TALKING SHOP: Employ knowledge

06 Oct, 14

David Dalglish of Knaresborough Kitchens, and national chair of the KBSA, laments the lack of good designers in the kitchen industry.

There is a lack of good, qualified designers in the industry and sadly it has been a challenge in the industry for as long as I can remember. The big problem that retailers, like me, face is we don’t have the time to train somebody from scratch. We need somebody to come in and hit the ground running. Therefore you tend to look for an already qualified person. I recently spoke to a fellow regional chair on the KBSA board Julian Bayliss of Cotswold Kitchens, who is in the process of opening new showrooms, and he has found it incredibly hard to find good designers.

Common sense standard

When I recruit designers, there are certain things I look for as standard. I expect them to be able to design a kitchen and have some knowledge of the industry. They must understand work triangles. They must understand health and safety issues that occur in the kitchen and they must understand the importance of space and the ability to walk between an island and a run of cupboards, which sometimes they don’t.

What I then look for is their ability to interpret a brief. Will they listen carefully to what that customer wants? Design for me isn’t so much about producing a wonderful-shaped island with fancy worktop on it, it’s whether the customer wanted that island and was it in the position they expected it to be? If it isn’t, then the designer has to explain why they couldn’t interpret the brief. Half the problem with designers is they can be so hell bent on ‘design’, they can lose sight of the need for the kitchen to work. So good, old-fashioned common sense is high on the employment checklist too and that’s very often missing.

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Then the last, and by far the most important question, I ask of a designer is can you sell your design? So are we really looking for a designer or are we looking for a salesperson? The truth be known, we hide in our industry behind the expression designer but I’m really a salesman through and through.

There’s no question that we need to push, as we do, the fact we’re finally, and after a very long time, getting a recognised course in kitchen design at a University. Full credit of that must go to the wonderful efforts of Renee Mascari, CEO of the kbbNTG, and the KBSA support of that initiative.

Adopt an understudy

One of my thoughts was when I shortly retire from the day-to-day running of my retail business, I should employ a young person to replace me. However, I should first let them understudy me, as a trainee designer. And I do think that is something that retailers could and should consider. Whether apprenticeship is the right word is debatable. I think you want to attract a good communicator, maybe university educated but certainly with some experience of life, who has an interest in working on a CAD system. There is no question CAD makes it much easier now to produce a kitchen and most people are computer literate. So perhaps we should all look for a young person who can use a computer and has some understanding of design and start the training process from there to create the next generation of good designers.