‘We’re giving retailers the ammunition they need to compete’
Ben Burbidge (pictured), managing director of kitchen and bathroom furniture manufacturer Burbidge, reveals the reasons behind the launch of its Simply Burbidge collection and its ambitious growth plans
Q: What was the driving force behind the launch of the Simply Burbidge collection?
A: We recognise that the KBB market is changing in line with the wider retail dynamic. In this way, while there’ll always be a strong demand for high-end, premium kitchen design, there is also an escalating amount of business where value for money is the primary driver. We’re constantly looking at our business and at ways we can improve the service we offer our retailers. Simply Burbidge is a direct reaction to the fact that they are under pressure from consumers on price. It still has the same level of quality in terms of materials and manufacturing, but at a more competitive price point.
Q: What makes it so competitive?
A: We’re taking advantage of volume manufacturing and increasing the number of doors we produce and keep in stock. The increased volume also means we’ve been able to negotiate better prices for our raw materials. We’ve taken out a lot of the cost of the product, but what’s key is that we’re giving the retailer the benefit of those reduced costs and not just taking a bigger margin.
Q: Where’s the price-pressure on retailers coming from specifically?
A: The market it very competitive in general, which I think is just going to continue, and some of the pressure is definitely coming from the sheds and Howdens. You only have to look at the amount of money Howdens is investing in manufacturing and distribution at the moment to see that they’re a solid operation.
Q: Are the multiples and Howdens a real threat to independents then? Don’t independents normally win business on their strong service?
A: Generally speaking, the level of service and flexibility consumers get from an independent is going to be higher than they’ll get from the sheds. But we know they are under pressure on price at times, so we’re trying to support them by giving them the ammunition they need when speaking to customers who are more price-oriented. The Simply Burbidge range will give retailers the opportunity to offer something that’s a little bit more finished, but in the same price ballpark, which will help when they’re up against the likes of Howdens.
Q: As a business what are you hoping to achieve with the new collection? Are you looking to increase your retail network?
A: Inevitably, in any market, customers come and go, so you have to keep looking for ways to get more business. We have a lot of customers that we haven’t always dealt with in a big way, often because we didn’t have a product that met their needs. With the launch of Simply Burbidge, we’re expecting to maximise the business we do and be able to be a bigger supplier to a wider number of retailers. We’re aiming for sales of around £2 million within the first year.
Q: How’s business at Burbidge?
A: We’re seeing good levels of growth in all areas of the business and overall we’re predicting turnover of over £11m this year, which would put us 10% up on last year.
Q: What do you put that growth down to?
A: We identified gaps in the market we weren’t hitting and have widened our offer greatly over the past 12 months to plug those. The main element of that growth is down to the introduction of bathroom furniture to the mix. The product is quite different from everything else that’s available and since the launch of The Bathroom Furniture Co. last year, we’ve seen sales double month on month. We also launched the Langton range around Christmas time. It’s the highest value range of doors and accessories we offer and meets demand from independent retailers looking for a bespoke offering, but still at a price point that’s within the reach of their clients.
Q: How’s the market looking?
A: The market is pretty solid and very competitive and I think that’s just going to continue. There are a lot of strong players out there. I do feel, generally, that it’s flattened out recently and that it’s lost a bit of the momentum we saw in March at the kbb Birmingham show. But I put that down to nerves around the run-up to the referendum and post-Brexit uncertainty. Hopefully, we’ll see that change as the impact of the decision becomes clearer.
Q: How will the decision to leave the EU affect the KBB industry?
A: While the outcome was certainly a shock for many, and will certainly have financial repercussions for the economy, we can only make the best of the situation. Inevitably, the coming months, and probably years, will be uncertain and this may well have a dampening effect on the KBB market, as consumers defer making high-ticket purchases and people weigh more carefully the commitment to borrow significant sums to buy into the housing market. However, the decision has been made, so all we can do is to continue to operate with ‘business as usual’, while we await further news on the exit strategy. Obviously, it will depend on the economy, but the push on house building that the Government has put in place will stimulate the market.
Q: What’s your strategy for the company moving forward?
A: We’re pretty ambitious and have a growth programme in place. I predict that we will grow quite significantly over the next three to five years and that’s what we’re gearing up for. If the Simply range does what we hope it will do, that will allow us to invest in our manufacturing processes, because we think there’s still quite a lot of opportunity for growth in the market. Our aim is to build The Bathroom Furniture Co. into a £5m business and it’s showing all the signs that we will achieve that.