There is a future in high street retailing

30 Mar, 15

RDO Kitchens and Appliances in Reigate has added a Stoneham studio to its premises

After four years of planning, RDO Appliances took the bold move to rebrand, gut its entire showroom and expand its electrical retail business with the addition of a kitchen showroom. The renovation, which saw just three of the original showroom walls remain, took five months to complete. And during that time, the high street business had to relocate to its head office and warehouse over four miles away on an industrial estate. Following a grand reveal to the local community, the newly titled RDO Kitchens & Appliances has presented its redesigned high street studio.

Managing director Roger Sargant explains why he thinks it was the right time to invest in the business: “We’ve been through the worst part of the recession. The dark years were a challenge but actually we never stopped growing though those years. Last year, we were about 14% up and it was the most profitable year we have ever had. So actually it was the time to springboard the company to the next stage, which was to develop what was a very tired and sad-looking showroom and take ourselves to a new level.” And he introduces the vision behind the re- designed store and business: “I hope in part what we’ve done here also is make people look at themselves and say there is a future in high street retailing if you get it right and it’s about involvement, it’s about passion, it’s about connecting with people in the right way. It’s a destination and an experience.”


Style and substance

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The two-tier store has been designed by founder of the company and trained architect Ken Sargant and has drawn inspiration from the wooden ceiling fins in Timberland store in London to as far afield as Spain. It even has design cues from Roger Sargant’s own home, using the same oak flooring and exposed brickwork. “. When people come here I want them to feel they are at home and are comfortable”, explains Roger. Senior kitchen designer April Sargant adds: “Equally I think it’s a highly professional environment and there’s lots of ideas and beautiful products in here and I think people can go away having achieved something in the experience.”

Although incredibly stylish, the showroom is based on sound business principles from the choice of appliances, though to mix of product on offer. Roger explains: “I spent a long time going through our product sales over the last three years, what are we selling now, what are the product trends and what should we be looking at for the future?  It was a long process of initially getting rid of the brands that were of no value to us commercially and there are plenty of them because of the internet.”

Roger slams the ‘faceless’ internet appliance suppliers and manufacturers who support them: “ If you want speed and convenience you need to pay a premium. You shouldn’t be able to go online, to someone who doesn’t even have a showroom, and pay £80-£90 cheaper. It’s morally and fundamentally wrong. If [manufacturers] honestly believe there is no problem, then they have a problem because without businesses and companies and showrooms like ourselves, they have no future because there will be nowhere for them to display products.”

However, he adds that manufacturers are waking up to the issue of the internet, and have supported him in the development of his showroom and business.  He adds: “We’ve had terrific support from all of our key trading partners. Their involvement and assistance and design input has been very much appreciated. I’m now thinking much more positively about how much manufacturers care about us as a business, whereas the last three or four years I was questioning that. But they do need to do a lot more. There’s a long way to go.”

Internet evolves business

The internet, however, has been a force behind the evolution of the business, which has seen it diversify from its core offering of appliances to embrace fitted kitchen sales. It is a trend being embraced by high street electrical stores, as Roger explains: “The way forward in retailing is to adapt to the new retailing environment and we know that the internet is here to stay, so it’s a question of how we can adapt as a business to cope with those changes – now and in the future. Appliance sales are the core of our business but it’s not enough. We had to look at other things associated to the core of the business. A lot of customers come in and still haven’t made their mind up about kitchens and where to buy one and that was our opportunity.”

Roger researched the market, searching for bespoke,  British-made kitchens positioned at a medium to high price point and opted for Stoneham. He explains: “We needed a brand where we weren’t going to be selling 30-40 kitchens a week based on a low price model, because we wouldn’t cope with that” and he opted for chose because it mirrored his own company, a hands-on, family-run business with a focus on service.


Creating kitchen studio

And Stoneham helped create the kitchen studio, working alongside senior kitchen designer April Sargant. Taking some inspiration from Stoneham’s stand at Grand Designs, it sees the introduction of curved wooden block breakfast table alongside a breakfast bar, “it’s nice to show more breakfast table capability than a breakfast bar. From a client’s point of view, if it’s an older client, they don’t want to sit up at a bar stool. It’s a nice comfortable area for them to sit and for us to go through plans as well”, explains April.

