Owner of Coalville Kitchens and Bathrooms (CKB) Luke Wedgbury talks to Kelly Newstead about his Leicestershire based showroom.
Having worked as a kitchen installer for 10 years Luke Wedgbury decided to branch out and open a kitchen and bathroom showroom in Coalville Leicestershire. Seven years on, the company has had two locations, 20 displays and now offers a range of tiles and flooring. Admitting owning your own business “is a completely different animal” he is happy to say the company will turnover £1million this year; a stark contrast from its first year turnover of £20,000. Putting his success down to a great location, adaptability, the company’s personal relationships with clients and its mid-market position he admits: “We trod water for quite a while, it was a big decision to [start our own business] but it was well worth the risk.”
Luke opened his original showroom, just down the road from his current premises. He explains he was sub-contracting as an installer but wanted to open his own business. At a time when the UK was experiencing the poorest economic climate the country had seen for years due to the recession, people had doubts about whether the business would work. Luke states: “everyone said you’re mad why now? This is the worst time, everyone said don’t do it.” Confident in his ability he says: “I’m not very good at following advice. I knew if we could do it now things can only get better from this point.” Initially they struggled for around 18 months trying to build up a reputation and encourage the local community to trust them and recognise them as a reputable business. Now they are going from strength to strength as three years after opening they had earned enough revenue to upgrade to a larger showroom and there are now plans to open a second location later in the year.
With its high-street location Luke certainly thinks he is in the best position for trade: “So many independent showrooms are popping up on industrial estates and I understand you get the space but high street location is priceless, we get so much passing trade.”
Of the opinion location is half the battle when it comes to opening a showroom Luke feels high-street is best. The shop window allows passing customers to see what they have on display and from his point of view it has a welcoming approach: “It’s a nice open space which gives it a more relaxed feel and doesn’t pressurise the customers. If people want to talk to us they can. In the kitchen industry so many people are driven by high pressured sales which doesn’t allow people the chance to have a look at the kitchens. The showroom is purposely designed so it’s nice, free and easy.”
However he was initially against buying their current showroom. He believed the 4000sqft premises was too large but after it went to auction Luke’s wife, Kate who is joint director of the business, decided it was time to buy: “My wife was absolutely adamant. She said ‘I don’t care if you don’t want to buy it I want to buy it’, so we did.”
From looking at the bright open feel of the premises it’s hard to believe it was anything but a showroom. However it was originally a funeral parlour. Although Luke says it was nice to start from scratch and have a completely blank canvas to work from, there are certain areas to this day which still haven’t been updated: “when we first got the keys Kate and I were exploring and we found a cellar. There was a door so we walked down but there were no lights on. We shone a torch and it just looked horrific. We shut the door and have not been back since…which was four years ago.”
The fact it is just 200 yards from their first showroom was also a big plus for them as existing customers could visibly see where they had moved to. The showroom now has 20 kitchen and bathroom displays, offer bedrooms and has even been able to expand into selling tiles: “All the kitchens are on the white floor area, the brown floor area is bathroom displays. Customers can choose different doors, different panelling and we now have a complete section for tiles and flooring.”
Developing the business
As the business had developed and grown, so too has the number of employees. It has seven members of staff with Kate working full-time on accounts and ordering goods. They also have an in-house installer team, believing it is one of the factors which separates them from other kitchen showrooms. It allows the team to have more involvement with their customers and Luke insists: “it’s the biggest thing we lean on the fact the installation teams are in-house not sub-contracted.” This way he says they can ensure their clients meet the installers before any work starts, which builds up trust and good working relationships. He continues: “There is a temptation to switch off once you have the sale and the deposit, but we refuse to do it. It’s a journey and they are not forgotten about until we are finished.”
CKB has also expanded into the world of tiles and flooring. Keen to stand out from other showrooms Luke said he saw a gap in the market in terms of people offering them as an add-on to a kitchen or bathroom sale. He explains: “Our tile range has expanded massively. We use two or three distributors. It’s a great upsell as there are lots of independent retailers who will tell them to go to a tile company whereas we saw an opportunity to create revenue.” Luke explains they slowly introduced it at first as they were unsure whether people would buy into it or not but thankfully it proved a great success. They now stock a wide selection of tiles and flooring and are going to be selling Ted Baker tiles as well later this year. Luke says: “People came in and didn’t realise we did everything. We have people now coming in exclusively for tiles.”
Now owning his own empire does he actually miss being on the tools? He reveals: “Yes and no it’s nice to have installers working for us and for me to be overseeing what they are doing but I do miss the hands on element, slightly. I think the fact I’ve had [an installer] background gives me a really good idea for what’s acceptable to customers.” So do you think to be a good kitchen designer you have to have an installer background? “I don’t think it’s a necessity but I think it’s a huge plus, from an installer’s point of view I’ve physically seen what works and what doesn’t work which really helps.”
But his empire building hasn’t stopped at one showroom with plans to open a second location later this year; Luke says he is confident in the market at the moment but would still like to see more stability: “I think the marketplace is good at the minute, it has been in a better place but equally it’s been far worse. I don’t think it’s very stable I see lots of people worried. ” And while Brexit doesn’t seem to have affected CKB directly he explains there has been a significant bearing on prices: “Brexit has had a big impact we’ve seen it affect price increases across the board manufacturers, bar none, have shown price increases and then you have to diversify, you have to look at different products.” He suggests too many people have a tendency to get blinkered and be too rigid with their business plan. From his point of view one of the most important things you can do is allow your business to diversify and not be too deterred by the rocky road ahead.
So do you have any tips for people considering opening their own showroom? “Yes…don’t do it! Stay as you are because otherwise the grey hairs will come through thicker and faster than you ever wanted them to. If you want to stay young just stay as you are you’re fine,” he teases.
- Established: 2010
- Location: Coalville, Leicestershire
- Size: 4000sq
- Employees: Seven
- Average sale: Kitchen £14,000, Bathroom £8,000
- Suppliers: JJO, PJH and Barwick