Bill Miller, managing director of the Kitchen Bathroom Buying Group (KBBG), considers the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on KBB retail businesses and what it means for them now and in the future
So, what did we learn during three months of lockdown? That furlough and Zoom are not characters from a children’s cartoon. That banana bread is the new drug of choice for the middle classes. That many of us are either running or cycling, but will this still be the case in the winter months? And that it is possible to sell kitchens and bathrooms virtually – and even while wearing slippers – who knew.
Despite the media predicting the end of shopping as we know it, since kitchen and bathroom showrooms reopened, retailers have reported that they are busy with both pre-lockdown enquiries turning into orders and brand new enquiries. It certainly appears that the suggestion that consumers spent much of their time during lockdown researching new projects for their home is true. But will it last? Many experts are predicting that job insecurity, concerns over expected tax rises, plus, of course, Brexit, will impact on consumer spending as they tighten their belts.
For many independent retailers, their customer base is made up of the 60+ age group, and research has shown that this sector is generally best insulated from much of the economic uncertainty.
Despite the extensive government support for business, I do fear that the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, will lead to some KBB businesses closing over the coming months. It is sad to see so many skilled and able people in our industry already looking for new opportunities. I sincerely wish them every success in finding a new job, and well done to the many companies that are offering help, such as the Save our Skills initiative launched online by this very magazine.
Another change in consumer spending is the unstoppable rise of online sales, particularly in terms of appliances and bathroom products. Historically, sales of kitchen furniture have remained very much showroom-based, with only a relatively small number of kitchens being sold online. So will the internet become the main channel for selling kitchens in the future, and will this result in the same downward pressure on prices and impact on margins? I somehow doubt it. We are still very much a people-led industry, and despite the rapid increase in the use of virtual media platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, consumers still need to be emotionally invested in the design, products and the business they are buying them from, and this is still best-done face to face.
It is perhaps ironic that a virus that should by its very nature isolate us has, in fact, brought many of us together, both in our personal and business lives. With time to consider new ways of doing business, many independent retailers have seen the benefit in becoming part of a like-minded community, giving information, access to the leading brands and, best of all, improving margins, while maintaining their valued independence – a true best of all worlds. Certainly, the number of new KBBG membership enquiries we have received over the past few weeks supports this.
Now is a great time to introduce a new supplier to your business, revamp the exterior of your showroom, add new displays, and update your website and social media platforms. If you are not investing, your competitors will be.
The national kitchen retail and DIY chains offer products and a level of customer service that can be bettered by independent retailers, but this is irrelevant if customers don’t know you are there or are worth visiting. So, do everything you can in order to make your business as visible as possible to prospective customers.
Be bold and brave and invest in your business to make it the very best it can be. I wish you all well for the future.
Strap yourself in it could be a bumpy ride!