04 October 2011

HOW'S BUSINESS: Northern Ireland


Norwave Bathrooms, Ammanford

Sept 2011 Norwave

Vernon Lewis, managing director

Business is OK. We have to work harder to get the business and we're spending more on advertising. We've improved our ads, we've upped the frequency and we've widened our advertising reach. What's more it has worked. Where we set a 50-mile radius previously, now we apply 100 miles. Footfall volume is down, but customers are coming in looking for a specific line or range. We've refurbished the showroom to introduce new ideas and adopted the same approach to our publicity - we'll make ourselves available when it suits the customer to visit, not just nine to five. The customers we're seeing are in their forties and fifties - there are no youngsters. The employment picture isn't great - probably reflecting the UK as a whole. House prices and sales here are flat and new-build is at a standstill. But I will make it work.

Living Kitchens, Old Cwmbran


Alison Silver, partner

Things are OK at present. They could be better but we are certainly still seeing a good level of footfall. Right now is weaker because it's the holiday season - people are either away or keeping their money tight for holidays. We've kept our ad spend the same, but truthfully we don't know what produces the best result. Unemployment doesn't appear to be an issue pressing on the business. Decision-making times are not escalating - some buy on the day they walk through the door, others take two or three weeks. You've got to do the selling job and call them. We redesigned the showroom last year. Everything is up to date and functioning, unlike some showrooms - a customer could come in here and cook their lunch. I'm not happy with the price-matching that some customers do using the web. Doing their homework is OK, but expecting us to match what someone with no retail overhead is asking is unrealistic. The suppliers have to get abreast of this. Trust me, I moan at the reps about this.

Morris Bros Kitchens, Aberystwyth

Sept 2011 morris bros

Paul Morris, director

Business is very good at present - we've got plenty of work on. We don't work with builders, it's all customers coming direct and they are improvers rather than movers. Spending on the existing home - an extension and a new kitchen - is a much better deal than giving money to solicitors and estate agents. The housing market here is quiet in any case and prices are dropping slowly. Four-fifths of our work comes from recommendation - we've been in business here for 57 years and we're the only specialist in Aberystwyth. We still spend on advertising, although we've cut Yellow Pages and focus on the internet instead. The cheap end of the market has gone - the big boys with stores in this town have gone bust. We update the showroom - we're doing the lighting right now.

Makepeace Cabinetmaking, Llandysul

Sept 2011 Makepeace

Mike Bowen, director

Business could always be better but we're ticking along nicely. Getting sales isn't ever easy and it's harder now, but we are getting them. We're investing in the business to the tune of about £250,000, particularly on new machinery. Footfall in the showroom is light, but it's good quality. People have to travel to see us and so they are serious. We're in a farming community so our stand at the Royal Welsh Show is important and effective - most of our customers are involved either directly or indirectly in that business. We also get leads from holiday-makers visiting the show. The National Assembly is doing a good job for Welsh business - we're involved with the Lead Wales programme at Swansea University, which says we are 'Wales's best kept secret'. We have an associate business in Chichester already and plan to roll that out. We aim not to be a Welsh secret.

TW Thomas, Swansea

Sept 2011 TW Thomas

David Thomas, managing director

Business is pretty tough, but there are signs of a pick-up. Showroom traffic has improved but I'd say that it will be well into 2012 before there's a real uplift. Our ad spend has stayed the same, but that means we're getting far better exposure per pound spent. Custom is solidly from improvers, not movers, typically aged 40 to 60. The housing market is fine at the top end, but lower down prices are falling. Swansea has 40% public sector workers - such as DVLA - so there's a fear factor here. There have been some redundancies already and consumer confidence is low. Internet competition is a serious problem, but increasingly suppliers realise that good display, good staff, expertise and after-sales service are the way to long-term success.

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