The curse of kitchen and bathroom retailing

I don’t know if you heard the interview on You and Yours – BBC Radio 4’s daily consumer programme – with Dave Cullen, the CEO of Ultra Finishing Group which bought distributor Mark Two last year, and Winifred Robinson, but to me it raised more questions than answers.

Tesco writes on its website: “Following a review of our Tesco Kitchens and Tesco Bathrooms provider, Mark Two Distributors Limited, we identified concerns about their ability to deliver the service our customers expect. This is despite the fact that Mark Two had supplied and installed over 11,000 orders.

Mr Cullen meanwhile has said that the terms of the contract with Tesco was “onerous”, although said ‘onerous’ contract has apparently been in place for over five years.

But the question Ms Robinson kept putting to Mr Cullen was that although Mark Two had been paid for kitchens (and bathrooms) by Tesco customers, it was unable to deliver or install the kitchens or bathrooms ordered and paid for. It was a question that Mr Cullen did not answer on the programme.

Obviously I do not know what has happened in this particular case but for years the curse of kitchen and bathroom retailing has been companies that had been paid in good faith by customers for goods or services, failing to honour their contracts. Every time it happens, the ‘good guys’ who deliver what they have been paid for, get tarred with the same unreliable brush.

It is probably tales of or even the experience of lost deposits or unfulfilled kitchen (or bathroom) orders that drives many kitchen or bathroom purchasers into the arms of B&Q or IKEA where they feel safer. Certainly in the case of IKEA, where the customer can actually hump all of the kitchen bits onto a trolley and then pay for them, this could be a factor.

Another question I have is why did several of the Tesco/Mark Two customers take their existing kitchen out before the new kitchen was delivered? The family I highlighted in my earlier post about this sorry tale, and customers interviewed by You and Yours had stripped out their old kitchen in advance of the new one being delivered or installed.

How common is it I wondered to rip out the old kitchen before the new one is installed. And talking of a kitchen being installed, Tesco who did not actually make or install kitchens or bathrooms itself was a member of the iKBBI (Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom & Bathroom Installers). Does the iKBBI recommend a consumer has an existing kitchen or bathroom removed before the new kitchen or bathroom is delivered and installed?

Sadly, my attempts to get the iKBBI to provide me with an answer to this and other installer-related queries concerning the Tesco situation have not so far been too successful. A statement from Damian Walters, founder and director of iKBBI said it was “very aware of the situation” and that it was “concentrating the majority of our efforts on supporting our installer members”.

When I asked specifically if it was iKBBI policy to suggest to consumers that they rip out their old kitchen ahead of the new kitchen being delivered and installed, the iKBBI sent me, via its PR company, a print out from the Tesco Kitchens website and the following comment:

“In answer to your question, these details need to be sorted between the manufacturer, installer and consumer. The iKBBI is working actively to arbitrate between the companies involved in this unfortunate state of affairs, as you will appreciate this is an extremely sensitive situation and therefore further details of the iKBBI’s involvement may be released at a later date.”

Perhaps at “a later date” I may have a good reason to recommend that independent kitchen and bathroom retailers use iKBBI-registered installers.

Perhaps…

Work with Ripples after World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day is a United Nations observance day which takes place annually on the 19th November, highlighting the fact that 2.5 billion people (40% of the Earth’s population) do not have access to proper sanitation, writes Guest Blogger Paul Crow.

wherever the need logoIt is a proven fact that more people have mobile phones than have a toilet and in 2013, 1000 children died from diseases due to poor sanitation; this is preventable.

World Toilet Day is the perfect chance for Ripples to highlight the great work of many charities whose primary aim is to help combat this issue. With every day conversation amongst the Ripples team about the latest trend or development in the design and function of toilets, it can be easy for us all to take this seamlessly basic facility for granted.

Ripples now has sophisticated toilet pans that wash you, dry you, light up the room for you at night, and some even close the toilet seat quietly for you.  None of these features though save our lives.

This is why Ripples has collaborated with Wherever the Need, a charity who work to alleviate poverty by building life-saving Ecosan toilets. Ecosan toilets turn what is usually regarded as waste into a safe affordable compost and fertiliser, returning valuable nutrients to the soil and helping to increase crop yields.

They are sustainable, last many decades and are adaptable to different environments. And not only that, one Ecosan toilet can benefit up to 10 families (around 50 people), and all for under £500.00 each.

