20 September 2010

A bridge too far for KBB folk?

After 25-odd years of reporting on the UK's kitchen industry - and there has been some pretty odd years amongst them - it was good to be in on the ground floor of what looks like an event with legs.

The kbbreview kitchen industry conference got off to a great start - not perfect by any means but with a lot more that was right about it than was wrong - and next year's event will be even better I am sure.

But as I drove off into the sunset to take my rightful place in the car park that is the M25 orbital road at 6:00 pm on any weekday, I left asking myself a few questions.

The first debate in the afternoon at the kbbreview conference was: "Who Speaks For Us?" and this asked: "Why are there no significant bodies representing the needs of the kitchen industry as a whole?".

The answer is because the kitchen industry does not do anything as a whole.

Even the question itself acknowledges the diverse beast that is the UK kitchen industry when it says "no significant bodies" rather than "body".

Perhaps it is not possible to have one organisation at retail level that represents all strands of kitchen retailing. The gap between how a high-end, bespoke furniture manufacturer goes about its kitchen business and how B&Q flogs its kitchens is not just wide, it makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the pavement.

But at manufacturers' level, the gap between the top and the bottom of the market is much smaller and in some areas almost disappears completely.

Thirty years ago, a group of kitchen showroom owners, concerned about the inroads direct sellers were making into "their" business area, got together and formed what is now The Kitchen Bedroom and Bathroom Specialists Association (KBSA). Its role then and now was to look after its members' interests.

Only in relatively recent times has the KBSA added a consumer focus and that is mainly there to promote its members. Quite right too, they foot the bills.

The question now is do suppliers to the kitchen industry need an association or trade body? If they do, then they will have to make a break from any one sector of kitchen retailing. Short term, this would give the KBSA a cashflow problem as several manufacturers join it as corporate members.

But the KBSA is a retailers' association and its single-minded focus should not prevent suppliers to the kitchen sector as a whole from forming a worthwhile association of its own.

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