‘Successful retailing is… keeping up with trends and understanding your market’

Rebecca Nottingham discusses the relationship between supplier and showroom with Multiwood’s sales director Caroline Allan, creative director Ben Allan and marketing manager Dan Evers

In today’s rollercoaster economic climate, any business managing to keep its head above water is faring pretty well.

What’s even more encouraging, in such uncertain times, is talking to a business, like Bury-based components firm Multiwood, that’s not only celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, but is, according to sales director Caroline Allan, currently experiencing “some of the best years in its history”.

“In the past five years we’ve increased our turnover from £4.5 million to £7m,” she explains. “We’re investing heavily in infrastructure and have just had our biggest product launch to date. We also have more new ranges planned for later in the year. It’s a really exciting time for us.”

Over the past three decades, the company has established itself as one of the leading suppliers of premium doors, handles and accessories to independent kitchen retailers.

Along with her brother, Multiwood’s creative director Ben Allan, Caroline now plays a huge role in the day-to-day running of the business that was founded in 1987 by their father, managing director Doug Allan along with, his then business partner, Eric Kershaw.

“We’re constantly making changes to our operation and product ranges to ensure we’re flexible and fast to adapt when our customers need us to be,” explains Ben. “Part of the investment in infrastructure was the completion of a warehouse extension, which has given us an extra 25,000sq ft of space and will enable us to continue to improve the service we provide our customers in order to help them stay ahead of their competitors.”

Allestree in slate grey from Multiwood's First Impressions collection
Allestree in slate grey from Multiwood’s First Impressions collection

Q: What do you put Multiwood’s success down to and what really sets the company apart from other kitchen component suppliers?
Caroline Allan: Quality is at the heart of everything we do. We set ourselves high standards – dad has a very strong moral compass and he started the company with the ethos that he wouldn’t sell anything that he wouldn’t be happy to have in his own home. Part of our success is definitely down to our attention to detail and investment in continuous improvements to all aspects of the business. It’s about being aware of what we’re good at but also what needs improving and constantly working on that.

Ben Allan: To remain competitive, we obviously offer our own versions of the best-selling, most popular styles, but we also strive to offer our retailers something different. We make a point of tracking trends and, for example, we’ve just launched the Foundry door, as part of our new Cosdon range. Using some of the latest technology, it has a unique textured, painted finish that looks completely different from anything that already exists out there. That’s already proved extremely popular for us.

CA: We’re innovative, we do things our own way and don’t just look at what our competitors are doing, which allows our customers to be competitive at the same time.

Dan Evers: We’re always trying to understand our customers better. We’re in the process of launching a trade website, which will enable us to communicate with them on a wider scale. That’s off the back of the successful launch of our consumer-facing website, where they can familiarise themselves with the First Impressions brand and product range. We’re also planning to add a retailer finder option to the site. Directing footfall to showrooms is another way of supporting our retailers and helping them maximise opportunities in the market.

Q: How does investing in new technology benefit your retail network directly?
BA: Our dealers are under more pressure than ever before and, therefore, require products on a faster lead-time. So, as a supplier, it’s about being responsive and making sure you’re efficient enough to meet the needs of your retail network. We, and our suppliers, continually invest in new technology to improve efficiency, reduce production and lead-times and the time it takes us to replenish stock.

Cosdon bespoke painted door in matt graphite and Foundry door in tarnished brass
Cosdon bespoke painted door in matt graphite and Foundry door in tarnished brass

CA: It goes back to being able to offer customers something different. The new technology means that, in addition to main-stream products, we can offer a choice of textures and finishes, which allows retailers to offer something that little bit different.

Q: What makes a successful kitchen retailer?
BA: For me, successful retailing is about keeping up with current trends and understanding what it is your target market actually wants. Consumers are so much savvier than ever before, because they’re using social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram and websites like Houzz to get inspiration – a good retailer has to stay on top of the fast-paced changes in trends. It’s just as important for suppliers like ourselves to be on point with trends, because it’s our responsibility to be able to give our dealers access to them when they’re required.

DE: Independents are in a great position to really get to know and understand their customers. Companies that are executing marketing campaigns at a personal level, such as hosting events in their showrooms, are really exciting. Another thing that’s vital today is taking on a multichannel approach to retailing. We know that most people go online to research kitchens and retailers, so making sure you have a good online presence is essential. If you’re not already doing so, I’d say that showcasing your design work on your website is a priority.

Q: What are your predictions for the KBB market going forward? Is it a good time to be in the industry?
CA: There’s a lot of optimism out there in the industry. There’s a constant stream of new product launches coming through and our retailers are regularly investing in, and making changes to, their showrooms. General growth in the market does seem to have slowed down recently, which is no doubt a reflection of the political climate, but things are looking pretty positive.

BA: A few of us were at a trade show out in Germany recently; the vibe and the energy were just superb. We were all commenting on just how positive the industry seemed.

Eastdon shaker style in calico
Eastdon shaker style in calico

Q: What about Brexit? Has that decision not had a negative impact on Multiwood and the wider industry?
BA: The majority of our products come from Italy, so we received a price increase last year. We absorbed the costs for as long as possible, but we did put prices up on certain ranges in January. However, thanks to the support and investment that our suppliers are making, our best-selling range, the Welford, has actually come down in price. In fact, it’s cheaper now than it was in 2014. So there was a bit of a counterbalance.

CA: We’re always loathed to put our prices up, because we need to remain competitive, but sometimes you just have to do it, so you’re not compromising on quality or service.

BA: Brexit won’t affect our relationships with suppliers. We’ve been working with them from the beginning and, as always, whenever there are any changes in the political climate we just work together to get through them. We’ve always had that level of support and it’s why we continue to work together.

CA: We’ve been going for 30 years and there’ve been a lot of changes in the political landscape and the economy. You’re always better to make decisions on established facts, so I think we all just need time to see how it’s all going to pan out.

  • Main image left to right: Dan Evers, Caroline and Ben Allen
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