Why British is best…
British furniture manufacturers offer better quality, better customer support, shorter lead times and are quicker at dealing with remedials. This was the view of the retailers kbbreview surveyed who have made UK suppliers their mainstay. Francesca Seden reports
With Brexit just around the corner, and no deal yet in sight, uncertainty is in the air when it comes to the UK’s trading future with Europe.
As a result, some retailers are reconsidering their supply chains, and, because of the poor exchange rate, a few are looking at brands closer to home.
The retailers featured in this piece have majored on British furniture suppliers Symphony, JJO, Mereway and Crown Imperial for up to 20 years between them, and they champion those brands, and the other UK brands they sell, with great enthusiasm.
According to them, UK furniture manufacturers can offer everything the Europeans can in terms of style, but also better quality and much faster remedial action should there ever be an issue.
Customer service and communication were cited as exceptional and, in some cases, better than their European cousins.
Finally, although we found that consumers don’t often tend to specifically ask for British products, our retailers reported that they are enthusiastic when told that their cabinetry is made just down the road.
Supporting the home economy, as well as pride in British manufacturing, are also important to consumers. And even more so, now that Brexit is at the front of people’s minds.
So the question we should be asking is, why would you choose anything other than British products for your showroom?
‘We stock them because of the service they offer’
Q: Why do you use Mereway?
A: We’ve been an exclusive retailer of Mereway Kitchens for more than 20 years now. First and foremost, we stock them because of the service they offer. It’s been excellent in terms of customer service, manufacturing remedials – all the things that really assist you as a retailer.
Coupled with that, they’ve always tried to stay up-to-date with the current trends. They’re not always as quick to market in some respects, but they always catch up – and when they do, they do a fantastic job and make sure it’s a product comparable with a handleless from Germany or a great in-frame English style.
Q: What can British manufacturers offer that European brands cannot?
A: I think it really comes down to those lead times. With stock products, we can sometimes turn kitchens around in two or three weeks. You’re not going to get that from a German manufacturer. And likewise, with remedials or replacements, we can get them in days rather than weeks. We’ve heard horror stories about retailers having to wait six to eight weeks for something to be sent. I don’t know how you’d appease a customer who had to wait that long.
Q: Is UK quality or variety better than European manufacturers?
A: I think the variety is better. British manufacturers have to make sure they’re catering for all tastes – so they offer an in-frame as well as a handleless option, for example. You tend to find that European manufacturers offer one style of kitchen, so you’d have to have a variety of styles from different brands. We like the fact that we deal with one manufacturer that offers that variety.
Q: Do you have any customers that come in and ask specifically for British products?
A: No, not really. We don’t tend to find customers looking for a British kitchen. Unless they’re looking for what they perceive as a British-style or British traditional kitchen, such as a shaker or in-frame – but in terms of brands, not really. German kitchens tend to have that brand awareness around them.
But when we start talking to our customers about what having a British kitchen means, they really buy into that – that it’s handmade by people in the UK, that it doesn’t have to be shipped all around Europe, and that it has a shorter lead time. People like to buy into something handcrafted in Britain.
Q: Since the Brexit decision, have you found that your customers are more interested in British products?
A: We’ve haven’t seen it explicitly, but I think that will be a factor, because people might be a bit more worried about exchange rates and think that maybe they want to keep their money in the UK.
Conversely, you could argue that those who voted to leave the EU want to be buying British in any event, because they weren’t interested in doing business with the EU anyway.
Everyone’s gone quite quiet on the topic and it’s not something we really like to discuss with our customers. Fifty-two per cent of people out there did vote for Brexit and you wonder why.
‘Consumers trust the quality of British products’
British consumers are proud of their heritage and trust the quality of British products. They are often looking for products and businesses that are environmentally sound and want to support both the local community and British economy as a whole.
UK products also offer a more workable lead time, provide excellent build quality, while still benefiting from some European components and ensure a reliable and efficient after-sales service.
We have found, over the decades we have worked with Symphony that, with them, we can provide the latest design trends, while still benefiting from a major manufacturer supply chain, and still provide excellent attention to detail. Product support and design trends are wide and varied across the ranges, allowing us to offer everything from Germanic linear furniture through to solid wood in-frame doors.
Personal experience would suggest that some European-branded kitchens are not all they initially appear to be – the build quality of Symphony Group kitchens we sell is often far superior. The range of products is so varied that we share the benefits of using multiple suppliers, without the risk of varying qualities.
We have a wide-ranging customer base covering all ages and budgets, but everyone is looking for quality and value for money, while also providing the style and finish of their preference.
Some customers come in to see us under the impression that a kitchen should be German or Italian in order to meet their design brief. They are pleasantly surprised when they learn we can provide that finish and look using a British company with outstanding quality and attention to detail as standard.
Price increases have been widely publicised following the Brexit decision and kitchen furniture is no exception. Retailers importing European kitchens must be feeling the effects and instability of the exchange rates. We are fortunate to be largely unaffected by these changes, as both we and our furniture supplier are based in the UK.
‘We’re building a partnership’
Symphony, Mercury, Perrin & Rowe and Shaws
One of the real selling points for us with Symphony was that we got our own area. We don’t get Joe Bloggs coming in from down the road telling us he’s seen the same kitchen cheaper, and asking us to match the price. We didn’t want to get into that.
We also do a lot of contracts work, so another key thing for us is the partnership we’re building with Symphony and the support packages we get for our developers in terms of products and service.
We also sell Mercury cookers, Perrin and Rowe and Shaws sinks. We try to sell what we can in terms of British products, but it also comes down to what the customer will ask for – such as Siemens, Bosch and Neff appliances. In order to compete, we have to stock those brands.
But in terms of cabinetry, Symphony is all we need. They have the partnership with Laura Ashley and we sell a lot of that – there’s a big buzz for that Laura Ashley brand. And the products they have within the Gallery range are a nice mix of contemporary, traditional, modern and classic.
Then you have the Linear range, which is Germanic in style. So we can give customers exactly what they want.
If we took on more brands, it could be too much choice – overloading customers with information, which may mean we don’t end up converting that interest into a sale. If a customer comes in wanting something particular, we’ll offer them a similar look.
Sometimes the older generation will ask where the product has come from – whether or not it’s British-made, but that usually applies to cabinetry. Generally, they know the appliances will be coming from Europe, but for the cabinetry they like to know that it’s coming from the UK.