The plane truth of kitchen and bathroom retailing

As readers of my kitchen and bathroom blog will be aware, I’ve never really understood the love affair these retail industries seem to have with the motor trade.

I’ve lost count of the times a kitchen or bathroom marketing ‘expert’ has told me that they wanted to offer a “Mercedes for a Ford price tag”. This  completely overlooks that the person buying the Ford knows they aren’t going to drive out with a Merc whereas, in my opinion, there are too many companies kidding their customers into thinking they are getting a ‘designer’ or (my favourite), ‘hand crafted’ quality product rather than firewood masquerading as a luxury kitchen.

RyanairWhat we need is a more accurate example to explain where your kitchen or bathroom sits in the scheme of things and I give you, ladies and gentlemen, air travel.

If you sell ‘entry level’ kitchens or bathrooms then you are in the Ryanair sector of the market. Nobody buying a ticket on Ryanair is looking for luxury; a bun-fight to get on board and grab a seat perhaps, but not luxury. You can’t adjust the seat when you get one, the leg room is limited, and the in-flight refreshments carry a price-tag too.

But what you do get is a cheap ticket (if you book early enough, forgo extras such as a reserved seating or priority boarding and limit yourself to carry-on luggage), and a very impressive track-record for taking off and landing on time – even if where you land is a coach-ride away from the city you actually want to visit.

If you want a little extra in the way of service, a seat you can adjust with a (bit more) leg room, a more generous luggage allowance and in-flight snacks as part of the package, you will opt for one of the flag carriers such as BA who go to more destinations but change you substantially more for your ticket. These are of course the middle market kitchen and bathroom flyers.

At the bespoke end of the kitchen market – and I mean made to individual order with individual cabinet sizes not mass-produced kitchen units with a choice of handles – you are in private jet territory and possibly the only genuine niche market in either industry.

Ryanair knows what it can do well – short-haul flights where the lack of frills do not put people off travelling with them, especially at the keen headline prices it promotes. It does this well because it has nothing else to offer.

While ‘full-service’ airlines also offer some low-cost travel, the tickets often come with conditions such as restrictions on flight times and luggage limits that can make them a less attractive offer. For example I checked that a flight from Heathrow to Dublin on 18 April with BA was over three times more expensive than a similar timed flight by Ryanair from Stansted to Dublin; a big enough difference to put up with the minor inconvenience of getting out to Stansted from London.

But as with kitchens and bathrooms, its horses for courses; I don’t know of a single traveller that would want to fly long-haul with Ryanair, if such a service was available. And this is the lesson I urge independent kitchen and bathroom retailers to consider. Have a good look at the type of kitchens and bathrooms the superstores are offering so that you can point out the difference between a no-frills offer from them and the full service alternative you offer.

Pick your suppliers with care too. You want the flexibility of a product offer that will enable you to offer more choice to consumers.

Ryanair don’t do long-haul because Ryanair doesn’t want to gear up to offer long-haul. The ‘sheds’ cannot compete with the independent specialist on the breadth of the product offer or on the level of customer service an independent can offer. They too are stuck with their limited product and service option.

You won’t win every order of course. Thousands of satisfied people fly on no-frills airlines as they offer great value for money and have changed the whole ballgame of international travel. Likewise the lower cost kitchen and bathroom offers from the superstores have changed kitchen and bathroom retailing but I suspect that quite a few consumers don’t really want to settle for a no-frills kitchen or bathroom and would ‘upgrade’ to a better solution if it was within their budget.

And if it isn’t within their budget, they were never going to be your customer in the first place.

Kitchens and bathrooms are still top of the popular home improvement pops

While the ‘don’t move – improve’ mantra has taken a bit of a bashing in recent weeks as the property market starts to wake up again, the evidence is that many people still want to improve their current home, and kitchen and bathroom projects are still the most popular choice of projects to tackle.

