Urban living: threat or opportunity for KBB retailers?

More people are now living in urban areas. And our kbbreview100 retailers are reporting that this trend is having a definite effect, with one fearing it could lead to a loss of business to big developers.

The urban population in the UK has been growing year by year for the past decade. According to the Government’s Trend Deck 2021: Urbanisation June 2021 report, the urban population has increased by 6.2% between 2011 and 2019. The same report found that 82.9% of England’s population, 56.3 million people, lives in urban areas.

We asked the kbbreview100 to tell us how this trend is affecting their businesses.

One primary concern is about the market in general and not just how it will affect the designs of kitchens and bathrooms. The market becoming more urban could make the independent market side of the market more difficult, according to Russell Buckley, managing director at Stuart Henry Kitchens in Merseyside. He believes that these smaller urban builds will only go to big developers.

He said: “In my opinion, it has had an impact, the urbanisation means smaller living accommodation thus smaller, more compact kitchens. This, in turn, will have a negative effect on the ecological and sustainability of the KBB market and also hurt the supply chain, with the bigger chains and house builders or developers taking the lion’s share of available products, which leaves the smaller independent squeezed out.”

Trevor Scott, CEO of RFK Group, said he has seen Rugby grow massively in the past 20 years and continues to do so, with a new build programme that is set to create more than 10,000 homes.

RFK has taken advantage of these new-builds, and the contracts side has become a significant portion of its business. Scott said: “Over the years, these new properties have become a major feeder for our business as the generic national builder kitchens tire quickly as owners’ aspirations exceed what was originally supplied. As a result, we commonly replace ‘new’ builders’ kitchens within five years of the development being completed.”

The style of design is often different depending on the location of the design. Scott has seen in his own business that the more rurally-based clients tend to want a painted shaker style kitchen that is either lay-on or in-frame, dependent on budget. The more urban clients seem to mostly prefer the clean lines of a more Germanic kitchen style.

Scott said: “In both cases, many of our clients, probably the majority, are having building works of some description done to enlarge the kitchen and living space to embrace a more open plan lifestyle.”   

Stewart Woodruff, the owner of MBK Design studio in Maidstone, has seen the same phenomenon, with the split between urban designs desiring sleeker kitchens. At the same time, the countryside wants more shaker designs.

However, the design process is also different when designing for the two locations. He explained: “Countryside properties tend to have larger rooms enabling more design work. As the rise in urbanisation in this area is mainly provided by new-builds, it has only benefited those companies that specialise in contract work.

“There is a knock-on effect that means that older properties are having to be updated to keep up with the qualities and respective values of the new properties.”

John Pelosi, the owner of Caldicot Kitchen and Bathroom Centre in south Wales, saw some differences between his clients in the south of Wales and just over the border near Bristol. “Well, every client has their unique requirements, so not necessarily easy to flag significant differences, though the bulk of our clients are suburban and rural.

“When it comes to the urban client, the reality is that the generally desired styles are more specific to areas within a given city – the Marina developments of Cardiff, for example, are more likely to want an open-plan, sleek, slab handleless and German, whereas the Clifton set in Bristol will want painted solid wood and a range cooker from British brands.”

In terms of how the industry is changing when it comes to urbanisation as a concept, Pelosi is somewhat sceptical and said: “If you listen to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Build Back Better and 4th Industrial Revolution nonsense, you’d believe everyone will be heading to shiny new ‘smart city’ apartment blocks in some Brave New World utopia where every appliance talks to every other, your iPhone runs your life, you own nothing, and everyone is happy.

“In my own experience, we’re probably catering far more to those enlightened individuals who are seeking to exit the dystopia that vision is likely to become (tiny homes, open-plan, living cheek-by-jowl in polluted inner-city hellholes), buying a nice rural mini-estate and wanting a big contemporary farmhouse kitchen with a built-in coffee machine, well-stocked wine cooler and an Aga overlooking the organic vegetable patch and garage for three classic cars.

“So, while there may be some move towards urbanisation, there is just as big a desire for many to get out of the polluted urban sprawls into the beautiful British rural locations. I know which one I’d rather be doing.”

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