‘A wee hidden gem’
Selling high-quality German kitchens at ‘trade prices’ has proven a successful formula for Kitchens by Nick McNally. Karen Wilson meets the young entrepreneur behind the fledgling Edinburgh business
Judging by the website for Kitchens by Nick McNally, you’d expect a luxury high-street showroom in a salubrious part of Edinburgh. In reality, the fledgling business, which was founded in July last year, occupies an unassuming industrial unit in Leith with only a handful of kitchens on display.
Owner Nick McNally (pictured) admits walk-ins are rare, yet he spends nothing on advertising. Despite this, he’s averaging between four and seven kitchen sales a month, priced from around £4,000 to £30,000. So how does he do it?
“By keeping overheads low, we can offer what I’d class as a trade price,” says McNally.
With a passion for design, a love of cooking and experience in construction, running a kitchen showroom dovetails nicely with McNally’s interests. As a teenager, he worked on building sites during the summer holidays for his dad’s firm, before studying interactive media design at Edinburgh University, which taught him an array of design skills from Photoshop to sound animation.
Unfortunately, the recession meant opportunities were thin on the ground when he graduated in 2009. “None of my peers could get jobs and I ended up working in Spain for a year in a commercial kitchen,” he explains. On returning to Edinburgh, McNally worked at MGM timber merchants for five years, and was put in charge of setting up a new kitchen showroom, which mainly sold to tradespeople, developers and self-builders.
“It was a natural progression to set up on my own, as I wanted to go in my own direction and make my own decisions,” says McNally, who self-funded the venture and took advice from his brother, who runs his own construction company. “Support from suppliers is crucial, so having already built upon relationships with manufacturers over the years I had a head start,” he says.
Having dealt mainly with tradespeople in the past, McNally wanted to grow this market and extend his reach to interior designers and architects, too. “A lot of joiners and builders are used to dealing with big players for trade kitchens, so I wanted to show them something a bit different,” he says. “I’m targeting young, ambitious joiners and builders who want higher-end work and want to put their name against a high-quality product, but don’t want to pay over the odds for it.”
From the start, McNally was keen to align the business exclusively with German brand Störmer. “Because they’re a slightly smaller company, they can offer more support and are more flexible,” he says. “They’re less rigid than some of the big manufacturers, they’re more open to thinking outside the box and, of course, the quality is second to none. The furniture can be used in utility rooms, boot rooms and living rooms, too.”
In particular, McNally was impressed by Störmer’s range of RAL colours, their flexibility in terms of dimensions and their range of carcasses with a waterproof element, which appeal to commercial markets such as schools, hospitals and the serviced rental sector, which is booming in Edinburgh.
Having built up a trusting relationship, he’s confident he’ll remain their only partner in the area, too. “They won’t blanket the market, as they don’t have massive plans to expand in every UK city,” he says.
Splitting the industrial unit into a rear storage area that holds up to 10 kitchens with a small showroom at the front featuring entry-level displays, has also kept overheads low. “As the Störmer range is very interchangeable, our display doesn’t have to be massive,” says McNally, who’s installed operational appliances so clients can try them out. “Others might put in top-of-the-range products and sell down, a bit like a car showroom that displays a model with £20,000 of extras to make you buy it, but that just leaves clients disappointed.”
Keeping current with trends is also important to McNally, and helps him to woo an increasing number of architects and interior designers. “Every day I look at images from the market leaders, interiors magazines and websites like Houzz and Pinterest,” he says. “It’s very rare that clients come in without having done their research and they often bring in an iPad with their ideas, so you need to be on top of that.”
He finds many are keen on dual-colour kitchens, mixing materials and combining old with new. “Edinburgh has lots of Georgian and Edwardian homes and many clients are putting modern kitchens into them,” he explains, showing me a period house in the old town featuring an Aga combined with modern flat panel doors, which works surprisingly well.
“Many people come in wanting a unique, punchy kitchen, but end up keeping the units and worktops fairly neutral and just adding colour with things like splashbacks, a painted wall or a couple of feature doors, which they could change over time. In the back of their minds, they’re still thinking about selling the house, even if that might be 15 or 20 years down the line.”
The design process always begins with establishing a budget. “People in the UK are very reserved when it comes to talking money, but it’s important to clarify this early on,” says McNally, who suggests clients spend between 2.5% and 5% of their property’s value on a kitchen. “It might be 15 years since they last had a kitchen designed and things have moved on, so we always make them aware of what’s available now. However, it’s all about how they live their life – we don’t force trends on them.”
Plans are drawn up using Compusoft’s Winner Design software. “It’s not the cheapest on the market, but produces very lifelike 3D drawings,” says McNally. “We like to put a real emphasis on the detail as well. For instance, if we’ve established a client likes a particular brand of gin, we’ll put that on the drawing or it might be their pet or some sporting equipment. It makes it personal and shows we’ve listened to them.”
McNally has no plans to charge a design fee and doesn’t put pressure on clients to return to the showroom. “It creates a barrier if you insist they have to come in to see the drawings – so we always e-mail them,” he explains.
The personal service continues afterwards, too. “If we go to take pictures for marketing purposes, we might go round with a free set of pots and pans or a cutlery tray,” he says. “We’ll also follow up six months to a year later, as they might want some other work doing or they may refer a friend. It’s all about keeping the relationship going.”
As 95% of business comes through word of mouth, McNally doesn’t see much need for paid advertising at the moment, although he promotes the business through his website and social media. “Marketing companies put down social media a lot, but it works for us and keeps overheads low,” he says. “Facebook is best for getting business, as it’s local, and there’s usually a friend connection, while Houzz is better for making professional contacts. We’re not looking to be the top search for kitchens in Edinburgh, so we don’t do Google AdWords. Our website is more of a tool to show clients additional pictures really.”
Although he opened as a one-man-band, McNally now employs one full-time designer and a part-time bookkeeper/admin assistant. “I very quickly realised I needed another pair of hands,” he says. “And hopefully I’ll be able to employ more staff as the business grows. Rather than separating design and sales staff, I’d be looking for an all-rounder – someone who can see a project through from beginning to end. People buy from people, so likability is hugely important. There’s no hard sell here. If it takes four or five visits, then so be it.”
As for the future, McNally wouldn’t rule out expanding the showroom and moving the storage element elsewhere, or even opening a second location and moving into bathrooms, too. He certainly has the ambition. “The dream would be to have a network,” says McNally. “And to be Störmer’s biggest client in the UK.”