With exposed brickwork, neon lighting, and large 5m long bar, it’s unsurprising to find restaurant interiors inspired the industrial look of The Brighton Kitchen Company’s brand new showroom.
It marries with its existing adjoining business, The Brighton Bathroom Company, which is a design-led space with counter-high bars and filament pendant bulb lighting.
“Personally, I like restaurant, bar and coffee shop interiors and it’s about communicating that into kitchen and bathroom design,” exclaims Chris Burton. He adds: “It was just about trying to create something new and interesting.”
Chris continues: When we started out with our bathroom showroom, we looked around at competitor showrooms and they were really quite run of the mill. There are some exceptions and there are some nice companies doing great things but we just wanted to appear a bit different.”
And this has been reiterated in the kitchen space: “We’ve tried to do stuff in the kitchen showroom that I hadn’t seen before regarding the overall interior.”
Making Mid-Sussex move
The Hickstead-based premises now match the initial vision Chris had for a high-end design, supply and installation company, having started out as an installation-only Brighton & Hove business.
“The ethos was all to do with the creativity and working with the eclectic mix of styles and people of Brighton. What we took from there was we had a lot of people who wanted to do something different with their bathroom, something exciting.
“So, we worked with them to create design concepts. We have done all sorts of weird and wonderful things like gold-plated toilet flushes, to try and stay true to a theme. So the funkiness came out of Brighton.”
However, he continues: “It became apparent Brighton wasn’t the best place to be located and it would be better for us to be in mid-Sussex because we generated the majority of enquiries from our website from this area.
“We can draw business out of Brighton, so 20% of projects are from Brighton but 70% come from Mid-Sussex – around a 20mile radius.” Although, both of his companies have also worked on projects in London.
Beginning with bathrooms
It was just four years ago he took the bijou 60sqm unit for The Brighton Bathroom Company. “It wasn’t about having a big showroom and having to point at loads of stuff, and saying ‘you can have that Mr and Mrs Smith’, it was about creating a bespoke solution for each client and you can’t do that just from a showroom,” says Chris.
Although, he admits the restricted space posed a challenge when dealing with manufacturers who demand display commitments. But he adds there is now some flexibility.
Chris exclaims: “I found the demand for display commitments really abrasive when we first started. I didn’t really understand or agree with it. But once the sales started increasing it’s amazing the difference in attitude.
“From our start to now, the supplier sentiment is completely different.” Now, manufacturers have bought into the company’s vision. Chris explains: “I believe we are a little bit maverick-ish in our approach, not only to our customers but the industry in general.”
Design not products
In fact, part of the company’s non-conformist attitude to retailing is its decision to not focus on products or brands. “Whether this is good or not for supplier relationships, I’m not sure, but we decided we are the brand,” exclaims Chris, adding: “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, I’m just passionate.
“But you’re choosing to work with us, who will provide a succinct solution for the design of your bathroom or kitchen project. You’re not just buying a Villeroy & Boch toilet, basin or vanity unit. We go into a lot of complexity like paint finishes, glass, tiles and even down to door handles. There’s no off-the-shelf solution for anyone.”
He continues explaining how the company works with its customers: “What we found, when we started, was the consumer didn’t even know the brands. We do a visual presentation with the images of the project but basically the customer never has a list of anything.
“They have the pictures of the products and have been perfectly happy with that. It’s one of our projects, it’s our design.” When asked if the visual-based presentation also prevents the consumer from shopping around, Chris smiles: “Correct. It has a dual purpose. We sometimes include product listings but we never include manufacturers’ names.”
Adding kitchen company
Last year, Chris made the decision to extend the same design ethos across kitchens because “it was a natural addition.”
He continues explaining it has been a relatively easy transition, and that adding kitchens maximises the revenue out of one location, which minimises risk: “Everything I have read and heard was bathrooms are the tougher business in design, supply and install, and kitchens are a slightly more straight-forward process and much higher value. So, that was the reasoning behind it.”
And he believes kitchens will be a good proportion of his business going forwards: “We forecast revenue at conservative estimates and, if it follows the current trajectory, we think that by year three it will be a strong business. We are ambitious. We are growing 25% year on year and we are going to achieve 40-50% growth this year from the kitchens.”
But has there been any surprises when adding kitchens, and creating a new showroom, along the way? Chris admits: “How long it took to do the renovations surprised me and how much it cost surprised me.
“It was way over budget of what we were expecting, around 30-40%. It was a massive investment but we wanted it to be extra special and to feel nothing like any showroom in the local area. We think we have achieved that.”
Building two brands
But why did Chris decide to build two brands – The Brighton Bathroom Company and now The Brighton Kitchen Company – rather than combine it into The Brighton Bathroom & Kitchen Company?
He explains it’s because of the success of his original The Brighton Bathroom Company website, which has been optimised to appear in Google searches for all key terms in local, geographical areas.
In fact, such has been its success; The Brighton Bathroom Company website delivers 80% of its enquiries. Chris continues: “When we introduced the kitchen side, separate branding and a separate website would give a clear message of both companies.”
Because the adjoining showrooms are situated on a retail park, Chris explains the websites are the online ‘high street’ windows. As such, its web presence has been carefully crafted from the outset with professional photography, even if Chris took a hit on the profit to ensure its projects were truly original.
“Our vow when we started the company was to have no stock images. My brother is a professional photographer, so we started taking professional photographs from the start. If you’re not doing the projects that are amazing and design-led, unique and original, you can’t put them on your website.
“So, our websites feature true project imagery from customers with associated testimonials. We can show examples of steps from the initial survey, through to the design process, and finally the finished project. You can only show that if you’re doing it.”
Having set out on the path to be individual, Chris recognises competitors are now closing the gap on its lead. “When we first started we were absolutely unique in our local market. I would suggest a lot of competitors have now upped their game by including professional project imagery on their website.
“The kitchen showroom was another way was putting ourselves on the map again,” explains Chris. But with such a fast-changing market, how is The Brighton Bathroom Company and The Brighton Kitchen Company going to stay ahead, remaining avant-garde and unconventional.
Pointing to its premises, Chris comments: “The kitchen showroom was obviously such an enormous investment, we hope it’s going to be at the forefront for a good few years. The style and look of the showroom has an industrial feel and that interior trend is not going to go away.”
However, Chris concludes that it’s his team of people who are essential in keeping both his businesses on trend and even ahead of the latest fashions.
“Our people have a genuine interest in design and interiors. They are constantly investigating and looking at new things. They have a genuine interest in creating something different for our customers. We are always looking for new and interesting ways of doing things.”
Check out our recent supplier profile on Perrin & Rowe, we talked to contracts manager Philip Cole.