Philippa Turrell visits Kitchen supplier Lime Black, who has re-located its head office to London and opened a showroom in Bow.
It’s not only the choice of name, or the fact it’s a distributor for the relatively unknown Beeck kitchen furniture brand, which makes Lime Black a stand out business. Despite having joined with its stone supplier, Roman Stone, to open a showroom in Bow, it’s not seeking retail customers. The business is firmly focused on the high-end residential market, with a current project of a £70,000 kitchen, in a one-off subterranean house in London. Managing director of Lime Black, Dan Campion says “That’s what we want to be concentrating on, not someone’s extension in St Albans.”
So why open a showroom at all? Dan Campion explains: “To be perfectly honest, with you, Bosch drove us down that route because on the contract side, they won’t sell you all from their appliance ranges. You have to become a product partner and to do that you have to display three full sets of their appliances. If, we didn’t do that, we’d have to go to one of their product partners and pay their mark-up. But the other reason, why we did go down this road, it is always good (especially with an unknown furniture brand) to touch and see it.”
Owner of construction company ChampionBuild, Dan Campion, acquired his kitchen supplier following the bereavement of its proprietor. He rebranded the kitchen business as Lime Black, after a place in his native Ireland – Black Lime. The kitchen business still supplies ChampionBuild, which has clients including Thornsett Developers, “we maybe sell 300-400 units a year to them”, as well as constructors such as Magee Construction. Dan continues: “They build houses selling for between £ 5-15million and have realised you don’t have to have the Poggenpohl’s or the Bulthaup’s [of this world] to get a good product. We use the German manufacturer brand Beeck and are probably the biggest distributor [of the brand] in the UK. It has 2,500 ranges of kitchens, at different price groups.”
Lime Black also serves contractors and developers outside of its sister ChampionBuild business, catering for all aspects of a residential development from luxury penthouses, through to social housing. Dan says: “What [developers] normally do is go to Nicholas Anthony for high-end kitchens and then go to Howdens to try and buy some flat pack for social housing. All our kitchens don’t come flat-packed, they are all rigid, even the cheaper grade.”
And recently, Lime Black has expanded its offer to now include bathrooms to offer its contract clients a one-stop shop. As he explains: “It saves them working with three sub-contractors, three accounts from a quantity surveyors’ points of view, on a monthly basis. It’s just about going in with a full arsenal of bullets.” Dan has sourced an Italian brand of bathrooms. “They are based in a lovely part of the world in Northern Italy, just outside of Venice, and it’s the home of the Prosecco, so you can’t go too wrong!” He continues: “They have a very good product, a reasonable margin and are trying to fall into the unknown brands tucking under the big brands. They wanted to get into the residential development side, through someone like me.”
The business currently operates with 70% of its sales in the commercial and large residential market, so hasn’t it been rather hard hit by the recent economy? “There was a slight drop in sales on the commercial side but on the residential side it took up. Alghough people stopped moving houses, they were doing them up”, says Dan. He continues: “ But even on the commercial side, there were still some fairly aggressive developers. Instead of putting in Poggenpohl and Siematic, they’d go for another German manufacturer so they could still put on their marketing ‘a German kitchen’. So, we fitted in there.” He admits: “London is in a bubble and if we’re in London we must be in it. My uncle once said to me ‘in good times and bad there will always be work in London’.” And his uncle seems to have been right, as Lime Black (despite having sales interwined through Champion Build) is “£1-£1.5million just in kitchens.” But Dan points out: “It’s not about turnover. It’s all about what’s leftover. I’d like to be in the position that we were £4-5million in kitchens.”
And he proposes to expand the Lime Black business by considering how he can tap into the retail side of the business, although not through owning more stores. “I don’t really want to open any more stores, although I might have to, if I have customers outside of London. It’s a big overhead.” He adds: “I would like to be able to sell into other retailers. We could set up franchises. It’s a good way of finding people and opening up and it gives them the opportunity to make some money or lose some money”, he laughs. Although he suggests that the franchise model may still be too early for the business. Dan concludes: ” All we need to do now is get our name out there and get known.”