and all the little sounds of our home have just become that little bit more irritating.
Quiet Mark has almost been readied unwittingly for this time, and what we have experienced is a tremendous increase of household brands that if they hadn’t engaged with us already, they are now engaging and getting more of their new seasoned products tested and certified with us.
Are you comfortable about threat of second lockdown to your business?
Szkiler: Humbly and thankfully, our business has grown steadily through the period, and we are a certification consumer champion company, like Which? And Good Housekeeping, where our priority is to make sure customers of every demographic and region have at their fingertips the information they need to make a purchasing decision.
In that sense it’s been a time to fulfil that vision, where people have needed it the most, which came as big surprise to us.
How have Quiet Mark products been received by retailers?
Szkiler: John Lewis Partnership is a longstanding retail partner of ours. They have seen a huge increase of 225 per cent in customer engagements searching for Quiet Mark in their navigation bar and then 100,000s of customers shopping at John Lewis Online, searching for Quiet Mark certified products with the checkbox we have on the left hand side of the navigation menu.
How many products are in your range?
Szkiler: We are up to 800 plus products that have now been certified this season across 70-80 product categories – almost doubling what we had before. That is since the lockdown period.
Please provide some examples of retail partners you work with
Szkiler: Quiet Mark has established a unique alliance of partnerships with leading retailers who are helping shoppers to find the quietest appliance technology available on the market including John Lewis & Partners, Argos, Very, Currys PC World, ASDA and Lakeland.
That’s an impressive portfolio – is your main customers the larger multiples or do you focus on independents as well?
Szkiler: The British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) also work with us to promote Quiet Mark certified products to their networks, and we believe we want to serve every British household. So, in terms of independents, we are very grateful to be able to have an ever-increasing presence to trade routes to help people.
Essentially we have a charitable remit with links to The Noise Abatement Society, so hence we’ve sought to have links with as many different routes to retail as possible.
What are your bestsellers?
Szkiler: Our most searched for appliances at John Lewis are quiet kettles. It must be the British loving a cup of tea in peace and quiet! Also, the holy grail – as any OEM and manufacturer will vouch for – the boil has to be done very fast, in under a minute. To do that with the heating element is a complex piece of engineering, so very few achieve it.
Image: Dualit Classic Kettle
And on the Quiet Mark website?
Szkiler: On our own website, kettles are our number one across 61 different product categories. However, our bestsellers often trend with the season – right now we are seeing trending in our bakeware categories – due to The Great British Bake-off being on television. And in the summer, fans and cooling equipment are well clicked, and then at the moment dehumidifiers are popular as laundry comes into the house. We really see it change through the seasons.
Quiet Mark covers a diverse range of areas, even focusing on the construction industry – was this a deliberate move to diversify?
Szkiler: Very much so – we started from year one where we wanted to get a broad example of the potential of Quiet Mark right from the start. And then we have coloured in the areas as we have matured.
It’s the most interesting business; you may get emails from a shower pump company asking to examine this area, and testing this new product. It’s an infinite journey to investigate finding solutions to noise – it’s quite exciting. An extraordinary one was an enquiry about a quiet Breast Pump, and will we test it!
The growth of mindfulness and metal health issues are becoming more and more important in society – has this benefited the business?
Szkiler: A few years ago we produced a feature film called In Pursuit of Silence.
In Pursuit of Silence was a meditative film about our relationship with silence and the impact of noise on our lives. In our race towards modernity, amidst all the technological innovation and the rapid growth of our cities, silence is now quickly passing into legend. This was at a time when we needed to put quietness on the map. Now we need furnishing houses with better quality products.
We are aware of the growth of awareness of mental health – mental health is far more part of the conversation, not least due to pressures of social media. Interesting we have noticed in lockdown that there has been an increase of awareness – a wave of silence has hit the planet. Suddenly people could hear bird song, people were eating with families, and not commuting – that’s why only 34 per cent of people that could return to a work office environment have done so. It’s a real connection to mental health awareness, and readdressing that balance. Quietness is a massive part of that.
We hear Quiet Mark recently launch its Acoustics Academy - what does this entail?
Szkiler: The Acoustics Academy is a free to use online platform, designed to further equip and empower architects and the building sector with a guide to expertly verifying leading acoustic solutions for every building application area.
At a time when the Government is encouraging industry to ‘build, build, build’, it is vital that the quality of build is paramount especially when it comes to aural design. Quiet Mark’s mission is to ensure that acoustic quality is never overlooked in the built environment.
And what about the future?
Szkiler: We are wanting to educate consumers like they have been educated about environmental issues like plastics. We want consumers to be educated on sound and acoustics and bring it into the mainstream.
In terms of the market, we’re seeing incredible growth in US. In that sense, expansion to other markets is now inevitable. We are a global trademark, so we see it as a global mission to make everyone’s houses quieter wherever you are.
Read the original article on pages 20-24 in the October 2020 issue of Housewares Magazine here.