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?
‘It’s everything we need’
Tracey Bond, director, Kitchen Culture, Kent.
We chose Crown not only because it’s British, but because it’s Kentish and just down the road from us. We really feel that we’re supporting the local economy and it’s great that we can visit the factory.
We’ve seen the product being made, we know how it works, and those things help to reinforce the confidence that we have in the brand. There is a comfort in knowing they’re right there – and there’s also lots of local brand awareness.
In terms of what Crown can offer over European brands, there’s obviously the logistical side of things. There’s also a greater risk of something getting damaged in transit if it’s coming from further away. We don’t have that problem.
Crown Imperial offers everything we need – a nice selection of products at a range of different price points, so it’s very rare that we get asked to supply anything other than Crown. And they can do contemporary style just as well as the European brands – 80% of the kitchens we sell are high-gloss and modern.
I think people are more interested in British products since the Brexit decision. It’s hard to say why, but I think it’s just brought them more to the front of people’s minds.
So far though, Brexit has had no other impact on our business at all, with the exception of some price increases.
‘We stock them because of the service they offer’
Max Davies, director, Classic Interiors, Redditch.
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.
‘The response is always positive’
Roy Challis, kitchen designer, Blanchford Building Supplies, Princes Risborough.
Crown Imperial and Chippendale by Omega
Q: Why are British brands preferable to a European supplier?
A: When I started at Blanchford, I inherited Crown. I didn’t choose Crown, Crown chose me. They were one of four manufacturers on display in our showroom, but the superior quality of Crown made it an easy choice compared with the others.
There are many reasons. Crown customer service has always been very good and that is combined with a great working relationship with the people in the office as well as the sales guys. Building a rapport with European suppliers can sometimes be harder to achieve.
If there are problems, they are rectified extremely quickly. This, combined with great lead times, make such a difference, even though some products have a six- to eight-week lead-time.
The quality of Crown products is superb. I am amazed some German manufacturers still use hardboard backs on their kitchen carcasses. With Crown, you get a solid 18mm back. It’s fantastic quality, in my opinion.
Q: How important is that quality to your customer-base?
A: Quality is always important. The great engineering that German manufacturers provide means they still supply the hardware, such as hinges, but the carcass quality Crown produces is so much better.
Q: Is there a particular type of customer that prefers British products?
A: I can’t recall any customer specifically asking us for a British product, but they are always pleased to find out when I tell them. There is a definite feel-good factor to be able to let them know, as the response is always positive.
Q: Since the Brexit decision, are consumers more interested in British products?
A: No, I wouldn’t say so. Consumers will still buy Neff ovens or BMW cars, whether we are in the EU or not.
Although a lot of blame is being accredited to Brexit for many things, I don’t think it will change people’s purchasing habits.
Quality will still be sought after, be that from the UK or Europe.
‘Consumers trust the quality of British products’
Clare and Darren de Viell, directors, de Viell, Exeter.
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.
‘German pricing is far too complicated’
Russell Jones, director, Russell Jones Kitchens and Bedrooms, Rhyl.
JJO, PWS, Uform
Q: What British brands do you stock and what has driven your decision to use the brands you do?
A: JJO is our core supplier for kitchens and bedrooms, but we also deal with PWS and Uform from Northern Ireland. We also work with East Coast Fittings and we’re big suppliers of Belling appliances through JJO.
We do have two German products – Rotpunkt and Häcker – but the problem with us buying in from Germany is the exchange rate, which has just hammered the competitive edge that the Germans used to have.
So we’re using more and more British suppliers. There is a carcass manufacturer based in Wigan that we use, which offers an excellent Germanic-looking product.
I’m sure lots of people have a very healthy relationship with German kitchen suppliers, but I find the pricing directories far too complicated. They overegg everything, and there’s a language barrier.
But if there’s a query on a British-made order that I’m trying to process, I will just get in the car and drive an hour to Wigan and sit down with the production manager to sort the problem out and make sure everything looks as it should.
Q: So why do you have Rotpunkt and Häcker?
A: It’s because it’s the look everyone is after. We haven’t totally embraced it. If I’m being totally honest, that’s because of the language barrier, and if you have any damages, you have to wait four to five weeks.
With JJO, we get two deliveries a week and if something’s damaged we can either get a next-day courier to do the exchange or we can wait until the following week’s delivery. I’ve dealt with JJO for maybe 20 years, so I’ve got a good relationship with the product.
