The owner of Rugby Fitted Kitchens comes out fighting following criticism of his approach to installation
Looks like I succeeded in poking the hornets’ nest last month [April, pg25], judging by the lengthy response from BiKBBI CEO Damian Walters in the same issue [pg33] and Diane Berry’s this month [pg5]. But guess what? I can’t agree with either of you, although isn’t that the beauty of free speech. On this one, I guess, we’re all right and wrong at the same time.
At RFK, we have great working relationships with all our self-employed installers, some of whom have worked on our projects for well over 15 years and in one case, over 20.
Not one of the nine teams we run today would want to ‘come in from the cold’ and go on the books.
Why not? Well, Diane, they all – to a man – appreciate the benefits of self-employment, such as being able to turn down work if they have other private work of their own to do or, Damian, if they feel the price is too low. Or they might want to take a month or more off to visit family down under, as one of our guys is doing this month, which, if he were on the books, Diane, he most certainly couldn’t.
They also like managing the installation, using their favoured plasterers, electricians, etc, as they have more control over time management and costs. They also like being self-employed for the tax benefits it brings them, as no way could they earn as much money on the books.
And, not least, our clients like it, as they only pay the installation fee on satisfactory completion, without any additional margin for RFK, as we are not interested in overcharging and profit-centring what is without doubt, both of you, an important and integral part of the overall service our business offers its clients.
We do, Damian, accept liability and warranty our clients installations, but what we don’t have is either clients or installers holding us to ransom because of large retentions.
We live by the mantra of ‘lose control of the money and you lose control of the job’. We don’t want the tail wagging the dog and we never, ever, forget it.
Rarely is an installation underpriced, but equally it is never overpriced, as every December we sit down and discuss installation pricing for the following year, trying to be fair to consumer and installer alike, and mostly manage to stick to the agreed rates. So to suggest, Damian, that we have been ‘squeezing’ our installers and need to work harder on relationships with them is, frankly, insulting, and I’d be surprised if I am alone in feeling unjustifiably picked on here.
I accept we don’t get it right at quotation stage every time, as there are so many variables when it comes to room prep that even our, above-average, designers can’t possibly spot everything on initial survey.
This is why we have removed room prep from the fixed-price element of our installation estimating and we send the installer in once the quote has become an order.
Damian suggests I can’t avoid the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and we have no desire to do so. We endeavour to achieve a happy medium between not committing to a potentially variable price ahead of the expert confirming it and not losing the job by being too woolly, or underpricing. Going back with your hand out for more never goes down well with the consumer.
But we’re kitchen specialists, not a small building firm. Nevertheless, we are having to embrace change, as Damian suggests, which is why we feel we have established an equitable system that works fairly for all parties. As we do more bigger projects, so we need more installers to continue to grow, and herein lies the heart of the problem.
We’re all agreed there’s not enough talent to go round and I commend the BiKBBI for its kitchen installation academy initiative. Nobilia GB is doing the same, as others will be.
But with Damian sounding more like a 1970s trades union convenor than the head of an industry trade body – suggesting we must all pay our fitters more or they won’t work for us independents, it’s not surprising that I, and many others, are wondering about the benefits of BiKBBI membership.
Of course, if you ask people if they’d like to earn more money it’s hardly surprising that most respondents to the BiKBBI survey said yes – who wouldn’t!
Now they’re encouraged to chase the lucrative B2C market, cutting us out. But can these installers understand the complex products and designs we supply if they’re not working with us regularly? I very much doubt it.