27 July 2009

Wanted, a voice in the wilderness

I've just finished looking at results from a clutch of UK kitchen brands and I have to say that they make pretty grim reading for the independent sector.

B&Q are up, as consumers opt to DIY their next kitchen. Howden's are down, but not as much as the market is, as more consumers opt to get a local builder in and let them supply their next kitchen.

And Magnet (together with Gower and Magnet Trade) is down on the same quarter last year. Jo Public seems to be deserting the high street showrooms.

The lion's share of the UK's high street showrooms are run by independent kitchen retailers, so any decline in high street sales is bound to impact on the independent sector.

The out-of-town shopping mall is taking trade away from the high street, and the Uniform Business Rate has taken its toll too. But if high street showrooms are not even getting the opportunity to be in the frame for consideration as a kitchen supplier, what future does this important part of the market have?

Why aren't the kitchen buyers of today looking at what the independent kitchen retailer has to offer?

Do they think an independent showroom will automatically be more expensive than a superstore?

Do they not realise that many kitchen showrooms can not only offer a greater variety of kitchens than a general builder, but also project manage the complete installation of the kitchen itself and any associated building work?

I suspect that many consumers are still in the dark about the benefits and expertise most independent kitchen showrooms have to offer when it comes to the design, supply and installation of a fully fitted kitchen.

Is there anyone out there who will speak up for the independent kitchen retailer?

What do you think? Why not use the response mechanism of this blog to put your point-of-view across to your fellow readers.?


  1. I have two things to say: 1. Our local Howdens will sell to anyone with money, you don't need to be a builder. 2. We have a high street showroom and whilst January and February were quiet, which is true in most years, we are now busy and booking work ahead.

  2. Voice in the Wilderness! Ha Ha the economic Wilderness! - Whilst we have all seen a significant decline in sales the independent kitcehn retailers hould be far more flexible and reactive to the current economic situation. Mu company is often asked to quote against some of these "super stores" and in many cases we are matching on price but produce a quality of kitchen on a different planet. The look of surprise on our customers faces is amazing. You are quite right when you say that customers automatically revert to their comfort zone but to be fair that is also our fault for making the Bespoke Kitchen a totally aspirational product
    devoid of any fixed price label. Any indepedent who is locked into a distribution agreement with any of the door or carcass suppliers cannot compete with the super stores because in essence they are offering the same thing but suffer from buying power. As a bespoke kitchen company we have the control on our production costs and can therefore use creaative margin to protect our profit base. Absolutely our profits have been eroded but we are still here and no one has been laid off. Unless you understand the business basics of cashflow and the true costs you have then you are digging the biggest hole. Having a good business background will ensure that independent or not you will have the foresght to see where and how you can be creative, not only with your competative position but also in your marketing and PR to ensure that customers know what added benefits you have against these super stores. It was all too easy just to set up a kitchen show room and start selling. Now its time to really look at the market and understand where to attack from. Its hard but very possible. Batten down the hatches and ride the storm. And remember 50% off sales are a complete nonsense. 50% off what?

  3. Dear Ed,

    Is this the voice in the wilderness you were looking for?

    The KBSA has been speaking on behalf of many independent specialist retailers now for over 30 years, and continues to do so today!
    Your interpretation of recent results from some of the multiples may not be totally correct, as many of our members are reporting continuing sales – some indeed better than 12 months ago. Many have taken actions within their businesses to ensure survival, but surely that is what business is all about – reacting to the ever-changing retail market? Independent retailers are a resilient & flexible bunch – having been written off time and time again as having no future against the power of the multiple…but time,has shown us all that they offer a service that in fact is now more in tune with today’s consumer than maybe ever before. Tomorrow’s market will be driven by the ‘grey’ market – as the ‘greys’ now outnumber the under 18’s (for the 1st time), and they also own 80% of the property in the UK, and have 80% of the wealth.
    What they are asking for now, more than anything else, is protection for their money, and this is where the KBSA can help.
    Protection runs for 100% of the project costs and is a key selling point in today’s market, giving consumers confidence to buy.
    Perhaps the most important driver of the ‘grey’ market is customer service – in its broadest sense – as the greys have been brought up during the heyday of independent retailing – and now DEMAND the very best in service – which, I would suggest, is most likely to be found from an independent retailer.
    Project management, from cradle to grave (of the project), excellence in design, specification and, of course, the all-important installation – and then, the equally important after-sales support when remedials are required – which can often be the case.
    There is no better place to get all this, at often excellent value-for-money, than the independent retailer.
    They have been written off many times before, but in view of today’s new demographics, I firmly believe that today’s and tomorrow’s market offers the independent retailer a profitable opportunity for the next generation – if not longer!
    Long live the independent!!
    Graham Ball
    Chief Executvie Officer
    KBSA (The UK's ONLY trade association specifically formed for independent specialist kbb retailers.

  4. While it is good to learn from Mr Ball and the others who have responded to my original post so far that business is good for some independent retailers, those company results I spoke of do suggest a general trend away from the high street showroom in favour of the superstore and general builder.
    While I agree will most of Graham Ball's comments, the KBSA only speaks for just over 10% of the independent KBB market.
    The arguments he makes in favour of the association's membership also applies to a much larger proportion of independent retailers and it the independent's voice as a whole that Jo Public needs to hear if the trend away from the high street is to be addressed.

    Grahame Morrison