How to adapt your business to survive

Exhibitions and trade shows are an invaluable source for independent retailers seeking new opportunities for their business. As the industry gears up for its largest gathering in two years – kbb Birmingham 2024 – we talk to three leading independent KBB retailers about the permanent changes they’ve made to their business in order to seize any opportunities and survive the highs and lows of the past few years.

Lisa Kyme, MD,
Ripples London

The Covid pandemic may have started almost four years ago, but the experience and aftermath will continue to provide us with tangible evidence of resilience among KBB retailers. Lisa Kyme explains how key changes she implemented as a reaction to Covid lockdowns are still paying dividends today

We – like many in the KBB sector – were very fortunate that during the Covid period we were incredibly busy. After having been sat at home for months, many consumers went off on a home-improvement rampage. Our turnover doubled and, while the situation itself was a big factor, it also had a lot to do with the changes I made to the business in order for us to adapt to the challenge.

One of the things we did in the Ripples London showroom, as a
direct result of Covid lockdowns and not being able to invite customers into the showroom for a time, was to develop and introduce an online booking system. 

This was rolled out across all franchises and is something we still use today. This system not only made the process more flexible for consumers and made our lives easier as retailers, it also meant survival because, without it, we wouldn’t have been able to do business.  

Not only did the online booking system help us survive the Covid lockdowns, it has also helped us win new business since. While we actively encourage people to come into the showroom, for some consumers, being able to start the process from home, via an online appointment, just makes it more of a possibility. 

Prior to implementing the online booking system, we would be relying on people remembering to pop into the showroom and make an appointment in person. 

There’s a chance they might forget and could end up looking at a different bathroom showroom altogether. Giving them the option to book an appointment or a call back via our website has made the whole process much easier and flexible for time-poor consumers. 

There are always ups and downs in retail, but with a positive mind-set and being open to change, you learn to roll with the punches and keep going

Not only that, but it’s also made our lives in the studio easier too. 

It helped us appeal to a wider audience and opened up busi­ness opportunities much further afield. 

For instance, I’m working with a client at the moment that lives in Amsterdam. He has a flat in London too, which is how he knew about
us, but he is predominantly based in Amsterdam. 

So, because we do online appoint­ments and presentations, he knew that he could get the ball rolling on the project from his home
in Amsterdam. 

I’m pretty sure that without the online appointment function, that client wouldn’t have considered working with us. 

There are obviously a number of lessons that we learned during Covid and the changes we made to survive, I’m still carrying on to this day and will going forward. 

There are always ups and downs in retail, but with a posi­­tive mind-set and willingness to change, you learn how to roll with the punches and keep going.

Dan Stronge, MD, 
Jones Britain, Tunbridge Wells

To combat falling consumer confidence as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, Dan Stronge changed his business by relocating and redesigning his showroom to appeal to high-end consumers less affected by financial strains

The past few years have been challenging to say the least. We’ve had Brexit, then Covid, then conflict in Europe. All these combined have made the market tough and it’s that bit harder to get people across the line. 

I wouldn’t say there’s just one specific plan I’ve put in place that has helped us navigate the challenges, but making our business appeal to a wider market is definitely one.

In all honesty, we’ve yo-yoed in the marketplace over the years, precisely to deal with such scenarios, with low consumer confidence. We generally aimed at the mid-market, but as people began tightening their belts after the Covid-boom, we decided to target the upper end.  

So, we pushed our marketing in a direction that catered for consumers less affected by the economic pressures – those that are prepared to spend £80,000+ on a kitchen. 

We haven’t stopped catering for the middle market, because there are still people spending in that sector, but we’ve upped our marketing, our offering and moved our showroom to appeal to a wider audience. 

The move to a new showroom and new area was costly, but I was able to invest money that I made from selling the previous showroom.  

The new showroom is nearer to Royal Tunbridge Wells, which has got a huge footprint of people who all need kitchens and it’s got a high percentage of the demographic we’re trying to tap into. 

The new showroom is a larger, more visually appealing space that not only features more displays, but larger ones that mirror the kind of kitchens that consumers at the high-end have. All of the products we sell will work for the mid-range customer but the way we’ve displayed them, they will attract interest from those willing to spend more. We’re also doing more targeted marketing – in print and online – so that we attract those that are not only willing to spend more on a kitchen, but those who are prepared to spend even in the current economy. 

You have to monitor what’s going on in the market and be prepared to adapt to meet those changes so that you don’t miss out on
any opportunities

This is a strategy we have been implementing for years in order to adapt to challenges in the market. Seven or eight years ago, we were the other way around. We were aiming solely at the top end of the market. Back then, our showroom was basically all bespoke product, but we suddenly realised that we were missing out on the mid-market consumer. That’s when we changed our portfolio to include a more mid-market offering. It was a very successful move and we still sell that brand today. So now we have Master­­­class alongside our bespoke, Jones Britain kitchen collection and both can cater for the mid-high end. 

