With a playful nod to Star Wars, Hoth Kitchens has opened a planetary-sized Caple Studio in Gloucestershire. Owner Rich Stone, who already has a showroom in Wiltshire, explains its customer experience is out of this world
Adding to its Caple Studio in Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, owner of Hoth Kitchens Rich Stone has just opened a planet-sized showroom in nearby Lechlade, Gloucestershire.
Measuring 7,500sqft, it hosts 12 displays, and Rich says: “We’re by far the biggest kitchen showroom in The Cotswolds.
“It allows us to show a good variety to customers, with all the displays carefully chosen to show how quirky we can be and how we can bring a room to life.”
Even the name of the business is unusual, as Rich Stone comments: “Professionally and officially, it stands for Heart Of The Home.”
However, for those familiar with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back film, featuring the ice planet Hoth, he confesses there is a connection.
“Unofficially, I’m a massive Star Wars fan – even dotted around the showroom is Star Wars memorabilia, which includes original Star Wars action figures, through to a life-sized Han Solo.”
It’s interesting to find out, then, that a sequel wasn’t part of his original business plan. “I didn’t set out to open two showrooms.
However, the Royal Wootton Bassett showroom was performing really successfully”, says Rich.
He adds: ““Caple were so impressed with my brand, they suggested I open another showroom.
They have been supportive of my vision and invested into the furniture and appliance displays.”
Opening a second showroom could even be considered quite a daring move, particularly when he states starting the business was “probably the bravest thing I’ve ever done”, having opened his first showroom two years’ ago, just after lockdown.
Rich says the benefit of being a Caple Studio is not only dealing with one company, but that it is also located nearby.
“Caple are based in Bristol, which is great if you need any replacements during the fit.”
He also points out the advantages of the services it offers: “Caple supplies direct to the customer’s house, so I don’t need a storage facility.”
With a variety of furniture, sinks, taps and appliances on offer from Caple, Rich says he’s not limited in his offer to suit the needs of customers, but adds if a consumer has bought another appliance brand, he will fit them.
He believes it offers a higher level of customer service. “It’s about asking ‘is there a different way and is that a better way?'”, Rich explains.
Having decided to open a second showroom, Rich explains his original intention was to look for a location west of Bristol.
However, he continues: “My girlfriend has a boat moored around the corner and when we were driving through Lechlade to reach it, we drove past this lovely showroom – all glass fronted – and ready to go. I thought that it was in a perfect location.”
Researching the locality and looking at the position of competitors, Rich discovered the nearest kitchen showroom was in Cirencester, around 15 miles away.
“I’m a massive believer in fate, and driving past that day it was obviously meant to be”, says Rich.
However, opening the second showroom wasn’t all plain sailing, as Rich reveals it has taken nearly a year to reach its current state.
“It had a lot of leaks and took a long time to get the building works right. So, the investment into the building has been a lot”.
He adds: “We’ve put air con in to improve the facilities and we’re even looking at creating an outdoor presentation area, as well as using Virtual Reality headsets, to show designs to the customer.”
And what is he particularly pleased about with his new showroom? “The reaction of customers when they come in and their feedback is exactly what I dreamed of at the outset. They say it’s different to every other showroom.
“I wanted to show people you don’t have to go down the route of standard colours or designs.
“We are trying to do things a little bit differently to everyone else and offer customers experience on a different level.”
Customer buying journey
It is this focus on customer experience which is a key differentiator of the Hoth Kitchens brand.
Having started out working for multinational kitchens, with the likes of Moben and Magnet, before working in a field sales role in Australia, Rich says it was always his ambition to open his own showroom.
Although appreciative of his experiences working national kitchen retailers, “after all that is how I got to where I am now”, he continues “but in the back of my mind I always thought there is a better way”.
So, for his business, he has opted for an informal, relaxed style. Rich explains: “I really dislike formality. I want it to be a really fun process from the outset.
“The design and sales process should be all about the customer and they should have an exciting journey.
“We have a ‘mixing desk’ area where consumers can mix and match the doors, the worktops and the handles. It’s really creative; it’s fun.
“No one is sat behind a desk in a suit. It’s a journey.”
And he continues: “It means people buy from us for the right reasons – because they want our designs and they want the service that comes with it. The customer feedback has been immense.”
Unsurprisingly, then, Rich states both showrooms are reporting good business, adding: “The start of the year was a little bit slow, and other retailers in the industry reported that as well, but footfall is great and probably a little bit busier than we expected.”
In fact, he sold kitchens from the Lechlade showroom before it even officially opened.
Based in an affluent area, Rich says he has already noticed the average sales order is higher out of the new studio.
“Royal Wootton Bassett has an average order value of around £24,000, whereas Lechlade is around £30,000. But we will sell kitchens anywhere from £15,000 up to £70,000.”
Rich says he doesn’t want to place an expectation on the new showroom, particularly given the current climate, adding: “You can never know what’s around the corner”, but has social media marketing plans and magazine case studies at the ready, should the market falter.
However, he isn’t going to rely on large sales discounts to attract new customers, and says he would rid the kitchen industry of them, if he could: “Because, for me, the customer doesn’t believe they are genuine anyway. I always say to customers we’ll give you good value over a long period of time.”
In fact, Rich explains Hoth Kitchens even encourages consumers to shop around before coming back and placing an order.
But isn’t that dangerous? “We express how much we’d love the customer’s business, but if the customer is buying from us for the wrong reasons that will either result in a cancellation or a bad review at the end of it.
“If the customer is making an informed decision to buy from us, they will be happy at the outset to part with their hard-earned money, which we massively respect”, says Rich.
And he states happily: “We’ve never had a cancellation. I’m really proud of that and hopefully it shows we do look after people.”
Certainly, Hoth Kitchens retains a firm focus on the customer. But with its fresh approach to retailing, has been able to level up in terms of service and setting standards for the independent sector.