Darren Taylor, the MD of Searle and Taylor, reflects on how competition is a healthy thing and why he believes the opening of a Tom Howley store near his showroom in Winchester will potentially bring him more business
This month, I am focused on the words ‘healthy competition’. Around the corner from my Winchester showroom will soon be a brand new Tom Howley branch on the site of a former sports store, and it is being refurbished as I write.
A couple of years ago, I sat next to Tom Howley at an industry awards event. He and I had just been featured competing against each other in a Drawing Board feature in kbbreview’s sister consumer title, Kitchens Bedrooms & Bathrooms. This is a brilliant feature that pitches designers against each other to design a kitchen just from a brief without any knowledge of who they are competing against.
As an independent, I felt somewhat honoured to be featured alongside Tom when I opened the magazine. I will also somewhat immodestly state the verdict for my design started with the word ‘wow!’ I say no more…
When Tom and I met, he had never heard of me. Now, I admit that I am someone with a slightly more sensitive ego than most.
So this did cause me some immediate chagrin, as I thought everyone in the industry knew me, of course. But, I managed to swallow my pride and, as it happened, we got on famously and we have since become industry pals.
When he told me he was opening in Winchester, he actually came to my own showroom to meet me in person and I thought this was really great news.
Why did I think it was great news? Tom Howley has a huge and heavily supported brand presence, backed by the Neville Johnson Group. His national chain of showrooms create absolutely beautiful designs, and some are similar to my own, but not all, as I offer a vast array of different options in my own Winchester showroom.
I thought this was brilliant, because his brand will certainly bring more initial kitchen buyers to Winchester, and those that want full bespoke with unusual twists, or curved cabinetry or all the elements that Tom does not sell, will then come to my showroom and will buy from me instead. For beautiful in-frame kitchens, Tom and I are going to be in very healthy competition, but I only regard this as a positive way to be in business and a reason for me to constantly up my game – and I have.
I am aware of other business owners in my region who spend all of their time watching my website, Instagram and Facebook posts more than they do their own – I have actually had to block one of them.
I am aware of retailers who are so paranoid about me as competition that they will not advertise in the same magazines as my business and actively insist those magazines don’t feature my advertising.
Fine, that saves me money – thanks for that, by the way. My response to this, though, is that we are all selling something different – we offer vastly diverse service and after-sales service options and I believe we should all have a bite of the same cherry.
I would never preclude anyone from advertising in the same local publication as my own business, as I frankly regard that as stupid and embarrassing. How incredibly feeble must a business owner be to think that my advertisement in the same magazine might in some way be more powerful than their own attractive offer? Surely it is their business they should be positive about?
This is what I call ‘unhealthy competition’. I also believe that when a retailer is as paranoid as this, it should be dealt with in one way only – by an appointment with a shrink!
I am not, and never have been, out to ‘get anyone’ in our industry, as I honestly don’t have the time, nor the wherewithal, to do so. I just care about my business.
I know of other retailers that are similarly dealt with unhealthy competitors – those that have abilities via third-party agencies to sit on someone’s decently purchased Google ads and bid more for every web click to that site. What this does is send your perfectly unassuming lead directly to a competitor’s website and not yours.
I have not experienced this myself, yet, but I am aware of the vile nature of this underhanded type of business and it is something that Google and other platforms should ban – it is totally unprofessional and unhealthy to work this way and our Government should make this kind of exceptionally unhealthy competition illegal.
It is never fair to stop a business doing business.