So today, on behalf of everyone at Ripples, we ask that you appreciate your loo, your water closet or whatever it is you call it and celebrate with us World Toilet Day.

For more details of the work being undertaken by Wherever The Need to improve sanitation, please visit their site at www.wherevertheneed.org.uk

Please also visit the Ripples Wherever The Need project page here: www.wherevertheneed.org.uk/donate/ripples/

Paul Crow is the managing director of Ripples (Holdings) Ltd.

(If you have a comment you would like to make about kitchen and bathroom retailing in the independent sector I would LOVE to hear from you! But before you rattle off 5000 words on your pet subject please click here to check out the Guest Blog section. You will save us both a lot of grief – and quite possibly save me a lengthy jail sentence too.)

The Tesco kitchen and bathroom fiasco

When it comes to kitchen and bathroom retailing cock-ups, the current Tesco kitchen and bathroom saga is right up there with the worst of them. With all the mud that is being slung it is unlikely that anyone involved will come out of it smelling of roses, and sadly that includes kitchen and bathroom retailing as a whole.

First we have the report in MailOnline which, quite frankly, I wouldn’t personally trust if it was to tell me that Sunday is the day before Monday. In its reporting of the ‘tragic’ story of the William’s family being left without a kitchen, MailOnline has pulled out all the sympathy stops, complete with a shot of the family on the verge of tears outside their home and a shot of their gutted kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, anybody let down by not getting the kitchen or bathroom on time deserves our sympathy, but this report, in my opinion, goes too far.

The main reason the Williams were left without a kitchen was because they ripped out the old one prior to the new one being delivered and fitted. They did this, says MailOnline to “save the workmen a job”. Really, or was the real reason to knock a few bob off the cost of installing the new kitchen? Either way, it is probably not a course of action a specialist kitchen or bathroom retailer would suggest.

So who is to blame for this mess? Believe the MailOnline (and apparently some people do), and it is down to Mark Two which is the line being pushed by Tesco.

Personally, my own jury is out on this one, but I remember television programmes various over the years that has shown how Tesco has played hardball with a number of its suppliers – ask any supplier that takes part in a Tesco ‘Buy One – Get One Free’ campaign. Kitchen and bathroom experts Mark Two has successfully completed over 11,000 orders for Tesco so it’s hard to see why the wheels have fallen off now if the situation is only down to Mark Two.

As for Mark Two’s decision not to respond to MailOnline’s request for a comment, this suggests to me that the company is being run along very sensible lines.

It has to be said that if jumping on a passing band-waggon was an Olympic sport, the Tesco kitchen and bathroom story has produced a number of real medal prospects. Straight out of the blocks comes Bathstore.com and Magnet both offering to ‘help’ any Tesco’s customers left stranded by Tesco’s decision to pull out of kitchen and bathroom retailing. Taking an opportunity to make a little extra profit from the situation is what it looks like to me, but appearances can be deceptive, can’t they?

Finally, why on earth is anybody surprised at Tesco’s decision, for whatever reason, not to continue with retailing kitchens and bathrooms? These are not core products for the grocer and it is hardly the first ‘big name’ to turn its attention away from this sector when the mood suits them. Those of us who have been around the base unit a few times remember that Homebase once pulled out of kitchen retailing, and I think it was owned by a grocer too (Sainsbury) at the time.

Meanwhile, as the big boys play fast and loose with kitchen and bathroom retailing, it is the sector as a whole that suffers.

Five questions for Whirlpool MD Darren Harrison

Darren Harrison has the enviable – or should that be unenviable – role of heading up the UK & Ireland division of the world’s leading manufacturer of major home appliances. He took over as the managing director of Whirlpool UK & Ireland in January 2014, having been promoted to the position from his previous role as head of customer services for Northern Europe.

Darren-Harrison-Managing-Director-Whirlpool-UK
DarrenHarrison, managing director at Whirlpool UK

With around 10,000 employees, a sales presence in over 30 countries in Europe, Middle East and Africa and manufacturing sites in six countries, Whirlpool EMEA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Whirlpool Corporation. The corporation had annual sales of $19 billion in 2013, 69,000 employees, and 59 manufacturing and technology research centres around the world, and that was before it acquired Indesit in the EMEA and Hefei Sanyo in ASIA. Any which way you cut it, that’s one heck of a lot of white goods.

