Showrooms hit back at online retailer

Independent retailers have rallied round Franke after a major internet dealer accused the sinks and taps giant of cancelling its supply deal.

James Hickman, managing director of Online Home Retail, previously told kbbreview that he had received a letter from distributor PJH advising that Franke had instructed it not to supply any products to them from January 22.

“When I contacted Franke, I was advised by their solicitors that they had decided we were ‘market free riders’ and that numerous other online sellers had also been identified as such,” he said.

But Hickman’s comments have sparked a wave of support for Franke from independents, who view the brand as protecting them from the threat of online competition.

Robert Charles, owner of Robert Charles Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms, congratulated Franke for “taking a stand against online ‘free riders’”.

While John Pelosi, director at Caldicot Kitchen and Bathroom Centre in Monmouthshire, said the manufacturer may have woken up to the damage the internet can do to a business if the channels to market are not properly managed.

Steve and Theresa McLoughlin, owners of Chippenham Kitchen and Bedroom Centre, backed the move by Franke adding that it couldn’t be blamed for wanting to protect its products and market share.

“In the past, Franke took no part in how its products were marketed or who was selling them,” they said. “The ongoing effect of this was a ridiculous price difference between the bricks-and-mortar dealers and the internet.”

James Hickman
James Hickman

Former KBB showroom owner George Graham also agreed with Franke’s policy saying that showrooms need more support from manufacturers.

Russell and Diane Buckley of Stuart Henry Kitchens in Wirral, applauded Franke and thanked them for “putting us and our customers first” and said it would continue to promote and sell Franke products to its clients.

The McLoughlins also hit out at Hickman and claimed that while it may not see itself as a “market free-rider”, people who buy online are looking for something specific to fill a need and that a large percentage of customers do their research in bricks-and-mortar stores initially.

MBK Design Studio owner Stewart Woodruff also warned Hickman not to “bite the hand that feeds you” when criticising dealers.

“It was those very showrooms that were displaying the Franke brand and advertising it at a particular price, allowing his customers to see and touch the product before purchasing it at a much better price through him.”

Hickman hit back, however, claiming that the whole idea of the internet market free rider is a myth.

“Despite what showrooms may claim, most people do not find what they want in showrooms and then buy online because it’s cheaper,” he said. “They find what they want online because it’s more convenient.

“The biggest problem for showrooms is that the internet has brought price transparency to the market. Ten to 20 years ago, the consumer had little knowledge of what a product cost elsewhere, today they can find the cheapest price with a few clicks of the mouse.”

He went on to argue that showrooms should focus on higher-end products to differentiate themselves from the online channel.

“Online retailers generally don’t like niche, high-end brands as the cost of transport damage is too high, the cost of holding stock is high and slower-moving lines take up valuable warehouse space,” he said. “Custom and bespoke products are simply too difficult to deal with. Design and installation are services that higher-end customers will pay for and that online retailers simply can’t offer at all.”

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