You always have to monitor the market and be prepared to adapt to those changes, so that you don’t miss out on any opportunities. 

We’re reaping the benefits too. Our turnover is growing each year. The quantity of kitchens that we do in a year has actually gone down, but because our average order value is higher, were making more.

Natalie Peters, general manager,
Kitchens Etc, North Creake, Norfolk

In 2021, while dealing with the after-effects of Covid, a devastating flood threatened the long-term survival of Kitchens Etc. Natalie Peters, explains how they overcame such a significant challenge and even turned it into a positive

When our showroom was devas­tated by a severe freak flood, it was literally a sink or swim moment for our business! The entire showroom was knee-deep in water for over six weeks resul­ting in a complete strip-out and total refit, forcing us to be without a showroom for most of 2021. 

We were in complete shock and absolutely heartbroken to see it in that state and the extent of the damage really did shake us to our core. We were still processing the shock of Covid, trying to navigate through that and being forced to adapt our business quickly, like everyone else had to, and just before the flood we had completed  a  showroom refurbishment. 

To reinstate the whole showroom to the extent required, was going to be a huge investment during an incredibly difficult and uncertain period. We were still in the midst of the pandemic and lockdowns, and had no idea when they would end or whether they were here to stay. 

Footfall had decreased dramati­cally, and no one knew what the showroom experience would look like post-Covid. 

There was no time to mope or even process, we had to act fast, pick ourselves up off the floor and make big decisions. We decided to turn a huge negative into a positive, truly believing in our showroom experience and per­­so­­­­nal service – promising our cus­to­­­­­­­mers that we’d be back with a bang.

Fortunately, we are a long-established company with a very good reputation, built on personal recom­mendation and repeat custom. Clients were also very understanding and sympathetic and by creating a bit of a hype, people were rooting for us and following our progress – all of this definitely helped us immensely during this difficult time. 

We kept people informed of our progress through verbal contact, newsletters, updates and social media. We were transparent, we encouraged people into the showroom once it was safe to do so, while the refurbishment was under way, so that we could promote personal interaction with them. 

Our showroom temporarily became a building ‘shell’ and a way to emphasise our story – our enthusiasm and passion along with a portfolio of our previous works rather than showing physical product in our showroom. 

We had already begun to profes­sionally photograph and then video all our finished jobs, which helped with social media content and engagement and building our up-to-date portfolio, it was an investment commitment but one that we have continued and has been a real game-changer. 

Our priority was to look after our clients and keep our forward order book ahead, to see us through this tough period. 

We are now only a very small team, and our projects are high- end, so we do not rely on high volume of sales (a stark contrast to our business model 20 years ago) which was also very helpful during this time.

This was enough to survive thank­fully, however we knew for our business there was no long-term substitute for clients being able to be inspired, to think differently through our full showroom experience and to interact with our beautiful products in the flesh. 


We used this unexpected oppor­tunity, to start with a blank canvas and change things up completely, launching our new Design Studio; showcasing exactly where we are as a company now and where we are heading. This has proven to be a great success, continues to be extremely well received and is an invaluable sales tool.

There was no time to mope or even process, we had to act fast, pick ourselves up off the floor and make big decisions

The pandemic and the flood also forced us to become more flexible. Our showroom was ‘open by appointment’ but of course if anyone just dropped by, we did our utmost to accommodate. This practice has remained and will continue to. It works well for us as a company and gives our small team more focused quality time with clients in the studio and on-site. Our ‘office hours’ have shortened, we flex work from home, but we are more flexible to accommodate out-of-hours appoint­ments, which suits many clients better, it also allows us to plan better, enabling us to work smarter.

At the time we didn’t really think about being resilient, it was just sink or swim and there was no way we were going to let this ruin our family business – we had all worked too hard and invested too much personally over the years for that to even be an option. Ultimately for us, I believe having this purpose and passion was the main drive that saw us through the difficult period, being so personally invested in the cause. 

It didn’t come without cost though and not just on a monetary level, but it did have an unexpected trans­formative effect in many ways. 

On a personal level, I have learned a lot about myself. I also learned that when things are uncertain, people seek reassurance and safety, and you can aid that with honesty, integ­rity and communication. 

I learned just how invaluable posi­tivity is and looking after your well-being to enable you to be resilient, as these are all interlinked. 

Resilience and confidence can be really knocked during adversity, but resilience and confidence are also strengthened and rebuilt through adversity – it’s like being knocked down to be built back up again. While it didn’t feel it at the time, it has proved to be a very empowering and positive experience.

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