The kbbreview Retail Survey 2024: The biggest challenges

This is the second part of our analysis of our biggest ever survey into the confidence, opinions and mindset of the independent KBB retail sector. Here we look at the biggest challenges facing the retailer’s business.

As the industry gears up for its largest gathering in two years – kbb Birmingham 2024 – the kbbreview Retailer Survey 2024 spoke to over 500 independent kitchen and bathroom retailers to get a snapshot of a sector being buffeted by difficult economic winds.

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.

In the first part we looked at the health of the KBB retail business as gauged by the retailers themselves. Now we look at not only how they set those businesses up and their relationships with customers, staff and installers but also the biggest challenges they are facing.


We asked retailers what they think sets them apart from their competitors. The top answer comes as no surprise – reputation and recommendations. In contrast to answers on confidence and order books, this was highest with those with a specific bathroom (88%) or kitchen (82%) focus, however with the equal mix retailers it was slightly lower with 77%.

The second most popular answer for all retailers, chosen by 61%, was ‘highly trained staff’. Interestingly, ‘having a dedicated installation team’ was ranked higher than ‘showroom design’, chosen by 41% of mostly kitchen retailers, 50% of mostly bathroom retailers and 55% of equal mix retailers.

And here’s one for the suppliers, ‘offering the best brands’ was chosen by only a third (36%) of retailers as something that sets them apart from competitors.


Half of kitchen retailers use their own fitters for over 50% of their projects, with 11% saying it’s between 25-50%. That means two out of very five (39%) kitchen retailers use their own fitters for less than a quarter of their jobs. The rest are either sub-contractors or supply only. However, 92% said that supply-only is less than a quarter of their business.

For mostly bathroom retailers it’s more mixed. Only a quarter (27%) use their own fitters for more than half of their jobs. In fact, 46% said they only use them for less than a quarter of their customers’ projects.

The biggest challenges

We asked retailers what the biggest challenges facing their business were and the top choice was not KBB specific, in fact, it was the ‘wider economy’. A fifth (20%) of retailers chose this as their top option, followed closely (18%) by decreasing footfall and enquiries and clients taking a long time to reach a final decision (14%).

‘Finding good fitters’ – the issue that has come out top several times when we have asked this question in previous years – was chosen by just 8% of retailers as their top challenge.

Interestingly, shortage of products and availability was still an issue but has slipped right down the list of priorities with nearly a quarter (23%) saying it was their biggest challenge. And while contending with online pricing was only put as the number one challenge by 13%, 40% still had it on their list of biggest challenges overall.

So while independent retailers are facing many big challenges, they are proactively tackling this feeling of a slowing market head on. Nearly two-thirds (63%) said they are increasing their marketing activity, 40% indicated that they are expanding their target market and 31% are increasing the number of suppliers they deal with, although just 7% say they are looking to start selling products online.

However, 36% do say they are reducing operating costs and 28% are increasing prices. Nearly one in five (19%) say they are starting to charge customers for design…


So how has staffing changed given the clear financial pressures? And has the focus on apprenticeships had any impact on independent KBB retailers?

Encouragingly, a significant 59% of retailers say their staffing situation hasn’t changed in the last six to 12 months. Nearly one-in-five (19%) say they have taken on new staff and 14% say they intend to in the near future.

Just 9% of retailers say they are reducing staff.

When it comes to apprenticeships, however, the news is grim for those organisations pushing it as an agenda. Just 7% of retailers say they intend to take on an apprentice and it’s not hard to see why this number is so low – 57% say they don’t think there is enough support available to take apprentices on. Only 10% think that support is available to them and the rest don’t know one way or the other which also speaks volumes.

The irony is that 74% of retailers also say that there aren’t enough skilled installers and fitters…

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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