Retailers: We need a level playing field with merchants

All kbb retailers should be allowed to open their showrooms to trade customers under current lockdown rules, according to two leading independents.

Speaking on the latest episode of the award-winning kbbreview Podcast, Joe Varley of Varleys of Newtown in Wales and Richard Hibbert from KSL in Sudbury both said the current rules were ‘unfair’ and have directly affected their business.

Official government lockdown rules state that ‘builders’ merchants and suppliers of products and tools used in building work and repair’ are allowed to open. But then go on to specifically say that this ‘doesn’t include carpet stores and showrooms, such as those for bathrooms, kitchens, tiles and glazing.’

This simple statement is what is currently keeping KBB showrooms closed but the likes of Howdens, Magnet Trade, Trade Point and other trade-only kitchen and bathroom retailers open.

Hibbert, who is also the chairman of the KBSA, said: “We know it’s a difficult time but our customers are buying and, for some of them, if they can’t buy from us they will find someone else. I know some builders who want to get going and have said ‘I can just go to Howdens or B&Q’.

“All we’re saying is if there’s a rule, let it be the same rule for everyone. It’s unfair at the moment, if we’re going be bundled in with the construction sector in other ways, at least treat us in the same way here – or give us our own voice.”

Kbbrevew has teamed up with the Kbsa to launch the Level Playing Field campaign. It calls on ALL independent retailers to contact their local government, MP and Trading Standards to demand this inequality is addressed and allow them to open to trade customers too.

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Retailers can find out more at the Level Playing Field site.

“Closing the showroom in this way is very frustrating because our local builders merchant has been open all the way through this and are allowed to supply whoever they want,” Joe Varley said. “They’ve actually told me that their sales are two or three times higher than normal. It’s an unfair playing field.

“I supply tiles, for example, and I haven’t been allowed to sell them, but anyone can walk into B&Q and that’s just unfair.”

Many kbb retailers are forced to pay the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) Levy – a fund used to support construction employers to make sure the industry has the skilled workforce it needs.

This is at odds with the lockdown rules explicitly stating that kitchen and bathroom showrooms are not able to open as suppliers to the construction industry.

“[The KBSA] has been fighting that for a number of years and we’ve had a lot of dialogue with the CITB,” Hibbert said. “It’s a very difficult one and it’s going to be an ongoing fight. But, in the case of lockdown, if you push us into that sector then let us operate under the same rules as that sector.”

You can hear the full interview with Joe Varley and Richard Hibbert on the latest episode of The kbbreview Podcast. Listen now using the player below or search ‘kbbreview’ in a podcast app such as Apple Podcasts.

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