Small showrooms but perfectly formed

Smaller kitchen retailers have many advantages over their larger competitors. Small is beautiful. Here Phillip Ozorio, the founder and design director of Connaught Kitchens, in London shares his thoughts on this widely debated subject.

When setting up a business, you can choose location first and the see what products are available to you, or you can select products first and then see which locations are available for those. Availability is restricted to territory, so the best plan is to look at both options at the same time.  

Choosing a secondary location over a primary one will lower the rent and rates. Money saved on rent and rates can then be spent on marketing. The aim is for quality of client rather than quantity. If you are small, having a good shopfront is important to be able to display your goods and attract customers in. 

A small business can use its product brands to strengthen its own brand. It is important that your displays do justice to the products. If you have a small showroom, focus on a narrow range of products so that you can showcase them effectively. 

Having too many different products can confuse the shopper, especially if they look similar but vary in quality on the inside. But beware – if you display only small kitchens, you will only sell small kitchens. You need a large showcase display to show you can do also bigger kitchens.  

It is also important to keep up with trends. But changing displays is expensive and disruptive, so if you are happy with your display layouts, consider just changing doors and panels. And with a small showroom, you have to keep things clean and tidy at all times. 

The advantage of a small business is that decisions can be made on the spot, giving flexibility. In a larger business, things have to be passed up and can take a long time to come back. A small business can react to changes in the marketplace immediately and many owners like to give a personal service, meet and greet and decide to handle certain clients themselves. 

It is important to develop a house style – like hairdressing – it’s the way you style it that makes you different. A house style will differentiate your business from competitors selling similar products.   

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Smaller showrooms also mean smaller teams of multi-talented staff that can not only design, but also project-manage to ensure a personal, seamless service throughout a kitchen project. The result of smaller teams is that many owners have had to start charging for design or insisting on retainer fees, which is actually a good thing for the industry. Smaller teams of highly-trained professionals is the way forward.

Training is important, but staff involvement and regular communication with staff is important too. In a small business, staff are your biggest asset.

Control

One of the reasons I set up my own business, having worked for multiples, was to have control over the entire process. When I worked for larger companies in Wigmore Street and Baker Street, the designers lost contact with the client after a deposit was paid, so we had no control over the installation and after-sales. We also never saw the completed kitchens, so lost a huge opportunity to get recommendations and to record projects for marketing.   

Some thought fitted kitchens should be regarded as one-off, long-term purchases and therefore it was pointless investing in improving service. After-sales was a mitigation process, the idea was to limit its cost. Managing clients’ expectation should be easier in a small business with regular communication with customers.

There are also financial advantages in having a small showroom. Rent is calculated on square footage and rates on rental value. Utilities cost less too. If there is a downturn, the multiples can face multiple problems, whereas a small business can be best placed to weather the storm. We have all learnt a lot from Covid about costs – Zooming to avoid unnecessary travel and supervising templating of worktops and glass remotely are just some time-saving elements.

As a small business you should continually develop your website and social media, organising in-house events. Think about promotions – they are usually cheaper than discounting.

There are very few kitchen retail companies not owned by the manufacturer or franchises who have four or more showrooms that have been successful. Perhaps because it’s difficult to duplicate personal service across many showrooms. One reason to keep it small.

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