Over the past 12 months, Omega has invested £20 million into an expansion plan to prepare for Brexit. Vicki Evans sat down with Sir Bob Murray, owner and founder of the Doncaster-based kitchen brand, to find about more this proudly British company
Omega is proudly British. British kitchens made by British people. In fact it’s so happy to wave the flag for Yorkshire-based manufacturing that there’s a giant Union Jack in the front entrance to its headquarters.
When visiting, the scale of the operation is impressive, especially when you think that 25 years ago the land was barren, but now you’ll find a vast factory where over 500 employees produce around 45,000 kitchens a year.
The company was founded in 1992 by Sir Bob Murray (pictured top), Francis Galvin and Newton Winfield, all formerly directors of Spring Ram, and Sir Bob remains as Omega’s chairman today. The company was named after the last letter of the Greek alphabet. “It is my final act,” Murray explains. “I am only ever going to be with Omega.
“The company was founded on brand, service and speedy remedials. We are value for money and we will be around tomorrow. We have great brand standards and ethics in what we do.”
Yorkshire is a hub for kitchen production in the UK. Just down the road are Howdens, Moores, Wren, and Symphony. Conspiracy theorists in tinfoil hats may claim there might be something in the water that means the UK kitchen market is mainly centred here. Yet, Murray – the former chairman of Sunderland Football Club – insists there’s “nothing wrong with southern people making kitchens”, even if evidence shows that there’s a bias towards the North.
Omega’s kitchens are made by local people and 97% of the workforce is British. Murray explains how he feels that this is a way to give back to the area: “We are very, very British. The majority of our workforce is British – and that is not because we are against foreign labour, it is because when I started the company from scratch, we built it up slowly and this has allowed us to absorb the area.
“We have a great location, but this is part of the legacy of the Scargill/Thatcher era – they just want a chance in life, and we give them a more than average increase in life. We are very proud to make British kitchens and have a British workforce.”
“We have no qualms about the future and we are totally confident about the kitchen industry in Britain”
Sir Bob Murray, owner and founder, Omega
The number-one topic on everyone’s lips is Brexit. Often, when I speak to suppliers or retailers about Brexit, the questions are met with generic or vague answers like ‘there’s so much uncertainty’ or ‘it’s too soon to tell’ or ‘we can’t predict the future’. However, Murray is calm and straightforward in his answer and isn’t worried or fazed by Brexit as Omega is already prepared for whatever will happen.
“Some people are not investing because of Brexit, but we are taking the bull by the horns and investing now,” he insists. “We have no qualms about the future and we are totally confident about the kitchen industry in Britain – certainly for a decade.”
Omega is keen to let all its customers and dealers know how it will beat any Brexit blues by a huge adverting campaign declaring that the company is Brexit ready and won’t hide its preparation for March 29. Deal, no deal, hard or soft Brexit – Omega is ready for it all.
He also believes that the market will stay the same, even if there were extra taxes on European imports: “We all buy our hinges and wood from Europe, so we are all the same. There is a level playing field. I was around when the Government introduced VAT and I think that it might be the same, it will just be an extra cost. I am not worried.
“The kitchen market is evolving and it is changing all the time. I feel that the kitchen market is going to move enormously in the next couple of years.”
Murray believes that speedy delivery is part of the reason Omega stands in front of its European competitors. He says: “This is the big advantage we have over foreign suppliers, it is not just the delivery time, it is the flexibility that we have in our response team. With Brexit, delivery times are crucial as people are looking to get the kitchen in quickly.”
The speed off the assembly lines is a contributing factor in the speedy lead times. The ready-to-assemble (RTA) is ready in one week – at a push Omega can do it in three days if necessary – and the rigid is ready in three weeks. Remedials only take three days. Also, Omega has a 99% accuracy for first-time delivery.
Part of the way that Omega can achieve this is through flexibility in manufacturing and being able to change the rate of production during the year or according to demand. “We adjust our capacities so we have flexibility and we don’t just make the same number of kitchens as we have to get ahead of the game,” he explains.
“We anticipate demand per month. Certain months of the year it’s high. There are peaks and troughs – and we only make to that personal order. If we have to deliver 1,000 kitchens one week and 1,200 the next – we can do that.”
Investing in the future
Over the past few months, the company has invested in a £20 million refurbishment, providing an extra 75,000sq ft of space – bringing the total site to 400,000sq ft. It has also increased its stockholding capacity by 43%.
It is now able to hold five months worth of stock * to ensure orders are fulfilled correctly and on time.
The plans for multimillion-pound expansion weren’t just prompted by Brexit but by product demand. “We are investing in the future, not for ourselves but for the dealers and the merchants,” he clarifies. “We have a leading product and British manufacturers have a great future.”
There is a lot to take in as I walk around the factory seeing all the new equipment. There are huge automated machines and floor-to-ceiling racks with a seemingly endless stock of cabinetry and chipboard. There are two assembly lines for the rigid kitchens that look like each person is doing a perfectly choreographed routine to make sure that each cabinet is seamlessly moved from each workstation.
Investment has also been put into its product development, including creating new carcasses, colours, doors and improvements to its RTA lines.
There is also investment before a product goes on the market, as each new line is put though vigorous market research and focus groups to make sure that it will sell. The process is long and expensive, but Murrsay says the advice of thousands of Omega customers is invaluable.
He sees Omega as a family business. His son James joined the board in 2017, although Murray says he still needs to get some more sawdust up his son’s nose. “We don’t take money out of the company as we reinvest – so there are families and families. We reinvest for the benefit of everyone – even our dealers. For dealers, if you are going to commit to a brand, you have to be with one that is going to stick around,” says Murray.
“The retailers should do due diligence and be very sure of who you are going to get into bed with. Things change and evolve – some invest and some don’t and people change.”
When Murray talks about Omega’s relationship with its retailers, it sounds more like a happy marriage than a business arrangement. “We are very considered about who we sell to and in what area,” he says. “We go for long-term relationships, as I am only as good as the retailer. I’m not any better than the retailer. If they don’t perform, I don’t perform. It is a partnership – we have to give them good product, good supply line, and good remedials.”
Omega is dedicated to staying focused on creating kitchens. Despite being a relatively small company, they aspire to hold a good chunk of the market. “A million kitchens are sold every year and we aspire to do 45,000, which means we have around 5% of the market,” Murray explains.
Throughout the day at the factory it is very clear that there is a mix of calm and methodical organisation and a sense of urgency to make sure that every area in the factory is running to optimal performance.
Murray, on the other hand, remains calm with a positive outlook on the next couple of years: “We have slight downturns, we have Brexit and whatever is in front of us. But I think we are in a great industry and in a fabulous period.”
* The magazine version of this article [kbbreview, February, pgs 56-57] erroneously stated that Omega’s stockholding capacity was three weeks. Kbbreview can confirm that this is now five months, as shown above.