Swift Electrical commercial director Malcolm Scott came away from the kbb Birmingham show impressed by the high quality of displays, the many new and innovative products and the strong message that fitted kitchens are still very much a showroom-based sector
On the face of it, the kbb Birmingham show seems to have gone well. The NEC website reports 16,000 retailer, design and development visitors to the show and 400 brands on display across the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom sector. Easily the biggest specialist KBB show in the UK.
Was it worth attending? Was it worth displaying? Was there something new to see? And of course, what were the messages being delivered by the manufacturers?
The answer is yes, yes and yes. And there were some interesting messages.
If you are employed in the KBB sector – where else would you see 400 brands and thousands of retailers and of course, where else would you ensure that these people saw you?
The cost is substantial, but the audience is of exceptionally high quality, and if your brand is not there, you can be sure someone else will be selling to your customers.
So what was there to see?
Hot taps were everywhere, with big brands like Franke and Blanco showing extensive ranges and plenty more from specialist brands like Perrin and Rowe, Insinkerator, Hotspot, 1810 Sink Co, Hyco, Astracast, Abode and Zip. The Insinkerator new 4in1 with three spout choices and two finishes was very popular with orders for over 200 displays taken. The innovative Perrin and Rowe hot tap with side spray was popular, while the Astracast 5in1 led the way in innovation with a sparkling water option. Franke was showing new copper, gunmetal, black and gold finishes for its contemporary Omni 4in1 tap.
Sink choices seemed to be endless. The 1810 stand was absolutely packed with different choices from its huge range, while Franke was showing a selection of big new Maris stainless steel under-mounts alongside some great new entry-level stainless steel sinks, plus new Frames very slim top-profile stainless steel inset sinks and innovative new metallic-effect granite sinks with stacks of matching accessories. Expanding on innovation, the Blanco Cronos sink was spectacular and really different – a Belfast farmhouse-style sink made in stainless steel. Perrin and Rowe launched a new collection of deep-bowl, stainless steel sinks with unique easy-clean profiles and was also showing a Belfast-style sink from sister brand Shaws.
Worktop surface innovation continued with Franke showing its Swiss bespoke stainless steel pearl finish tops in the UK for the first time to see if any specialist fabricators were interested. Blanco already has a very hi-tech stainless steel Steelart worktop range – while these are niche, top-end products, they show how innovative manufacturers can be.
On more traditional kitchen surface products, J Rotherham was showing an extensive range of granite, while Bushboard had great quartz ‘lookalike’ products for clients on a limited budget. Cosentino had a huge display of its three solid-surface brands, with lots of new products, plus a powerful message about ‘consumer pull’ and the generation of consumer demand via celebrity endorsement from Cindy Crawford and Rafael Nadal. Caesarstone had an impressive 46 colour options on display.
Furniture manufacturers gave us a really good showing. Masterclass was presenting its new coordinated fitted kitchen, freestanding furniture and built-in lounge and study furniture – its stand clearly showed just how much value can be added to a project like a penthouse studio flat by coordinating all furniture which is visible in the same room. Those who viewed the display will, I am sure, agree it really works as a concept. As a further innovative step, Masterclass has launched a whole range of pull-out storage solutions that are timber-based rather than wire, so that they look more like part of a fitted kitchen, but easily hold as much weight and are as versatile as wire pull-out solutions.
This development is along similar lines to the new Kesseböhmer coordinated wood and metal pull-out storage and highlights a trend towards making interior fittings within the fitted kitchen more like traditional furniture.
The German style was well represented by a range of brands including Pronorm, Rotpunkt and Brigitte while the flexibility of the British manufacturers was shown by BA Components with its Valore, with 10 colours available within seven days and with a six-year guarantee. Scavolini showed the ‘Italian look’ with a very nice mix of built-in and freestanding furniture.
Appliance manufacturers had their own innovations. Smeg was showing a new coordinated Linea built-in cooking collection plus new innovative split gas and induction hobs, a new 900mm linear built-under oven and a selection of show-stopping range cookers. AEG was showing its innovative new ‘pop-up basket’ dishwasher, which eliminates the need to bend down to load the dishwasher. It also had its very beautiful induction hob with downdraft, alongside some sleek, modern new ovens and an app to control them.
Caple and CDA were both showing a good selection of new ovens, new wine cabinets and new induction hobs with downdraft. Premium extraction brand Novy, from Belgium, showed its range of induction hobs with downdraft technology. Elica and Bora also demonstrated their versions of this extraction technology with hobs wired up and working so that visitors could see just how effective these products are and how much of an opportunity to ‘sell up’ they represent. Elica showed its visually stunning Dolce chimney hoods – traditional pyramid chimneys, but with very soft edges – completely different from anything else on show.
Messages from suppliers were clear, time and time again staff manning the many stands were saying that the fitted kitchen sector is still a showroom-based sector and would remain so for many years to come. Brand after brand, AEG, Franke, Perrin and Rowe, Insinkerator, Merlyn, Smeg and CDA, Cosentino with very many other exhibitors agreeing with Merlyn Showers commercial director Barry Hoyne that “consumers need to feel and look to understand high quality”.
This was translated into policy, with lots of channel-exclusive products and showroom-exclusive initiatives, such as the AEG Premier Partner programme and the Insinkerator Studio Collection. That is not to say that these and other brands do not value the business given to them by internet retailers, but rather that they recognise the importance of both sectors and support them in different ways.
To underline just how much of a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ business the fitted kitchen sector is, I am not aware of a single exhibitor who was promoting a specific package to internet traders, although the show was open to the whole industry, not just showroom-based retailers.
I was delighted to see a considerable number of retailers at the show who were setting up completely new showroom businesses, and I was also pleased to see the hi-tech computer software providers, like Virtual Worlds, heavily promoting their great innovative consumer products as ‘part of the modern showroom experience’, with 4D theatrical experience being offered as a showroom enhancer rather than an alternative to the showroom.
It was a great show for a vibrant and innovative consumer-goods sector. Well done to the whole KBB industry.