The kbbreview Retail Survey 2024: Business health

As the industry gears up for its largest gathering in two years – kbb Birmingham 2024 – we’ve conducted our biggest ever survey into the confidence, opinions and mindset of the independent KBB retail sector.

The independent kitchen, bedroom and bathroom retail sector is very proud of the ‘independent’ bit of that description – and rightly so. These are businesses built on personal relationships and premium customer service and they fiercely guard the details that make their business unique.

But what do they really think about the overall market? What challenges are they dealing with? How do they rate their suppliers? What’s happening with footfall, conversion rates and order value? And what confidence do they have for the potentially difficult times ahead?

For the start of our build-up to kbb Birmingham we have surveyed over 500 independent kitchen and bathroom retailers to find out just how their businesses are performing and how confident they are for the future.

It’s our biggest ever poll, teaming up with experts Eureka! Research to conduct the survey at the end of last year, and these independently verified results are absolutely fascinating.

We must also thank our 2024 Research Partner Hettich for their invaluable contribution in making this survey happen – you can read MD Simeon Gabriel’s initial analysis here.

The main headline is that many retailers are feeling the effects of the broader economic headwinds. While some parts of the market are in a holding pattern, others are facing a worsening position with the average duration of the order book falling by over a month and nearly two-thirds of retailers say they are worried about consumer confidence.

Retailers who have more of a kitchen focus appear to be slightly more exposed to these wider issues but most are already reacting to the market conditions pro-actively by upping their marketing investment.

And it appears that suppliers have steadied the ship after the turmoil of stock and delivery issues but they have some way to go before retailers think of their service as much more than ‘average’.

In this series of posts, we’ll be taking a look at some of the results in detail starting here with their views of the overall market and the health of their business….

The business details

The classic image of the independent retail business still stands. Just over three-quarters (77%) of retailers were single site showrooms while just 17% had more than one. Interestingly, a small but significant 6% didn’t have a showroom at all.

The ratio of kitchens to bathrooms is also interesting, with 44% of respondents selling only or mostly kitchens. Only one in five (21%) independent showrooms sell only or mostly bathrooms while just over a third (35%) sell an equal mix of both.

It’s no surprise that homeowners make up the vast majority of kbb independent retail customers – three-quarters (76%) of those that sell only or mostly kitchens said they make up more than 75% of their enquiries, with 15% saying 50%-75%. Just 2% said trade is more than 50% of their business and 86% said professional interior designers make up 15% or less of their market.

For only or mostly bathroom retailers, 76% said homeowners are more than three-quarters of their footfall too, but 70% said trade was less than 15% and interior designers barely register with 88% saying it’s less than 15% of their footfall.

The average project cost

So here’s an answer to the unanswerable question – how much does a kitchen or bathroom cost? The average complete project value of a kitchen is £27,500 and for a bathroom it’s £14,900.

In kitchens, just 15% of retailers saw the average project cost fall under £15,000 and, as you would expect, the majority (57%) of them fell between £20,000 and £40,000. A significant 15% saw an average project cost of over £40,000.

In bathrooms, nearly a quarter (23%) saw an average order value of below £10,000 and 57% fell between £10,000 and £20,000. However, one-in-five (21%) retailers said their average bathroom orders were valued at over £20,000.

Enquiries and conversions

The effects of the economy are put into stark reality here – just over half of retailers (53%) said their enquiries and footfall were down. However, a fifth (20%) actually said they were up and a quarter (26%) said they had stayed static. So, broadly speaking, the sector is split between those who are seeing a drop and those who are seeing no difference or even improvements.

However, this does change as you look into the difference between kitchens and bathrooms. Those retailers with a kitchen focus are faring worse, with 62% saying they have less enquiries and 16% more. Bathrooms are more robust with 40% less enquiries and 27% more.

When those enquiries do come, however, independent retailers are still experts at closing the deal. Across all respondents, nearly a quarter (24%) said their conversion rate was over 75%, with 57% saying it was between 50% and 75%. Just 13% said it was between 25% and 40%.

The order book

With no significant difference between kitchens and bathrooms, 58% of retailers said their order book was two or three months ahead. Nearly a quarter (23%) said it was between four and six months, with 10% saying it stretched further than that. Worryingly, 17% said that their order book was less than two months.

But how does this compare to a year ago? Nearly two-fifths of all retailers (38%) said it was worse while just 14% said it was better. In fact 20% of kitchens and 11% of bathrooms said it was ‘significantly worse’.

That is pretty bleak reading, however most retailers (47%) said their order book hadn’t changed in the past year. In fact, for retailers that do an equal mix of kitchens and bathrooms, 60% said their order book was about the same.

The cost-of-living impact

It’s clear this overall confidence about the wider economy is playing on retailer’s minds. Overall nearly two-thirds (64%) said they were concerned – of course, that also means a third aren’t worried. On average, one in ten retailers said they were ‘extremely concerned’. However, again, just 4% of those with a 50-50 mix gave that assessment.

See the other parts of our survey analysis here:

PART ONE: Business health
PART TWO: The biggest challenges
PART THREE: What retailers think of suppliers
PART FOUR: Retailer view
PART FIVE: What suppliers think of retailers
PART SIX: Personal analysis
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