But the showroom also plays great attention to detail, from sunburst veneer table with circular bulkhead through to glass legs on the breakfast table and inlaid veneer around tall units or handles. “amount of time. It’s details but they do matter and they are very personal. We can integrate them into people’s kitchens, which is something you don’t get with a standard collection.”

Having started out in kitchen design four years ago, working with German kitchen furniture manufacturers Leicht and Siematic, April admits working with bespoke Stoneham “ really is a huge step up because we can do so much more with it, it’s so versatile. I can literally think up something, phone up Stoneham and ask ‘Can you do it?’ They’ll say ‘Yes’ or ‘we’re not sure we’ll find out for you’. I can design curved kitchens, with cones and bowls- it was something completely new to me. But it’s been quite an organic process. It has just allowed me to do more than I thought I could do with a product. I’ve still been able to do the Germanic style – where I started – so it’s lovely I’m able to do both.” And the kitchen studio has already proved to be successful, with Roger exclaiming within a week of opening it has had nine enquiries, plus interest from a large developer. He continues: “If we get our first order by Christmas, we’ll be doing cartwheels. We’ve got the capability and in-house skills to do that but we’ve never done it before.”
But situated across the road from an established kitchen showroom, does RDO Kitchens & Appliances not see that as a threat to potential sales. Roger says not: “We’re very different and when we set out on the journey it was a very conscious decision to be different. What we didn’t want to do was get involved in a war. We didn’t want their customers coming over here and saying ‘they did it for this, so what will you do it for?’ I’d like to think what we’ve done for them is to create a centre where people want to come to see a range of kitchens.” And April agrees, adding: “We’ve made it more of a destination”.


Making a destination

With a fully-working kitchen, with interchangeable appliances, so can be used by a variety of manufacturers  – RDO Kitchens & Appliance can earn the right to be called an experience and a destination. So far, it has already held an AEG Daylesford Organic day and is set to host a Neff cookery day. “The potential is incredible”, says Roger who has an eye to also hosting corporate events and pop-up restaurants. “We’ve had ideas like events for students at the local college where they learn to cook for themselves, before they go to university or teaching elderly people to sustain themselves. Maybe working with local restaurateurs and encouraging them to come in and cook their signature dishes.”

And RDO Kitchens & Appliances already has plans to further grow its business into interiors, following the interest of April Sargant who has already designed a focal filament light for the showroom. The business is already able to offer media units, bar stools, breakfast chairs and sofas and has just opened an account with Kelly Hoppen to sell its furnishings.

By offering a complete shopping and eating experience, Roger says it enables the business to maintain higher margins. “Once customers get involved, they want to buy from you and price becomes a less prevalent issue for them. They are prepared to waver by 10-15%. Yes, we need to be in the ballpark, but we find customers really do value the experience and the fact they’ve enjoyed what they’ve done.” He also highlights his highly trained staff as being a significant part of this whole shopping experience.


Retail remains heart

While Roger has been surprised at the success of the showroom opening: “I think we have been quite shocked. What I would say it that it has gone way beyond expectations”, he points to a continual and gradual evolution of the business. “It does feel like a new business and it’s given us a new lease of life and a new optimism about the way ahead.”  And what is the next step forward for RDO Kitchens & Appliances? Roger hints at possibly further growing the business next year, from a renewed trade showroom with specialised American appliance brands and sink and tap centre, through to perhaps more retail showrooms in the future.

Roger exclaims: “The head office was a project five years ago – that was a major purchase for us – nearly £2million. We’ve now got a beautiful showroom done. So the next step is where do we take this brand of RDO which is so well known?  It won’t be as much of a challenge as the past three or four years have been because what we’ve had to do is evolve the business but keep it running within that evolving environment. So now, when I talk about the future -actually it’s going to be an awful lot easier because we’ve now got it all running. If we buy a shop and develop it, this will still be running and supporting that in the background.”

Certainly retailing will be at the heart of the RDO Kitchens & Appliances business, because as Roger points out: “We are passionate about retailing on the high street. We are passionate about supporting this wonderful town we are in as anybody should be in their local environment. To let towns die, to me is jus tabhorrent. We can’t let that happen. It’s a lovely town and we must do everything we can to support it.”

And Roger believes he has now positioned his business to cater for the upward trend in sales, which may see peaks and troughs along the way. He concludes stating he’s cautiously optimistic for the future but points out  “I think what we’ve done here is put ourselves in the possible situation we can be in.”

This article appeared in full in the December 2014 issue of Kitchens & Bathrooms News