I’ve found with Rotpunkt that they tend to be a bit like a distributor really, where they’ll open up on every street corner. Where we are, within 50 miles, are probably seven or eight Rotpunkt dealers. So that just devalues the product, I think.
Q: There’s the argument that British brands can do the German look…
A: Absolutely, you just have to look at PWS and TKC. JJO is bringing out a handleless range in the near future. Burbidge does it. So we can mimic that Germanic style exactly.
Q: So if you could just use British brands, then would you still sell the German kitchens?
A: No, we’re just in the process of changing displays and taking them out for that reason. Crown Imperial is another company that offers a really good, Germanic-looking kitchen range.
For me, it’s about being able to pick up the phone and speak to someone in the same language and it’s the flexibility of being able to get in the car or the van and visit our supplier. Again, something we can’t do with a German brand.
Q: Is UK quality and variety better? After all, British brands have to cater for a wide range of tastes…
A: Yes, definitely. The Germans offer a traditional range, but it’s really archaic – it’s about 15 years behind where we are. Our German suppliers also don’t do curved units and, while I’m not a lover of curved units, they are extremely popular with customers, and it’s something we easily do with our UK suppliers.
Q: What do you make of manufacturer showrooms in the UK as opposed to German and Italian showrooms? Aren’t theirs always streets ahead in size and variety?
A: I think continental showrooms are much slicker, but so are the bigger, city-based showrooms in London or Manchester. We’re in the sticks here. We have to have that variety to suit everyone. But there are lots of UK manufacturers that have fantastic showrooms, so let’s not put them down.
Q: Do you have any customers that prefer British products or ask for them?
A: Yes. We also promote British products and obviously Belling has the Made in Britain logo.
Q: Why do your customers like British brands?
A: I think there’s a heightened sense of patriotism. I also believe that, because of the uncertainty Brexit is causing in the market, we need to get across that we are good at manufacturing.
‘We’re building a partnership’
Glyn Powell, director, Laranza, Bury St Edmunds.
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.
‘The quality is more consistent’
Andrew Mark Savage, director, Elite Kitchens and Bathrooms, Cheadle.
Symphony and a range of British bathroom brands
Q: You sell Symphony, do you sell any other British brands?
A: We sell Imperial Bathrooms, which are from Birmingham, Samuel Heath, also from Birmingham, Matki and Marflow. We like British products.
Q: What’s driven your decision to stock these particular brands?
A: We find the quality from UK manufacturers is better and more consistent.
Q: And why have you chosen to sell Symphony over a European supplier for example?
A: We have a great relationship with them as we’ve been with them for 18 years. The relationship is as important as the product to us. Any service issues we have are dealt with very quickly. The innovation is also better now than it used to be.
Q: Would you say that is the same story for the bathroom brands you sell?
A: Yes, they’re definitely innovating and developing new products.
Q: Some of the German brands might suggest that they are king when it comes to innovation…
A: Well they are, but their products aren’t always compatible in UK bathrooms. For example, Marflow and Samuel Heath taps are made for British water pressure. German products might look great, but they might not work.
Q: Do you find that any of your customers tend to prefer British products?
A: No, not specifically. People might want to buy British, but I don’t think you could put a whole bathroom together using British products. But it is nice to use a combination. Certainly, if you have a glass cubicle in there, British is the way. We sell a lot of Matki now, as when it goes wrong, or you have an issue, or you need something bespoke, then it’s great, because you’ve got a team that is UK-based. It gives customers flexibility and us peace of mind.
We don’t have customers coming in and saying they’ll only buy British, but the customer definitely engages when you explain that it is. If you can say you’ve been to Birmingham and watched the products being made, that is quite a nice sell.
Q: What issues do you face as a retailer of British products that perhaps might be unique to you? How might manufacturers help you to solve these issues?
A: I think we lack a very strong sanitaryware manufacturer in the UK. There are some, but they’re not the best. In the areas where the UK is the best in terms of bathroom products, we stock the best. In shower cubicles, we are ahead, but it would be great to see some better sanitaryware manufacturers.
In terms of marketing, I think it’s great when a manufacturer calls and offers a discount, but what we’d really like is for them to market their products better, so we have a better chance of selling them. Get the brand out there, so it’s easier to sell. Jacuzzi was a great sell and then it disappeared. We’ve had these household names, but have given them up really.