How I reached that 20-year milestone
The Kitchen Broker near Gloucester celebrated its 20th anniversary of trading this year. Chris Frankland went to talk to owner Chris Theyer to find out his formula for running a successful KBB retail business
The Kitchen Broker just outside Gloucester is set well back from the road in some converted farm buildings. Those who go there seek them out from word-of-mouth recommendations. And since they are now in their 20th year of trading from the site, owner Chris Theyer and wife Amie have obviously hit on a winning formula.
Kbbreview asked Theyer how it feels to reach that historic 20-year point. “I feel truly humble to have reached such a significant milestone. It is a remarkable accomplishment in today’s competitive market and on a personal level I feel grateful for the support of my wife and family. They are the foundation who underpin what and why I do what I do.”
Theyer feels that the success of the Kitchen Broker can be attributed to several key factors – customer focus, sincerity, approachability, knowledge and flexibility. He believes that focusing on sincerity and honesty in their dealings with customers has been a strong foundation for their continued success.
And being approachable is a key part of that. “Approachability is crucial for a business to succeed in the long run. We like to feel we’ve created an environment where customers feel comfortable expressing their concerns, asking questions, or seeking assistance to ensure their needs are met.”
Theyer has worked in the industry for over 20 years, starting out as a fitter for MFI and later setting up on his own before approaches from customers for him to supply them with kitchens, as well as fit them, led him onto his current path. “So I have picked up a thing or two,” as he puts it. He also ensures that all of his staff have the knowledge they need and keeps them continuously up-to-date by taking advantage of industry training programmes.
Flexibility was his last ‘key factor’ and he prides himself on having been able to adapt quickly. This has helped him to cope with unforeseen challenges, such as a couple of recessions and the Covid pandemic and, as he puts it, “act on seizing new opportunities and, ultimately, it’s a major factor in why we are here and thriving”.
He tells kbbreview that the company’s motto is ‘The difference is – we care’. And that means he does not subscribe to the high-pressure sales techniques people often encounter in larger retailers.
And since a large part of his business comes from the grey pound, he has found that his approach works and that they respond better to it.
“They’ve paid off their mortgage, they are bright, they want good value for money and for someone to talk to them with respect. Telling them that it’s 50% off, with a free cat and dog, a pair of slippers and a holiday to Hawaii if you sign this afternoon won’t work – they don’t like that. And they don’t respect it. They want honesty and value for money and they don’t care where the interest rate is going.”
Interestingly, Theyer says that they have seen a noticeable rise in younger customers, aged 30 to 45, coming through the door. They have two incomes, they’ve been in their house for 10 years or so and so their mortgages are lighter. Many are undertaking projects and remortgaging to fund their kitchen projects. And whereas The Kitchen Broker’s customers have in the main been choosing traditional style kitchens, these younger customers, says Theyer, exhibit a strong inclination towards contemporary trends.
So what is it that Theyer believes sets The Kitchen Broker apart from its competitors? Well, it goes back to that motto of ‘we care’. “We care for our customers’ well-being,” he says, “by ensuring they are not compelled to accept a kitchen prematurely simply due to a limited-time sale or an unbeatable clearance. We care also about how they prioritise their hard-earned money by ensuring they obtain the utmost value in the areas that truly matter, by ensuring the design aligns with their specific requirements and achieves that perfect blend of practicality and aesthetic appeal.”
The appliance pricing model that brands are pursuing do not favour retailers. It’s more cost-effective to let customers buy them online
It’s a curated approach from start to finish, as Theyer adds: “We are dedicated to being there for our customers throughout their entire journey, from design consultation to fitting and installation. We offer an end-to-end solution. Our goal is to complete the job so effectively that we never need to see the customer again, for the simple reason that we have done an exceptional job.”
The Kitchen Broker is based on a farm site and first started in what was an old pig shed. This was converted into a showroom and over a period of years, extra buildings were added, a proper entrance and reception installed, and a large tarmac car park provided. It is all single-storey and the customer is taken on a journey through one display after another until reaching the final area, where they can look at samples, components, taps, doors and such like.
The business expanded from a turnover of around £30,000 in its first year to where it is today at over £1 million. It sells and installs around two kitchens a week at an average value of £17,000 with one recent project hitting £60,000, and it employs around eight staff, including three in-house fitters. Fitting is of course not something Theyer would want to lose control of, given his strong background on the tools.
Around five years ago, he decided that he would set up his own furniture factory on another farm unit not far from the showroom.
“I used to buy off a kitchen company in Birmingham and I was one of his top two customers,” he explains. “They had a big factory, but sometimes my jobs were interrupted because of supply issues and the fact that they would never say no to extra business. On the fourth occasion they let me down, just before Covid, I bought some machinery and turned my warehouse into a factory. We make the carcasses and buy in the doors.”
The cost-of-living crisis has had an effect on business for many retailers, but Theyer tells kbbreview that he is finding things continuing at their “normal pace”. He admits, however, that they sometimes have to be flexible in order to accommodate customers with a slightly tighter budget.
“People would come in and say they want a solid timber door, but we’d ask them why? And we might shift them towards a vinyl wrap or a foil wrap. That’s been one factor that has helped us maintain sales.
“It’s the same with appliances. We suggest that instead of maybe buying maybe Siemens or Neff, why not look at Bosch, AEG, Zanussi
Theyer says that the internet has really affected his profitability when it comes to appliances and complains that the current pricing model that manufacturers are pursuing “does not favour retailers, making it more cost-effective for customers to purchase products online”. He adds that in many cases “the margins are just not there for retailers” and says that he would not consider partnering with a supplier if their values do not align.
And so what of the future for The Kitchen Broker? Is another showroom on the cards or would he look at expanding into outdoor kitchens or bathrooms?
“I’m really passionate about my industry, but I’m a one-trick pony as well,” he tells kbbreview. “I’m a kitchen guy. And people ask, well, why don’t I sell bedrooms? Because I don’t enjoy it. Why don’t I sell bathrooms? Because I know nothing about that.
“In terms of another showroom, it’s not in my immediate plans. I would rather supply another retailer with some good quality kitchen furniture. Because I’ve got that option in the other part of my business. And that’s what I would rather do, if I was being honest. I’d rather help somebody else get to where they need to be.”