Kerry Furber has recently succeeded Bernard Otulakowski, who spent four decades as managing director of SieMatic UK. We find out she was practically raised to take the role, as she explains how the company is evolving
Following the retirement of SieMatic UK managing director Bernard Otulakowski, after 43 years of service, former national sales and marketing manager Kerry Furber has now taken the helm.
Although she admits they are big boots to fill, Furber has not only worked her way up the company for the past eight years but, in fact, grown up with the brand.
She explains her mother has a “very successful” SieMatic showroom, “so I feel like I’ve been with SieMatic for a much longer time because I’ve been connected to the brand for so long.
“I can empathise with retailers as I understand the ups and downs of the day-to-day running of an interior studio, focused on surpassing expectations of very discerning clientele.”
Having worked alongside Bernard Otulakowski, Furber says it was a seamless transition and points to the evolution of the business.
Part of a young, dynamic team with a range of experiences, Furber has a background in sales and marketing, focused on the luxury sector.
She is joined by northern regional sales manager Samantha Povey, who has 11 years’ experience designing and selling German kitchens, and Michael Manzanda who has worked for high-end fashion retailers.
“So, as a team, there’s great harmony because we’ve got varying career experience and knowledge perspectives, that enable us to add value and support the dealer network”, explains Furber.
With a degree in fashion marketing and promotion, she brings an added edge to the role of managing director.
“With experience from previous roles, in terms of business development, national sales strategy, marketing PR, trend forecasting, events, social and digital, I have a holistic insight into what’s needed as an overall package for a brand.”
Understanding the issues kitchen retailers face first hand, Furber says it has enabled her to work with dealers “at ground level”, building mutually respectful relationships through consultative support, whether that’s helping them with their marketing, creating a CRM system or setting up social media channels, “I’ve been able to add value with the dealer network” says Furber.
And her background further supports the company’s drive towards digital marketing, providing digital leads for retailers, explaining “There’s not really any other brands that we’ve seen in the market that have been able to nail it.
“It is a delicate balance communication with clients in the luxury sector. It’s important to consider all touch points of the journey, from the initial online ‘click’ to the showroom greeting; the entire experience should be memorable, multisensory and flawless.”
Furber believes digitalisation will become an ever greater part of the kitchen business, with the introduction of virtual reality “because it’s the kind of evolutionary retail experience clients expect these days. Retailers will need to offer it to bring their quintessential vision to life.”
Certainly SieMatic has a successful model with the business reporting a “phenomenal” performance this year and which Furber attributes to its network of 35 kitchen retailers.
“We’re up massively on last year, by 30%. Last year was a great year as well and that’s down to the professionalism of the dealers.”
She explains they adapted their businesses and were proactive during COVID offering remote consultations with clients and webinars to keep in front of the architecture and design community.
At the start of this year, we had a dealer presentation and we opened by saying ‘thank you’ because they were absolutely unbelievable.”
Furber says she is interested in growing the network but states they have to reflect the SieMatic brand throughout, including the professionalism of service.
“Everything needs to be exemplary and to go above and beyond”, explains Furber who is happy to “grow the dealer network with those who offer the highest level of professionalism.”
Believing the kitchen retail market will be a little bit tougher in 2023, Furber adds “we’re not too worried because when SieMatic has experienced previous recessions, the brand has fortunately done very well.
“If you think about the likes of Apple, they led the tech industry with new innovations around 2008. The reassurance of a heritage rich, luxury brand means its more likely to prosper when times are tough.”
Bought by the Chinese home appliance supplier the Nison group in 2017, Furber explains the company is focused on the brand and “essentially wants SieMatic to become the most desirable and premium kitchen brand in the market”.
It has already seen tens of millions of euros invested into its factory and product development – most recently launching Mondial at Eurocucina, which plays with forms, contrasts and juxtapositions of materials.
She says: “It offers a huge opportunity because I think it’s different to what SieMatic has launched in the past and is unique to what else is in the market.”
She adds: “It’s all about designing bespoke spaces to suit each individual clients and their needs” and explains marks the company’s move towards becoming “a lifestyle-driven brand”.
This, together with a greater use of digital marketing helps SieMatic target a new customer base.
Furber explains: “Historically, we’ve always focused on the more sophisticated and affluent client, which is still very much our target customer.
“But also we need to consider the younger, millennial generation who are very focused on experience and the value they place on items.
“So, they may have a mountain bike instead of a car or an Apple watch instead of a Breitling. It’s good from my perspective because I feel like I can sit in both camps and relate to both audiences.”
And could being a female managing director in the kitchen industry offer a further advantage of understanding the market, as well as helping break down barriers for women in the industry.
“I’ve always stuck to the career path of what brings the most enjoyment, to be honest”, says Furber.
She adds “SieMatic is fantastic at giving women managerial opportunities. For example, the country managers of Italy, Belgium, France are also women, which is wonderful.”
However, she admits in the first couple of weeks of being in the job, a female junior designer hailed her appointment as managing director as an inspiration.
“I was struck dumb. I never imagined that would have happened”, says Furber, and concludes “That was so lovely to hear and I never even considered it.”