Unfair or justified? What retailers think of the exit roadmap

While some retailers have accepted the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, others see the decision to keep KBB showrooms closed as “unfair” and “discriminatory” and are calling for them to be allowed to open to the public.

We asked our kbbreview100, a brain trust of 100 KBB retailers across the UK, to give us their thoughts on the Government’s plan to exit lockdown.

Cu-Cucine owner Stefan Bomok in Watlington has seen an increase in business since his showroom closed. He said: “With our new way of selling, I think this has overcome clients’ needs to visit the showroom. We have had an increase in business with the showroom closed.

“We also have the same experience when we closed the showroom for repairs and new displays just before the first lockdown.” Bomok added that he is booked up until July.

Richard Reynolds, chairman of CP Hart, said that his footfall had fallen by 90% during lockdown and that “sales to private clients have collapsed”.

Reynolds believes that KBB showrooms should open. “Most KBB retailers have low footfall and can see clients safely. It is discriminatory and deeply unfair to independents that some of the multiple retailers have been allowed to advertise KBB sales throughout the so-called ‘lockdown’,” he said.

Peter Cross, managing director of Ream Interiors in Kent, believes that KBB showrooms should not be classed as essential, but has seen this affect his business as clients need to come to showrooms to choose colours and materials.

He said: “January was a sales disaster, but we have sold 40% of February sales so far this month, but we cannot take them further until we can let the clients into the showroom to do their colour and material choices. We have delayed installations to ensure we use up as much furlough as possible to avoid fitters (we employ our fitters) having no work in May, as we have not sold enough to maintain work for all our teams.”

Nathan Damarell, MD at KF Kitchens in Plymouth, is struggling to accept the inconsistencies within the roadmap, as garden centres can be open, yet even appointment-only visits are not possible for KBB retailers under the new rules.

He said on LinkedIn: “Kitchen showrooms will have been closed for something like eight out of 13 months. We are classed as non-essential retail and so, although you can visit a garden centre with lots of people, you cannot visit our showroom one on one by appointment only. It is completely inconsistent, but if this is irreversible, we can all start to plan schedules with, at least, a level of clarity.”

On the opposite side of the ‘should KBB retailers be allowed to reopen to the public’ debate is Bathrooms and Wetrooms in the Wirral, where owner Michael Lloyd believes that showrooms should remain shut. He said that during the current lockdown period, sales have been up 30% compared with 2020.

Lloyd said: “If we are classed as non-essential, then don’t bend the rules or question the rules. I see business owners stretching the rules, but one thing has remained constant. The general public should stay at home under lockdown rules, so they cannot be visiting showrooms for new bathrooms or kitchens.

“The purchase of a new kitchen or bathroom to a homeowner is not essential. The health of the UK is. Building projects and new-builds are clearly slightly different. But customers are still not allowed into our showrooms. We just have to accept this and wait for the green light.”

Emily Hyde, design director at Sanctuary Kitchens and Bathrooms, Shepperton, has mixed feelings about the announcement. Although the business is ‘”exceptionally busy, there are aspects of the process that take longer due to client confidence when choosing fittings”.

Despite the challenges, Hyde does not believe KBB showrooms should reopen yet. She said: “I don’t think we should be classed as ‘essential’, however I do think it should be recognised how we can easily control our footfall by locking the door and having only one or two client’s in at any one time – so a much safer environment than, say, a supermarket.”

Ciaran Leyne, director at Trilogy Designs in Essex, has been “frustrated” with the situation. However, he has been able to adapt to the and continue to receive orders.

He said: “It has become a frustration and annoyance now, but we have learnt to work around the problem. For years, we didn’t have a showroom, so it hasn’t taken us long to return to working in this way. Video calls from the showroom are helpful. There is only one order I can think of that cannot proceed until we can have the client attend our showroom.

“January was a little slower than normal. There were a lot of casual enquiries, but sales were down and installations were very quiet. February, however, has been a really good month and we have secured lots of new work and new enquiries. Our social media has never been busier and there has been a significant increase in traffic to our website. Overall, we remain cautiously optimistic.”

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