INTERVIEW: Benchmarx

‘We stand out from the rest of the market’

Trade-only retailer Benchmarx commercial director Terry Brown and new managing director Angela Rushforth (pictured) reveal why it is targeting the high-end of the market with its first premium kitchen range – the Chelsea framed slab – and how it is aiming to offer something different from the rest

Q: What was the thinking behind the launch of the new product ranges? And why have you now chosen to launch one for the high end of the market?
Terry Brown: We’ve always tried to offer a broad appeal for the mass market. I think there are products that go along with our kitchen range, which can get you to that higher position. If you look at our worktop collection, for example, or our portfolio of AEG and Neff appliances. If you’re in the market for a high-end kitchen, or want to spend some money, you can do that with the appliances, not just the kitchen furniture.

We’ve had people literally come in and go ‘wow’. I think products that go alongside that – lighting, worktops, appliances – can do that for us as well. It’s not always about the kitchen furniture, obviously it’s a key part, but we work hard on all of the other things as well to make them appealing and provide that stretch.

Q: What do you hope they will achieve?
TB: For me, it’s continuing to show that we’re innovative, that we’re keeping up with the market, but also trying to lead the way in certain sections.

Terry Brown
Terry Brown

When we ask our customers questions, one of the things they’re interested in is what’s new. It gives us a reason to talk to a customer again. New is the lifeblood of the business. You need to be constantly ticking this box where it tends to be more and more fashion-driven.

If you miss a cycle of development, you find yourself suddenly two years behind the game and it’s difficult to catch up. So you have to be seen to be on that curve all of the time or you quickly lose ground. And of course, we’re going to sell some more kitchens. At the end of the day, we’d like to sell a few more. We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think it would make us more money.

Q: How’s business?
Angela Rushforth: Business is going really well and it’s growing. We’re expanding all of the time and we’re putting down 15 new branches this year. We’re also refreshing some of our older branches.

Q: How is the market faring? Have you seen any impact from Brexit?
AR: I don’t think we’ve really seen that impact or that effect at all over the past few months. People are still moving, still buying kitchens and we’ve still got loads of growth to go at. So [Brexit] hasn’t affected our business at all. We’ve had some challenges in the market over pricing. But I think what we are doing is being fair to the customer in terms of what we base it on.

We’ve seen the biggest impact already and after that real high point early on, things have settled down a little bit and we can see a little bit more certainty and stability in the future. So, we’re a bit more relaxed than we were 12 months ago. From our perspective, and certainly with our colleagues, it’s not a topic of conversation. While all that goes on in the outside world, we just focus on what we’re good at, which is selling kitchens.

Q: What is your strategy for the UK? Are these ranges part of your growth plans?
AR: Absolutely, and it’s about continued innovation. It’s about looking at how we match the customer’s needs. In terms of looking at how the installers fit, how can we make products they can install faster, so that we can engage more with our customers, so that they’re getting more from us – and that’s key.

Chelsea matt dove grey kitchen
Chelsea matt dove grey kitchen

We’re also looking to grow and put renters down. We’ve got a mix of formats that work differently. We’ve got showrooms and we’ve got implants inside Travis Perkins branches. And we’ll continue to do that as all of those formats are working for us.

Q: What do you think about Virtual Worlds introducing 4D augmented reality sets? Do you think Benchmarx will ever use this technology in its stores?
TB: In our existing fusion system, we’re able to walk through a kitchen and do a panoramic view. We also have our virtual reality headset, but it’s not used for kitchen planning. Those sorts of technologies are becoming more accessible. I think the trick will be to find the right one at the right time, as long as it’s right for the customer. The customer wants to do things in their own home, they don’t necessarily want to travel to our branch to have that experience of virtual technology or planning. And we need to find a way of doing that planning exercise remotely. I think in five years’ time, when we think about planning a kitchen, we’ll be doing very different stuff. But I don’t think anyone’s arrived at that place yet.

Q: Some have argued that the market is too crowded and that kitchen retailers are morphing into copycats of each other. What are your thoughts on this?
AR: I think our position stands out as being quite different from the rest of the market. So, in terms of being a copycat, I don’t see that – certainly not from our perspective.

We want to concentrate on what we do really well and continue to do that, which is about matching our customers’ needs and delivering great service. So the product offering that we’ve got in terms of 24/48-hour lead time helps us to stand out. I don’t see another dealer following that at the moment.

Q: Have you been focusing more on your online offering?
TB: We’re talking to someone that can help us with that. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but that’s the way forward and we’re on that journey now. We’ve got plans to try to engage with the homeowner a bit more and the tradesman.

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