31 December 2008

A New Year Revolution

I'm not sure how many of you returned to work this week but I suspect that in more than one office or showroom there is someone with their head in their hands thinking: "What the heck are we going to do in 2009?"

Well, most of you are going to survive, and some of you are even going to prosper.

This is not the time to sit there feeling sorry for yourself, or for dreaming about how good business was when credit was both cheap and plentiful.

It's a time to make sure you have got your act together because tough trading conditions will show up any weakness in your business plan.

Retailers: I've heard your concerns about the Internet and I'm certain the high profile failures of businesses such as MFI and the closure of the Trade Depot outlets must have dented your confidence somewhat too.

But on one hand, you can compete with the best of the offers on the Internet and on the other; you are probably in a totally different business sector to MFI or Trade Depot.

I've just checked out the trading terms of one very good Internet trader dealing with all of the top brands. Its prices are keen and well promoted.

  • But it charges extra for delivery.
  • It only offers an 'am' or 'pm' delivery slot.
  • It only sends out one person to deliver as standard and charges more for a two-person delivery.
  • It only delivers to the doorstep on the ground floor.
  • It will only take away old appliances if they are disconnected and out of the kitchen cabinets.

Quite frankly Mr Independent, if someone is happy with that level of service, they were never going to shop with you, any more than one of MFI's or Trade Depot's customers were.

One of your most important jobs in 2009 is to promote the service you provide as well as the products you sell.

A second task is to review your suppliers because believe me, your suppliers are reviewing who they will support next year. They will be looking for commitment with a capital 'C'.

And that's what you should demand from your suppliers, providing you are prepared to offer them commitment too. (And that does not mean agreeing to display sufficient products to get good terms and then flogging a cheaper brand the moment a price objection rears its ugly head.)

Suppliers: It has been suggested that the Bernstein Group's slide into administration was hastened by the closure of Trade Depot.

Personally, I think there was more to that Group's problems than Trade Depot going, but it couldn't have helped it.

I also think that success in 2009 for you will come from the independent sector, rather than from the big boys and girls whose fate often depends on the wishes of faceless shareholders or bankers.

I've been writing about kitchen and bathrooms for almost 25 years and in that time the independents have both delighted me and appalled me.

When I see what an independent kitchen or bathroom expert can do to an average room with standard products, I am full of admiration of their skill.

When I see the level of service the best of the offer as standard, I wonder why anyone ever considers going elsewhere for their kitchen or bathroom.

And when I see the inability of some of them to put together a realistic business plan, or their lack of loyalty from the suppliers they demand exclusive trading areas from, I am horrified.

Many of you have had your fingers burned in the past by independents, and you cannot be blamed for turning your attention to alternative outlets, but the best of the independents are worth supporting.

Most are proprietor-owned businesses that will fight tooth-and-claw to keep their company going. They do not have to answer to shareholders, and the owners will reduce their own income if that's what it takes to stay in business.

2009 will certainly sort out the weak from the strong, and perhaps that's not a bad thing. But if manufacturers and retailers work together, the best of both will be around in 2010 and beyond.

A happy, peaceful, prosperous and healthy new year to you all!

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