Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Darren Taylor, managing director of retailer Searle and Taylor, says he is fed up covering for suppliers who get orders wrong…

These days, we are not just designers and retailers, we are service providers. At whatever level of the market we are competing, the services we deliver go a long way to establishing our reputations – especially important for independent studios, like mine.

Personally, I am big on service. I know everyone says this, but I am – from the moment the customer enters my showroom, to the moment they have their kitchen installed, together with after-sales. My business deals at the luxury end of the market and if a customer is going to spend thousands of their hard-earned pounds with me, I want them to have a great experience from start to finish. They are not just buying a kitchen, but a package of products and services from different suppliers under the umbrella of my retail brand.


Customer expectation is much higher when you operate within the luxury market, so you need to get it right. We all know what a nightmare kitchen installations can be, as they have a habit of biting at your posterior, even when you believe you have checked and rechecked all your order confirmations and have provided every tiny detail to the fitter.

Disaster is never far away. I operate a tight ship and rarely have a disaster, but what happens if your supplier is not getting it right?

Is it wrong of me to expect great service from the suppliers that I spend my own hard-earned cash with, year in and year out? I have recently had reason to complain to a few major suppliers who have caused me and my business a load of pain because of poor service.

So frustrated was I by one of them, I even sent an email to the most senior person I could find to suggest that their administration department should be fired. This supplier had repeatedly got product codes wrong, duplicated orders, delayed them for no reason, and then had the temerity to overcharge me.

Darren Taylor
Darren Taylor

I can’t believe the aggro that we have to go through if an incorrect item arrives. Recently we had an incorrect sink placed in a box that was correctly labelled. We duly went all the way through our own diligence processes and the fitter was about to install. It was only after the stone template was made that the client realised it was not the sink he had chosen. Was he just a nightmare client, who had changed his mind? Clearly not – the photos sent by the fitter told the true story: totally wrong sink. So, the supplier makes the excuse:  “Oh, it must have happened in the packing factory”, while assuring me they would send out a new one, with no mention of the seemingly unmentionable ‘s’ word – ‘sorry’.

Meanwhile, we were still left with removing the wrong sink, asking the stone templater to come back again (with a re-template charge) and had to apologise to the customer for a three-day delay on a two-week job.

Thankfully, I work with a lot of external suppliers, many for over 20 years, and the smaller ones are very efficient, diligent and trustworthy. I know that things can go awry on occasions. None of us are infallible, but it seems that the bigger the company, the easier it is for things to go wrong. The most irritating aspect is that no one wants to take responsibility and put it right, instead repeatedly blaming ‘computer errors’ or similar.

Covering up

As my business has gradually entered the luxury sector over the past 25 years, the one thing I have learnt is to manage the expectations of my customers. If my client is buying into what could be considered a very expensive kitchen, and often an entire lifestyle space to go with it, they expect everything to go right. I have spent far too much time trying to cover for certain suppliers, defending their brands, and taking the hit financially to ensure everything is perfect for my customer. My customer is always of prime importance to me. It is very difficult, and annoying, to absorb additional costs when something goes horribly wrong, thanks to a supplier, and is outside of our control.

I have also noticed that some of our suppliers are implementing ‘clever’ online systems to take care of our orders, thus placing the onus on us and taking no responsibility by making us order on their portal.

We are then expected to print automated order confirmations and we even have to print our own invoices. They don’t even bother sending out reps any more, which is not at all clever, as direct and personal relationships still mean a lot in our industry.

As a retailer, I am representing the brand, and I like to know who I am dealing with – particularly if anything goes amiss or, more importantly, if I actually want to thank them for great service.

It’s too easy for suppliers to hide behind the retailer. If they get it wrong, will they drive to my customer’s house and offer an explanation? Will they cover the cost of the fitter to go back? Will they come and collect the item from site and automatically credit it without me chasing it? Will they offer compensation? Will they actually admit they have done anything wrong?

Most of all, will anyone ever just say ‘sorry’? Sometimes, that is all you need to make things right, but it seems to be the hardest word.

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