Owner of retailer Kesseler Hove Sean Carter has opened a second showroom in Godalming, Surrey, and we find out how he has grown in confidence selling higher value kitchens
“It’s better than I ever envisioned” says Sean Carter as he stands surveying his new kitchen showroom from the mezzanine floor – his favourite view of the space.
Based in the quintessentially English town of Goldalming in Surrey, the location is poles apart from his showroom in Brighton & Hove, a town with a cool and quirky reputation.
So why did he open a new showroom, in this market town, at the beginning of the year?
Sean explains it has always been his plan to have five showrooms and kitchen manufacturer Kesseler identified a large number of customer enquiries were coming from Surrey, so it made sense to explore the neighbouring county.
He chose Godalming to base his showroom as it had lower rent than surrounding areas: “If I had the same size shop in Guildford, I would have to charge clients £4,000 more per kitchen to pay for the rent and rates cost. That’s a big difference” says Sean.
Five times larger than his original Brighton & Hove studio, the new showroom has a wider catchment area, from surrounding areas of Woking and Guildford.
But Kesseler Surrey is also achieving higher value sales too, as Sean explains: “The average order from Hove is £15-25,000, here £35,000-£60,000. The biggest kitchen we’ve sold is £84,000.”
Unsurprisingly then, it is already outselling its East Sussex shop, which has been established for three years.
“We’ve sold £265,000 in a month, ex VAT and excluding fitting from across both showrooms but 70% has been from Godalming”, says Sean.
Housed in an original WW2 warehouse, before it was converted latterly into a kitchen showroom, much of the structural work was already completed before Kesseler Surrey moved in.
All Sean needed to do was add stud walls, decorate, paint, prepare and install flooring – which was the biggest expense at £18,000.
Starting with plotting the path through the space, helped him create areas for kitchen displays.In fact, Sean says his only design difficulties was choosing, doors, worktops and flooring in one go.
The showroom houses seven, large kitchen displays, a TV/media area, loft conversion with home office and walk-in wardrobe. “It allows us to show all the things we couldn’t at Kesseler Hove”, says Sean.
In fact, Sean reports customers from Hove are even travelling to its new flagship showroom to see more of its offer, adding: “The Karndean flooring has been popular. Sometimes people ask for flooring in the kitchen, dining room and hallway, so are spending £6,000-£8,000 on the flooring alone.
“We also show bespoke lighting which can add £5,000-6,000 on top of the kitchen without having to do more sales. It’s made a massive difference to us and our turnover.”
Now the showroom is up and running, Sean already has plans to create another display area boasting storage drawers with hobs in them and taps on top and is adding higher-value brands into the showroom, including Liebherr, Falmec and Dekton.
He exclaims: “When I opened, I didn’t know how what the order value was going to be. We are now realising we can put higher-value things in here.”
Sean reports one in ten kitchen orders includes a media room, and even more request a utility or boot room.
However, it has been the popularity of home bars which has surprised him. “The biggest drinks cabinet we’ve sold so far is £9,000 on top of the kitchen. I didn’t realise how popular that is in this area and I did it as an afterthought in the showroom”, Sean confesses.
In fact, he reports his biggest learning point was to have the confidence people want to spend more money, adding for his customers: “Design is important than the price, to start with.”
But how did he target this wealthy customer base? Shunning social media, as he says it doesn’t work for his business, Sean believes the shop window is still the most important way to advertise his kitchen retail business.
He has also invested in a sign written van and embroidered shirts for installers and when the company goes to fit a kitchen, Kesseler Surrey sends letters to neighbours apologising for any disruption.
The letters also point out if they’re interested in a new kitchen, fitters have brochures in their vans. “We also send out handwritten mailshots to people who have planning permission for building extensions. So, we are doing things the old-fashioned way.”
But it’s working as the company has also picked up its first contract sale of seven penthouses in Saltdean, East Sussex.
Could this be a new sales avenue? “We are looking at it”, says Sean “I’ve told the contractor we won’t start until I’ve inspected the rooms are ready and we can fit kitchens in batches. That’s the only way we’ll accept it.”
Demonstrating the success of his business, Sean believes the kitchen industry is “strong” and says it is building work which is delaying most retailers.
“We’ve got 18 kitchens on order and we can’t organise fitting dates for half of them because we don’t know when the building work is going to finish. He exclaims “Prices are going through the roof for materials and labour,” And he adds: “My fear is the industry going to price itself so high that at some point clients will turn around and say, ‘we’re not paying that’. We know of more price increases coming next year, and we don’t know when it’s going to end. It can’t keep going on.”
So, what are his expectations of kitchen retail next year? “I have two views. I’m concerned that it could be awful next year.” He says increasing energy bills could impact kitchen sales in the lower end of the market, adding “but there’s so much backlog in building work, which will carry people through.”
In fact, Sean has set out his plans for next year, refitting its Hove showroom as a smaller version of Kesseler Surrey and opening a third showroom.
Having already implemented a digital system, through Winner Biz software, so all orders can be accessed across the company, he maintains adding a third showroom won’t add an excessive amount of strain on the business.
Plus, all showrooms will only need to sell one kitchen a week to break even.
Along with a trio of showrooms, Sean also plans to create an installation company to service the shops and create apprenticeships.
“We want to bring young people into the industry”, exclaims Sean. “This industry is a great if you’re motivated and work hard. So, I want to make sure we push it and give something back.”
He concludes: “By the end of next year, I will also know how well the Surrey showroom has performed and, at that point, we’ll make a decision if we go for the next one.”