According to a survey conducted by Zopa last year, almost three quarters of two-person households (74%) wanted to improve their home, and it would seem that the larger the household, the keener they are. For example 86% of three-person households said they wanted to improve their home, while a staggering 91% of four-person households wanted improvements!

Zopa is the world’s oldest and Europe’s largest peer-to-peer lending service. Zopa peer-to-peer lending works by bringing together individuals who have money to lend, and individuals who wish to borrow money, so it’s pretty darn keen on finding out where the dosh is most needed. And although the survey I’m quoting from was conducted last year, the results still provide a good indicator of where the smart money is being spent.

For example, Zopa suggest that the most popular age group for home renovations is between 35 and 54 (92%) compared with 72% of those aged between 18-34, and I’m prepared to bet that this hasn’t changed much since the survey was conducted in 2013.

When it comes to hope improvement projects themselves, the results are very encouraging. Kitchens accounted for 24% of home improvements (the single largest group) and bathrooms accounted for 18%. Only structural projects at 20% was large than bathrooms.

Arguably the best finding for kitchen and bathroom independents in the survey was that 71% of those questioned said they were going to use a professional for the work (eat your hearts out DIY Superstores) which may be just as well because Zopa estimates that one in five homes can be damaged by over-enthusiastic DIY activity.

When it comes to adding value to a home, the case is less obvious as far as kitchen and bathroom replacements are concerned. Loft conversions are top of this particular pop, followed by room extensions. Adding a conservatory will add value, but not as much as one may think. The average increase is a tad under £9k compared with a whisker over £20k for the average loft conversion.

Be that as it may, a well-designed, professionally installed kitchen or bathroom will make a home easier to sell compared with a similar home lacking these features, and the owner will probably sell their home for closer to the asking price with a decent kitchen and bathroom too.

However, if your client is looking to have a kitchen or bathroom installed in order to help them sell a property, bland is best according to Zopa. If the home improvement is too personal, this can prevent a sale rather than help to seal the deal. This may explain that when it came to paint colours, 26% chose white and 20% chose cream.

Red was the choice of just 6%

Pininfarina and Snaidero celebrate 25 years of partnership

Pininfarina and Snaidero presented the Snaidero Ola25 Limited Edition at Eurocucina to celebrate 25 years of partnership. It is the latest version of a fabulous original kitchen and one of the very few that can live up to the accolade of being a ‘modern classic’.

The partnership between Pininfarina and Snaidero was forged in 1989 from the encounter between the company Chairmen Sergio Pininfarina and Rino Snaidero, who shared a passion for beauty and technological innovation. From the start, the merger of the two brands aimed to combine the Pininfarina design heritage with Snaidero’s experience in kitchens to conceive innovative solutions for the domestic space.

Ola, the first fruit of the partnership, had a strong architectural impact set off by cutting-edge technical solutions; it started the ball rolling and won the Chicago Athenaeum prize for architecture. It helped to establish Pininfarina Extra, headed by Paolo Pininfarina, as a stand-alone design house.

Snaidero’s Ola by Pininfarina was probably the first non-Ferrari big success for the House of Pininfarina and it has remained one of my favourite kitchens since I first saw it tucked away under a dustsheet at the back of a Snaidero workshop just prior to its official launch. The only reason I’m telling you this is because I do not what you to think I am biased, I want you to KNOW I am!

Ola was followed in subsequent years by projects that expressed a new stylistic language, combining formal and functional excellence. Viva, Idea, Acropolis and Venus are an expression of extensive research activities designed to imagine and develop space around man and his needs.

In 2010, 20 years after their first product, the two brands launched Ola20, an extremely iconic project, which also won the Good Design Award from the Chicago Design Athenaeum Museum.

Today, Paolo Pininfarina and Edi Snaidero celebrate the anniversary of the partnership by launching Ola25, a kitchen with unique stylistic and functional characteristics, of which a maximum of 84 individually crafted units will be produced, as a tribute to Pininfarina’s 84 years of activity.

