Retailers react to surprise government U-turn

Retailers have responded to the Government’s latest decision to close English KBB showrooms after they were assured they could remain open in the new lockdown.

Retailers reactions have been at one extreme or the other over the new lockdown rules, with some calmly closing their doors while others are frustrated and said they won’t shut their doors until national chains like Wren and B&Q do the same.

Kbbreview surveyed the kbbreview100 – a brain trust of 100 leading KBB retailers in the UK – to see how they are dealing with the new guidance.

Paul Mason, managing director of Bathroom Village, with showrooms in the south-west of England, is committed to his customers and is confident that he will not cancel appointments. Only a letter from the courts will force him to close the showroom, he told kbbreview.

Mason said: “Bathroom village will not be closing its doors. We have customers committed to appointments and we won’t be letting them down. Business is very good at the moment and, unless we are told by a local authority with a letter signed by the court, we will not be closing.”

Frazer Goodwillie, director of Shotton Kitchens in Hartlepool, is concerned about the administrative side of the showroom as that is where the team liaise with customers and installers, get the mail, pay the bills and have customers pay for their kitchens. He has decided to keep the showroom open, as that is the only way for installations to continue or for customers to pay for their kitchens.

Goodwillie said: “If builders can keep building, but I can’t see customers, how do people get a new kitchen for their extension? I’m sure some places will have mastered planning by email and presenting by Zoom, but I’ve spent 15 years showing people physical products and building a picture in person.

“I think we will wait and see if we are challenged by the local enforcement and, if we are, I’ll have to show them the hinges, screws, fixings and silicone and explain that we’re a DIY store.”

John Martin, owner of Regal Kitchens in Chelmsford, even went in person to the local showrooms of some chain retailers. He saw that B&Q was fully open with staff making design appointments, Wren was fully open and was in the middle of a sale, and Homebase was open with the kitchen section cordoned off from customers.

Stewart Woodruff, owner of MBK Design Studio in Coxheath, was clear and said: “If Wren and Magnet stay open, so shall I.”

Shehryar Khan, director of Sheraton Interiors in Twickenham, called up his local Wren kitchens to see if they were open and was even able to book a design consultation. But Khan is unsure of what to do with his showroom. He said: “My heart says stay open and my head says closed.”

Paul Crow, managing director of Ripples Bathrooms, with showrooms across England, has sent messages out to his franchisee stores about the news and will be closing the stores. He said that he believes that what “all independents want is clarity and consistency so that they are not at a disadvantage to their competitor down the road.”

He continued: “I note that installers are allowed to continue working, and that means our back-office functions will also continue to operate as normal, as they will need goods from somewhere. However, we will respect the instruction and the lights will be off in all Ripples showrooms, and I have sent a note out to our franchise partners today.”

Tina Riley of Modern Homes in Leamington believes that KBB showrooms should not have been classed as essential and, despite having a one-in-one-out policy from when the showroom reopened, she will be closing the showroom. She said: “This lockdown was really nothing short of a mockdown.”

Nathan Damarell of KF Kitchens in Plymouth was surprised about the turnaround decision. He said: “I thought that we should have shut initially. To be told we can stay open and then told we should close is bewildering. How can a strategy be so muddled, lurching from one decision to the opposite so quickly on such important issues?”

There has been confusion at Sanctuary Kitchens and Bathrooms in Surrey, as bathroom design director Emily Hyde had written to the local Trading Standards and had been told that ‘existing’ clients could come to the showroom.

Hyde pointed out the confusion about this situation as the team at Sanctuary Bathrooms are still allowed to go into people’s homes – where people are less likely to be socially distanced as it is their home environment – a client even tapped her on the shoulder during a measuring. But the new guidance states that showrooms must close despite those being more comfortable environments to control in terms of cleanliness and social distancing.

Matthew Parnum, director of Ice Interiors in Lymington, already closed the showroom in the new lockdown and postponed all face-to-face meetings until December 2. He does feel that this will even the playing field as his local competitors may be forced to close as well.

Rugby Fitted Kitchens will close its doors after being open by appointment only since the news broke that Wren was open in the first lockdown. Owner Trevor Scott said: “I’m pretty annoyed, to be honest. We opened by appointment only back in the last lockdown following Wren’s reopening and have continued in the same fashion ever since. There is so much confusion and lack of directly attributable advice coming out of central government that we, and our clients, don’t know if we’re coming or going!”

Elliotts Living Spaces in Lymington will have its staff work from the showroom but will postpone customer appointments until after the lockdown has been lifted, according to manager Victoria Anderson.

A similar approach has been taken from Ann Deacon of Russ Deacon Home Improvements in Eastbourne. Its showroom will be closed to customers, but designers will continue to work there.

Ivan Simpson, the owner of Ivan Simpson Kitchens and Bathrooms in Durham, said that this is a time to focus on customers, despite the unprecedented times. He said: “After 40 years in the business, I have seen most things, but nothing like we are experiencing at the moment. It’s a case of maximising enquiries and giving the best service possible.”

Listen to KBSA chairman Richard Hibbert discuss the shock order to close in this special episode of The kbbreview Podcast. Listen using the player below or search ‘kbbreview’ in your podcast app of choice.

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