It could be argued that Whirlpool has never really punched its weight in the UK market. To this observer it has a somewhat confusing mixture of brands across freestanding and built-in appliances that includes, in addition to the Whirlpool ‘house brand’, Bauknecht, Maytag, KitchenAid and Amana.

But while I may be confused by the portfolio it would seem at the coalface its strategy is working rather well for the company and has resulted in a 45 per cent year-on-year growth across all channels and product ranges.

Unlike previous managing directors of Whirlpool UK – at least for as long back as I can remember – Darren Harrison comes from a customer service background rather than the sales and marketing wing of the company.

He was originally head-hunted by Whirlpool to be its commercial manager in 2003, rising rapidly up the greasy pole via UK & Europe Service Manager for Maytag (January 2007), UK & Ireland Head of Customer Service (July 2011) and Head of Customer Service for Northern Europe in 2013.

Grahame Morrison: Given your track record in customer service what qualities from your former life do you hope to use as the managing director of Whirlpool UK?

Darren Harrison: My customer service background means I am passionate about putting the customer first and at the heart of the business; I mean by that both our retailers and our end consumers.  Looking for new opportunities is imperative, as is exploring business from a different angle, and driving operational excellence throughout the organisation.

GM: How important is the built-in appliance sector to Whirlpool?

DH: Built-in is one of our main strategic pillars for growth.  We have grown by 15 per cent year-on-year versus 2013 in built-in, and we plan to double this growth in 2015 through exciting and new innovative products.

GM: Whirlpool built-in appliances are currently being sold by, for example, Currys (single built-in oven for under £180:00) and IKEA (even if we cannot pronounce its name), so is the independent kitchen showroom in danger of being squeezed out of Whirlpool business?

DH: Furthering our distribution through multiple retailers is still part of our core strategy.  It is essential, and we ensure, that we are supporting and supplying the right products via the appropriate channels by understanding our trade partners’ requirements.

GM: What do you see a the  role for the Bauknecht brand in the UK?

DH: On the 22 of September we launched the Bauknecht brand exclusively through Alno UK, utilising the In-toto franchise network.

GM: In the bigger Whirlpool picture is Whirlpool’s UK business important enough for you to have real influence on products and service for the UK market or will it always be the poor relation in Europe and will Whirlpool EMEA have its direction laid out for it by the Whirlpool Corporation?

DH: Product innovation is heavily led by consumer insight.  Increasingly solutions and usability is harmonising across Europe.  The UK business can capitalise on our multi-region focus.  In addition, we continually seek out solutions specifically for the UK consumer.

Gorenje+ is a plus for independent retailers

Gorenje has launched a range of high-performance products created exclusively for UK high street retailers. The new built-in line includes ovens, microwaves, coffee machines, warming drawers, dishwashers, hobs and fridge freezers.

Gorenje+-built-in-black-appliances
Take it to the appliance bank – Gorenge+ built-in cooking appliances.

Stuart Benson, national sales manager at Gorenje UK said: “This aspirational collection is being rolled out to support retailers by giving them exclusivity of a truly superb range of products that consumers will simply not be able to buy anywhere else.”

Gorenje+ will enable independent kitchen specialists to create perfectly aligned banks, columns or rows of appliances with a choice of combi, multifunctional, and steam ovens.

Gorenje+-oven,-hood,-hob
A Gorenje+ oven, hob and hood combo.

“The excellent build quality of these technologically-advanced appliances means they are not only sleek, functional, reliable and eye-catching – but will bring a designer look that will create an aspirational finish in any kitchen,” added Stuart Benson.

Earlier this year Gorenje+ scooped four prestigious European Plus X award for its Gorenje+ GS 778 B steam oven. The panel, made up of 25 industry experts, awarded the appliance for its quality, design, user-friendliness and functionality.

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The Gorenje+ integrated dishwasher.

The Gorenje brand has been available in the UK since 2002. A comprehensive product range includes washing machines, tumble dryers, fridges and freezers, cooking appliances and a number of special lines including the Ora-Ito and Karim Rashid collections.

Gorenje products are all A+++, A++, A+ or A energy rated and 90 % of the components used in the manufacturer of its appliances are recyclable. The company offers a free five year parts and labour guarantee on most of its products and an after sales service provided by one of the UK’s largest service providers, with access to specialist engineers across the UK.

www.gorenjeplus.com/uk