The big challenge from large retailers

24 Jun, 15

Director of Create Bathroom and Kitchen Studio, Kenneth Thom says big retailers are still improving

Having finally bowed to my wife’s demands we replace the ageing, but nonetheless trusted Ford Mondeo that has served us well for almost a decade, I embarked on the mission of drawing up a short list of potential new cars to suit our growing family’s needs, together with a list of showrooms to view them in. Not being much of a shopper, I wondered whether the sense of dread I felt as I entered showroom number one was similar to that of my clients as they enter our studio.

Do my customers dread the thought of being presented with a great deal which is only available if accepted that day or do they feel fear that if they give out their mobile number / email address they will be inundated with sales pitches? Do my customers whisper to each other as they open the door, ” if a salesman comes to us, say we are only looking”? Surely not! After all, we are a family company which aims to be friendly and accommodating, whilst desperate not to come across as, well desperate.

Before I had a chance to consider these conundrums my wife was sitting in the driver’s seat of our potential new car, asking the salesman whether parking sensors were standard. Apart from wondering why we were breaking our pact of ensuring no discussion with non-family members, I couldn’t help thinking of the similarities between selling a car and a kitchen. Added extras or standard specification, warranty periods, colour options and ultimately the total cost had all to be confirmed. The end product may differ, but the process in choosing them was undoubtedly similar.

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Multinationals stepping up

As a small independent bathroom and kitchen retailer we are proud of our service and believe it sets us apart from the competition, in particular from the large multiples. Yet, here I was sitting in a warm office with a cappuccino in hand, in the car showroom of a multinational company being given service which, in all honesty, we as a small company would struggle to match. Consider the extended opening hours, finance options, price competitiveness and family-friendly showrooms offered by the retailing giants in our industry that we as a small retailer will always struggle to match.

Multinationals are constantly improving both their product range and overall customer experience. This leads to a feeling as a small retailer we are caught in a perfect pincer movement between them and a flourishing internet, where easy sales are cherry picked without the need for genuine customer service being offered. Indeed it may be that only when an order is confirmed the local independent retailer gets a chance to truly shine, great personal service, quality installations and after sales care are certainly areas we should be able to impress on. Is this enough to prosper in the longer term, however? I believe the answer is yes. Sort of.

Service still wins

If we can return to the car purchase, it turns out the parking sensors were not offered as standard, nor did the salesman know what the additional price for them would be as his manager was not in and anyway he didn’t think they were worth it! Nice coffee, shame about the service. The sale was lost on the back of this minor detail. Number two showroom fared little better as they did not have the car in stock, despite having called to confirm this prior to driving 20 miles to visit them. Our third showroom visit proved to be the winner and car was purchased. So there you have it old fashioned service won through again, surely proving all is well and we are safe in business for another generation if we stick to this philosophy. The only problem is the showroom where we made the purchase was also a large multiple.

I wonder whether our industry will go the same way. Will the independents be able to survive the pressures exerted from businesses with such deep marketing pockets? Will a glut of large Shed businesses hoover up the easy standard sales (The ones where invariably the largest profit margins lie) and leave us to feed on the scraps left by them from the sales they deem as too much hassle? The answers to these questions probably will not be answered fully for many years, but one thing is for sure, in the meantime I am going to visit more showrooms, irrespective of what they sell and copy their best ideas and ensure their worst practices are not.

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Kitchens & Bathrooms News