Commercial director at Benchmarx Kitchens Terry Brown explains how the company has engaged directly with consumers as well as the trade, which has seen the launch of True Handleless.
Q: How is business?
A: Our business remains strong even in what for many is proving a challenging economic time. Where the ‘Don’t Move, Improve’ adage can be overused, I do feel it does ring true in the current climate.
Our customer is the trade and we are finding fitters and builders being booked up many months in advance, so renovation work is certainly going on.
With this in mind, we have continued to open branches across the country to ensure we can deliver the local service our customers want – largely a great choice of affordable designs, expert advice and a quick, reliable turnaround.
Q:What has been your biggest focus over the past 12 months?
A: We are continuing to ensure we have what the trade needs; be that a strong range of designs that deliver the latest trends, to a quality finish that ensures word-of-mouth reputation building for the fitter.
However, the homeowner has become a much stronger driver in the decision-making process and one we cannot afford to ignore. Many have done their own research and made up their minds before even finding a fitter.
As with all bigger ticket purchases, it needs to be right first time, so the last year has seen us engage more directly with the homeowner to make the process as simple as possible.
Our design team is always on hand to discuss and advise on design ideas and we have refreshed our brochure to ensure it is inspirational as well as functional.
Q: Have you now noticed any impact from Brexit?
A: We’re not being distracted by it. There is still market share to be targeted and maximised. Of course, fluctuations in currency have an effect on all businesses as it changes many variables.
Our success is built on looking for new customers at every opportunity and we’re focusing on this.
Q: Last year you introduced a range to target customers at the high-end of the market – Chelsea – how are sales developing and have they met your expectations?
A: It is great to be able to offer customers choice across a range of price points. As such, we have slab doors in our entry level ranges right through to the solid timber Somerset collection.
The idea behind introducing the Chelsea kitchen was to give people something to trade up to on the lacquered side if required.
The high quality and Matt Dove Grey colour of the Chelsea has given customers this opportunity, ensuring customers can opt for an in-frame, top-end look, while still maintaining an element of affordability.
Grey has an endurance that shows no sign of slowing, so for those customers wanting to recreate styles they have seen in designer kitchens, this has proved a winner.
In many cases, a customer will have an idea of what they are looking for and it is then a matter of flexing the available budget to create the best match.
Here, they may go all out on the cabinetry but then scale back the worktop choice, or tone down the door choices but upscale appliances. At the end of the day, we want to cater for all of this.
Q: What is the story of the Inspire event this year?
A: With more than 180 branches across the UK, ensuring everyone has the information they need is vital. Inspire gives us the chance to bring all of our colleagues together to see what is coming through and, importantly, to find out the trends and inspiration behind this.
This year we saw the launch of seven new additions to our kitchen ranges plus a new brand new True Handleless collection, which in turn has nine new door fronts included. With so much to share, Inspire 2018 proved a busy one.
The True Handleless range has been made specifically for Benchmarx Kitchens and to our spec. What we wanted was a handleless collection that did away with the need for a second finger-grip when a drawer unit is included, in order to give endless possibilities.
The resulting range is sleek and the nine door fronts give the option to combine styles and textures to create a look that is fresh. Push open second drawers mean the Benchmarx units have just one finger rail around the top.
It ensures the collection can be used to create bespoke island units that can house appliances through to a neat cabinet wall that has both style and practicality, giving the brand an edge.
However, the fitter cannot be forgotten, so ease of installation has been a key consideration throughout the development of this range and we wanted it to be as hassle-free to fit as possible. With rigid cabinetry and simple fittings, we believe we have achieved this.
We were also delighted to introduce a brand-new collection of sinks, taps and worktops, again giving our customers choice.
New brands include Abode, Franke, and Villeroy & Boch, with standout products such as a stainless-steel Belfast sink, heat-resistant tectonite materials, sleek matt black angular taps and the latest boiling water technology.
These all proved showstoppers at the event so it will be interesting to see how these are received in branch.
Q: What is your business strategy and how does the Inspire event help you to achieve it?
A: We obviously want to keep growing, and this can’t be done by standing still. We have been working hard over the last 12 months to ensure the products Benchmarx Kitchens offers has the quality and durability expected but also the diversity to take this expectation even further.
The Inspire event shows our colleagues how far we have come since 2006. Today’s customers have access to so much information, we need to make sure our colleagues have the tools to deliver and meet this demand head on.
With the new collections on show, we hope this will allow us to capitalise on an even wider market share.
Q: What are the greatest challenges for your customers and how are your helping them overcome them?
A: Getting advice as to what is possible is perhaps one of the biggest challenges: Our doors are open for homeowners and fitters alike to discuss plans, options and combinations with our expert design teams.
Q: How can the UK compete with the dominance of European kitchen furniture manufacturers?
A: The UK has such skills, quality and design talent there is no reason why we can’t compete or at the very least echo our European counterparts. All of our rigid cabinets are made here in the UK, for example.
Q: How do you see the market developing over the next year?
A: There is a real flow to the designs coming through. Darker, dramatic worktops have taken the place of the paler shades that were so popular last year.
Oak has gone from warm hues to a paler, muted shade that has a more contemporary, fresh feel and bolder combinations of textured wood with smooth cabinetry continue to break away from a one-shade kitchen finish.
Handleless styling has also secured its place as the premium, contemporary choice and wall cabinets are being replaced by open shelving. A move to more concealed or ‘invisible’ kitchens are likely to gain traction in the next wave of design.
As the antithesis to the showy kitchens we may have seen in the past, the whole kitchen can be hidden away, leaving few hints there is even a kitchen there at all.
Benchmarx Kitchens recently had some good news, as their very own James Katra came third in Wilsonart’s Zenith design competition.