Starting from the iconic design of the Ola20, Pininfarina and Snaidero have conceived an even more refined and exclusive product, tailor-made to the client’s specification. Three different versions will be offered.

Ola Audace

The Ola Audace

The Audace version, inspired by the Sergio concept car, is a provocative, futuristic interpretation of modern space. The use of the colours red and black, and of materials like the carbon fibre used for the sculpted support of the island worktop, clearly has their roots in the automotive world.

Ola Inedita

Ola Inedita

The Inedita version underlines the sensuality of the curves, the particular feature of the whole project, with a fluid, light and harmonious composition, underlined by the contrast between the champagne coloured doors and the polished black glass of the worktop.

Ola Classica

Ola Classica

The Classica version is a modern rereading of the original version, in which the distinctive elements, like the support of the island worktop and the profiles, are finished with lacquered bronze.

A new interpretation of the Idea kitchen was also presented in Milan, alongside the Ola25. Idea was the first example of a kitchen without handles. It was created in 1972, and soon made its mark for the elegance of its design and its clean cut lines, based on balanced volumes and the interplay of soft and delicate lines.

In 2000 Snaidero commissioned Pininfarina to work on a restyled version. Pininfarina managed to bring a new freshness to the model, as well as elegance and refinement. In 2000 the project received the Good Design Award from the Chicago Design Athenaeum.

Snaidero and Pininfarina now present a new interpretation of the Idea. Cleaner, sharper and more technological, Idea is a seductive combination of design, rationality and outstanding materials, and a balance between form and uncompromising technology.

How does the ‘budget for business’ look now?

It’s only a couple of weeks since the great and the good of the kitchen and bathroom market rushed into print (or online) to share their informed views with the rest of us about how good or otherwise the 2014 Budget would be.

Personally, I’m in the Mark Wilkinson camp with regards to how much extra business it is going to bring to your average kitchen or bathroom specialist, which is precious little according to his most recent blog for K&B Network.

Since the dust settled on the Chancellor’s statement, and serious financial journalists have had the opportunity to report on the detail, the section that has attracted the most comment are the changes to personal pensions, which for the first time give Jo Public the chance to take the money – all the money they have accrued – and run, or invest it a variety of schemes.

Perhaps I missed it in the volume of newsprint and its online equivalent (ether-print possibly?), but I have seen very little so far to warm the cockles of the heart of independent kitchen or bathroom retailers.

The most popular choice for ‘investing’ the dosh I’ve read is to buy a Lamborghini. Doesn’t anybody want to buy a drop-dead gorgeous kitchen and/or bathroom with their savings? Couldn’t they at least consider a Ferrari which can be designed by Paolo Pininfarina who also designs kitchens and bathrooms?

A close second to a Lamborghini in the lump sum investment stakes is buy-to-let, possibly the curse of the UK kitchen market. Buy-to-let speculators swoop on the new-build market and snaps up property that just a few years ago could have been starter homes.

Developers, very few of whom seem to be in business for the long-haul (apart from sitting on land banks while the value increases), frequently go for the lowest common denominator and build property attractive to buy-to-let buyers rather than families. The buy-to-let market is hardly famous for specifying designer kitchens and bathrooms for their property and very little of this business is going to find itself into the independent sector.

The glimmer of hope in this is that parents may use part of their lump sum to help their children get their start in the property market and they will want to improve their new home. Sadly the downside here is that too many of the will be attracted to the so-called ‘discount’ offers from the superstores rather than the better proposition offered by the majority of independent kitchen and bathroom showrooms.

But at least in this area the independent has a chance of winning some of this new business. To quote from Mr Wilkinson’s blog once more:

“If you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think you can, you stand a chance.”

K&B Network is published by Pro Publishing, a sponsor of this blog.

Five top tips to capitalise on cooker hoods

The once humble cooker hood has gone from being a rather boring but necessary product to a ‘designer’ appliance capable of adding that elusive wow factor to the most pedestrian of kitchen layouts.

