Road to recovery

07 May, 14

Mike Hughes Fitted Interiors says focusing on kitchens and its ‘no quibbles’ service policy, helped the business survive

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business (and in the case of Mike Hughes Fitted Interiors that’s 27 years), the tough economic climate has been indiscriminate. And while some retailers sought to diversify their offer to make up for lost sales, Mike Hughes Fitted Interiors, run by husband and wife team Mike and Ann Hughes, chose to specialise, backing out of bathrooms to concentrate on kitchens. Mike explains why the company pulled out of the bathroom business: “They were very time consuming and we lost the fitters for weeks on end. In fairness, as the recession took hold, the [bathroom] supply chain kept disappearing. We’ve always done kitchen and bedrooms. We got back to doing what we do well and giving us more time to do it as well.”

Meeting tighter budgets

But it wasn’t the only change Mike and Ann felt they had to make to their business. With price becoming the over-riding concern for consumers, the company had to attract and cater for customers with smaller budgets. Ann adds: “It didn’t matter if you had the knowledge – it was all about price at that stage.” Based in Barrow-in-Furness, the business had been seen as expensive in the local area, and Mike points out: “A big part of our change was to try and alter the perception we are expensive. If you move us into any other town, we are middle of the road probably or even just lower middle.” So the couple decided to supplement their appliance portfolio, which majors on Siemens, with the cheaper Teka brand. And cost-effectiveness was also a part of the reason it chose to refit its showroom with the Milano range by Symphony. “It’s about 15% cheaper, as an average”, explains Mike. However, he also says design was also a key part of the decision as the range provides provides curves and painted kitchens, in on-trend colours for traditional and modern homes. And he exclaims the furniture has now helped to achieve a better spread of business, “Milano allows us to do the bread and butter [sales] as well as dressed up versions, whereas, we were struggling to get down to the basic, galley kitchen beforehand.” Now Mike says: “We can comfortably get back into doing the £8,000 – £10,000 kitchen. And the flurry of £18,000-£25,000 kitchens work has come back quite well.” 

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Award-winning service

And the kitchen sales are buoyed by its focus on customer service. Ann points out: “It’s the attention to detail on the jobs and the willingness to go back is how we get out money in.” While Mike points out the ‘no quibble’ policy is supported by the company’s understated process of over delivering: “We made a point of chatting with our fitting teams and said ‘we need to over deliver and not make a song or dance about it, but make sure if there’s any little bits we need to do to make it right, we do it, without adding cost to the customer.” And the company is also willing to sell replacement items, alongside complete kitchen projects, as Mike says: We’re quite happy to do replacement appliances, worktops and sinks and that side of it – because that brings other smaller jobs and might bring something else. One of our biggest customers came from replacing a sink and worktop.” In fact, such is the level of the company’s customer service Mike Hughes Fitted Interiors won the Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association (KBSA) Customer Service Award, last year. This in itself has helped generate business, as Mike explains recently a nervous couple, fearful about the whole job, felt assured enough to place a £20,000 order when he explained about his experience and customer service award. 

Training and qualification

But the most refreshing component of this kitchen retail business, is that both owners understand the need for continued professional development. And despite his 28 years’ experience, from an installation background to complete project management, Mike believes designers should be educated to a point where they are qualified.

In fact, he is is a fervent supporter of industry qualifications. Only last year he became one of the first kitchen designers to be presented the Society of British and International Design Certificate in Profesional Design. But who needs training? “We all need it!” he exclaims. “The industry needs it…[The old guard] are the ones who should be on board to show the younger upstarts they do need to be trained and moved away from the shed mentality. We need to get across there is a reason why we’re better doing what we do because we’re trained and spent years training.”

The full article appeared in the March 2014 issue of Kitchens & Bathrooms News