What makes an award-winning kitchen retailer?
When the opportunity came up to move into the second floor of a prestigious furniture retail showroom in the centre of Reading, Et Lorem co-owner and MD Jamie Harding jumped at the chance.
As you enter the showroom from the lift, the first thing you see is a reception area with seating and a large Et Lorem logo, but with an open divider behind that affords tantalising glimpses of what is in store from this immaculately presented 4,000sq ft showroom.
One display transitions to another showcasing a variety of styles and finishes from an industrial loft-style Rotpunkt handleless kitchen to a traditional shaker from Masterclass and a modern contemporary design with a stylish twist from Italian brand Doimo.
Our New Kitchen Retailer of the Year award winner for 2023 said in their submission that they set out to create an exclusive experience and create an inner sanctum.
“With the kind of higher-end clients we get, we want them to feel that they are getting an exclusive experience,” explains Harding. “We want to give them the run of the showroom to open and close doors, understand how the kitchen will work for them. We don’t want them to feel pressured.”
And it is evident that Et Lorem has thought carefully about its displays. Harding tells kbbreview: “People can imagine what a grey kitchen will look like and so showing them some different colour palettes and materials gets them thinking outside the box. We feel a kitchen should be a bit more unique, more individual, not just putting in what they have seen in a friend’s house. A kitchen should reflect their personality – their likes and dislikes.
“We had a client not long ago who came in saying they wanted a green shaker and ended up with a very industrial, contemporary style kitchen. We want the showroom to be like a real-life Pinterest board.”
What is particularly impressive about Et Lorem is that this was Harding’s first stab at it. To wade straight in with a showroom of this scale and calibre is unusual. When he left his previous job at a well-know kitchen retailer after 18 years, he had risen to the position of commercial director. He recalls: “I could have stayed for life, but I am fiercely ambitious and when I hit that glass ceiling, I knew the timing was right.”
He struck out on his own as Et Lorem on the first Monday of August 2020.
“There was this kind of fear factor on the day,” recalls Harding. “I’ve left the role I’ve known for the past 18 years and here I am. People thought I was mad, right in the middle of Covid and just coming out of lockdown. I started it with my business partner Red Paxton, who is a developer. He had been a client of mine for 15 years. His focus is on his main business, but he is very much involved in the high-level strategies of our business.”
At the beginning, Harding worked pretty much from home with samples in the back of his car and a laptop. “It was a hard slog,” he remembers, “but I enjoyed every minute. Lots of late nights, weekends, checking orders, paying invoices, building the brand.”
Luckily, thanks to his business partner being a developer, Et Lorem hit the ground running and there was contract business there from day one as well as word of mouth and friends of friends. Paxton put a nominal amount into the business, which was paid off within the first year. So Et Lorem was self-financed, with no bank loans.
All of that hard work paid off when Harding got up on stage at the kbbreview Awards ceremony in Cardiff in April this year to receive the trophy for the New Kitchen Retailer of the Year category.
Says Harding: “We were proud just to be nominated and recognised as a new up-and-coming company. When our name was called it was quite emotional. Looking back on all that hard work and late nights, it made it feel it was all worthwhile.”
With our higher-end clients, we want them to feel that they are getting an exclusive experience and
have the run of the showroom to open and close doors. We don’t want them to feel pressured
Our team of judges said of Et Lorem: “This superb new retailer has had impressive growth, with a stylish showroom. They work with brand partners to offer a range of looks and price-points, with a sophisticated marketing function. Expansion plans are in progress and the team are passionate about providing a great customer experience.”
Et Lorem has seen impressive growth in the three years it has been in business. Harding set himself a target of doing £100,000 per month in sales and he says they achieved that in 18 months.
Et Lorem works on both contract and residential projects. On average, they start around three new kitchens a month, but with trade clients it has been as many as 15 to 20 a week.
Harding says that around 60 to 70% of its work is contracts. At the time of our interview, they were fitting out 62 apartments in a Cotswolds development and looking at more big contracts in London, on top of their residential clients who may be spending up to £200,000.
Given the considerable investment in its impressive showroom in Reading, kbbreview asked how that second-floor location above a furniture retailer had worked out for them.
“In days gone by,” says Harding, “we would work with an end user to help them choose and educate them about the different materials, finalise the palette and then they would go off on their own to choose their sofa and table. Now what’s great is we can take samples downstairs and hold them up against tables and fabrics. The customer ends up with a beautiful, cohesive design with elements that talk to each other.
“We have picked up customers from them and vice versa. People take the time to travel to see us. We are a destination studio, so once they are done here, we will walk them downstairs or they will have a look around. It works well.”
Early on, Harding took on Natasha Loder as brand manager and they quickly decided on their target customer profile.
Loder describes them: “We call them Matt and Lisa. They are not first-time buyers. They are 45 and 47. Matt is a finance director, Lisa is at home, they have two children and a chocolate labrador and drive a Land Rover. We are always asking ourselves, would Matt and Lisa like it? That really helped us with our marketing.”
Et Lorem is committed to sustainability, both in the products it sells and how it runs its business. It works with a consultant and is now carbon-measured. Harding recognises that sustainability may not be people’s top priority, but says they feel good if they see the company they are buying from is committed to being sustainable.
And so Et Lorem offers its customers the option to sell their old kitchens through Used Kitchen Exchange.
Along with the Rotpunkt, Doimo and Masterclass displays, there is also an outdoor kitchen display from Fogher. The display was installed last summer and it has been selling well to its client base, many of whom have holiday homes with roof terraces and sky decks. Harding has found there is a “huge demand for al fresco dining”.
Et Lorem may already have grown rapidly, but Harding is in the process of signing the lease for a new showroom in Beaconsfield.
“We are super-excited about it,” he enthuses. “It will be smaller, maybe two-and-a-half displays [Reading has eight] and a bar. Although we have an amazing studio here in Reading, we do not have high footfall and huge amounts of traffic and we will have a high street location in Beaconsfield.”
So, in a nutshell, what sets Et Lorem apart and as a kbbreview award winner? Loder says: “Clients say that the things they love about us is how we all work together and are always there for them throughout and during the design process. They say they really feel listened-to and cared-for.”