Jacqui Hoctor

Jacqui Hoctor commercial manager at BEST

It can also add a wow factor to order values too, but how can you maximise on the opportunity? I asked Jacqui Hoctor, commercial manager at specialist cooker hood brand BEST to provide five tips that would help independents capitalise on cooker hoods.

1: Choosing a suitable, eye-catching design

Displaying a spectacular hood can draw footfall into your showroom. The style of the environment will obviously influence what style of designer cooker hood will create the perfect finish. If the kitchen is traditionally-styled for example, then you may want to opt for a more conventionally shaped hood; if this is displayed above a range cooker, a colour-matched hood offers an interesting option.

Fly cooker hood

The new Fly cooker hood from BEST

However, if the kitchen in question is modern and minimalist, it may be worth investing in a statement pendant cooker hood to provide a focal point and designer finish. If possible, it is always worth investing in several options, so that you can make a suggestion tailored to an individual’s requirements and own design plans.

2: Offer a selection

As different kitchen layouts require different types of hoods, where possible it is best to offer a variety of options. Hood styles include:

* Ceiling Hoods: Ideal above cooking islands in open plan kitchens as they fit directly into the ceiling offering an uninterrupted view. Installed into a false ceiling, with additional lighting, the designer feel of the whole space is enhanced.

Fusion cooker hood

Fusion cooker hood by BEST

* Canopy Hoods: Compact hoods that are designed to fit into kitchen cabinets, so again they don’t impact on design schemes.

* Wall Mounted Hoods: Offer the widest choice of designs, finishes and colours. They fit against the wall and complement any kitchen space. Certain sophisticated features avoid the need for chimney sections to cover ducting on exterior walls.  Ideal for retaining the lines of minimalist design treatments. Angled hoods are perfect for those or who are taller and want to avoid banging their heads!

* Downdraft Hoods: Mainly used in island units sitting behind the hob, these hoods rise from the work surface and are neatly hidden away when they are not in use.

* Island/Pendant Hoods: Hang down from the ceiling and are commonly installed above a kitchen island or close to a wall. Some sophisticated designs can easily be mistaken for lighting. These look particularly great in pairs above a larger hob or set of dominoes and even above a dining table.

3: Help consumers to plan for their space

If a consumer has an open plan kitchen or particularly enjoys entertaining in the kitchen, it may be best to steer them towards quieter hoods that won’t interrupt the flow of conversation. A quiet hood will operate below 70dB on full power, with the most silent on the market operating at under 50dB.

Nettuno cooker hood

Nettuno cooker hood by BEST

It is also worth considering how the buyer uses their kitchen. For example, if a lot of wok cooking and griddling is done then a particularly powerful extraction rate may be required and ducting out would be recommended where this is feasible.

4: Get clued up

One helpful tip when it comes to selling hoods is to help the consumer to select the right extraction rate. In order to work out the required rate, simply multiply the total space of the open plan room by 10. For instance: An open plan room which is 5m by 6m and which has a ceiling of 2.3m high, requires a cooker hood with an extraction rate of (5 x 6 x 2.3) x 10 = 690 m3/h.

It is also worth familiarising yourself with the latest technological innovations that might help optimise extraction. For example, some hoods are now available with Advanced Sensor Control (ASC). This feature automatically switches on the hood when odours, steam or smoke are detected by the sensors.

Cirrus cooker hood

Cirrus cooker hood by BEST

The correct speed is automatically regulated and extraction continues for a few minutes until all residual odours have been eliminated. Great for cooks who forget to use their extractor until they burn something!

5: Think of the bigger picture

Hoods are often not top of the buying agenda when designing a kitchen. However, this is the ideal time for the retailer, as the expert, to provide advice on the benefits of good extraction. Brands specialising in cooker hoods, offer quality, performance and superior design to add the finishing touch to any kitchen and complement any other appliance brand.