Taylist Media’s managing editor Andrew Davies shares his views on Wren kitchens and questions the common view independent retailers have on the ‘sheds’.
At the tail end of last week, Wren announced a massive investment in a new factory – £120 million to be precise.
I posted the story on LinkedIn, making the comment that it was to be celebrated as a statement of confidence at a time when the wider kitchen market was a bit jittery. I acknowledged they have the issues all big multiples do in terms of consistency and service, but said some of the stuff they do at that end of the market is really quite sophisticated.
But it is a truth universally acknowledged that a kitchen industry man in possession of good news about a ‘shed’ must be in want of a forum to complain about them. And while some people agreed with me, there were a few who took the opportunity to question how Wren can be successful when, in their opinion, their service and product is poor.
This is a very common point of view on ‘sheds’ among those who operate in the independent kitchen retail world, but what is always interesting to me is that so many imply that the success of Wren is directly attributable to the ignorance of consumers.
It is, forgive me, a little arrogant to basically ask ‘how can they be so stupid buying a kitchen from Wren?’ when the really pertinent question is actually ‘what did you fail to do to make them buy it from you?’
In my view, and very broadly speaking of course, consumers make very rational decisions and do their research pretty carefully. To label thousands of them as a bit thick for buying from Wren is really condescending.
So here’s the bit that many won’t like – Wren are an independent kitchen specialist.
No really, they are. They just happen to be a high-volume one. And, in fact, by taking the blinkers off many retailers could see that there’s an awful lot they could learn from them. Their stores are well laid out, they have very strong branding and clever marketing, they understand social media, they have a good story to tell on provenance, they work with strong trusted appliance brands, they use technology well in-store and their website is really good.
Like I said, for a high-volume business at the lower budget end of the market, they are pretty sophisticated.
On the other side of the ledger, of course, they are cursed with the same need to push constant discounts as the other big multiples and it is probably this, above all else, that rankles so much with other retailers. In April 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority banned one of their ads for being ‘misleading’.
But let’s take a look at the accusation always aimed at high-volume kitchen retailers – their service is poor. There is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence to back that opinion up if you’re looking for it but, in my opinion, a more accurate assessment would be to ask what percentage of their sales result in a complaint.
According to TrustPilot, out of 29,595 reviews, 2% rated them as poor, and 8% as bad, whereas 87% rate them as good or excellent.
That’s 25,747 very satisfied customers versus 2,959 disgruntled ones.
Now, of course, nearly 3,000 dissatisfied customers isn’t good at all and I’m sure there’s someone at Wren tearing their hair out over them, but as far as a percentage goes I’m sure it’s much lower than many detractors would have guessed.
I’m not suggesting that service at Wren is comparable to the best independent retailers – I’m certain the majority of those aren’t operating on a 10% bad or poor rating – but in terms of volume, their annual sales could easily be what Wren are shifting in a day. You try working those logistics out.
I’m not a Wren apologist, I just believe that dismissing them out of hand as an inferior offering and lumping them in with DIY sheds like B&Q or Homebase is really naïve. There are 25,747 new kitchens sitting in the homes of very satisfied customers who are probably telling their friends all about it how good Wren were. They may not know as much about kitchens as you but they still either chose not to buy those kitchens from you, or they didn’t find you in their research.
How many have the humility to really want to find an answer to that question?