Marcel Crezee: My life in the kitchen industry

Marcel Crezee retired after seven years as MD for buying and exports at German buying group MHK this year. Here he reflects on his 35 years in the kitchen industry, the changes he has seen and the things that are still the same.

In all my years in the kitchen industry, I have met a lot of people – people full of ambition and great ideas – and experienced many different cultures. The most striking thing is that the kitchen industry is the same in all countries. Even though many entrepreneurs think what they do is completely different from other countries, the bottom line is that it is about selling a kitchen.

The biggest difference is that styles of kitchen differ across the world. In England, for example, in-frame kitchens are a hot item, but that is hardly the case anywhere else in Europe.

There have been big changes in the 35-plus years that I have worked in the kitchen world. The biggest and most obvious is that at the beginning of my career there were more than 170 German kitchen manufacturers. Today there around 50 to 60. The majority of international kitchen sales are from only 10 manufacturers, including Nobilia, Nolte, Häcker, Bauformat/Burger, Ballerina and Schüller.

It is striking that the colour white is still one of the top colours for a kitchen – in all countries. Years ago, in the Netherlands, there was a company called Vendoplan Keukens, which only sold white kitchens. The formula was very successful. Many well-known people from the Dutch kitchen market started their careers at Vendoplan.

What is also striking is that the price of a refrigerator is still almost the same as 20 years ago, but there were far fewer appliances back then. You would have a refrigerator, hob and extractor hood. Today, people have a fridge-freezer combi, steam oven, dishwasher, microwave, hob, extractor hood, coffee maker, etc.

What has changed dramatically, though, is the price of a kitchen. In the early days, people were happy when a kitchen was sold for around €4,000 (£4,494).

What remains the same always though is the function of a kitchen: to put food on the table. Today we talk about living kitchens, but this was also the case in the past. I remember well that we didn’t have a dishwasher at home and that my brother and I had to do the dishes together after dinner. My mother cleaned up, my father read the newspaper and we children washed the dishes.

Discussions were also had here, about school, sports, clothes and other chores! What has changed, of course, is the quality of kitchens – not only the appliances, but also the drawers, hinges and materials used.

Passing the baton

Even the way people purchase a kitchen has remained essentially the same. The consumer goes to a store, chooses a model, provides the measurements, and the seller goes to work on a design. Things have progressed, however, from drawing by hand to computer generated renders and from ordering by fax to fully automatic management systems. But even back then, the end result was the same – a satisfied customer, a beautifully sold kitchen and good installation.

Many kitchen stores have started up over the years, but unfortunately a large number have disappeared. We have also experienced many crises – like oil, banking, and now wars again.

What has always remained the same is the beauty of our industry. Beautiful designs, beautiful and functional equipment and the love for the profession. We have always seen this throughout the industry and throughout all countries. The kitchen world is a familiar one.

There are beautiful things and sometimes also the less pleasant things, like intrigues, lies and deception, but these are balanced by loyalty, solidarity and the will to continue improving the kitchen.

It is not without reason that I have worked in this very wonderful industry for so long, but now it is time to pass the baton to the next generation. A generation that is now knocking on the door – young entrepreneurs who, like me, once started from ‘zero’ in our beautiful industry and who will also become very successful in their own way.

What is still as true today as it’s always been is that we all need each other and I will continue to preach that. I wish you all good luck and many sales.

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