Brands confident of positive year ahead for business

Exhibitors at this year’s kbb Birmingham were realistic but upbeat about the current state of the market and what the rest of 2024 has in store.

Most accept that the past year has been challenging with the impact of the cost-of-living crisis making itself felt.

Many retailers have been seeing a busy start to 2024. Talking to kbbreview on the KBBG stand, managing director Bill Miller said: “I would say it has been mixed with some of our members reporting a busy start to the year and those, like last year, were at the higher end of the market, selling into the luxury to premium sector. The bulk of our members, who are in the mid to higher sector, say it has been a tough start. It is a struggle getting enquiries and a struggle turning those enquiries into orders.”

With an eye on the future, Miller added: “I think the second half of the year will be better than the first half.  It won’t be a bumpy year but it will be OK.”

Speaking on the Königstone stand, sales director Wes Osborne told kbbreview: “The past year has been quite tough. This year we see as being tough again, but we do see signs of it improving. I think that the first quarter will be acceptable and the second quarter will be OK.”

Looking further ahead, he said: “Going forward from there, I think we will see it start to gain a little more momentum. Showrooms are reporting that there is more footfall and that is encouraging. We have gained some new accounts recently and there are more enquiries in the pipeline.”

Speaking to kbbreview on the Sensio stand, founder Michael Linksy reflected that Covid had skewed the figures and that things were inevitably going to come down after the post-pandemic upsurge in business.

Linsky said: “We have had an amazing ride since Covid, but it was artificial – we have compressed five years into three. So of course there was going to be a down after the up. We have been very lucky to have the growth rate we have had since 2020, our business has more than doubled.”

Some brands reported an ongoing upward trend in sales. Clearwater general manager Andrew Hall told kbbreview: “We’ve just had our two best years ever, year on year – 2022 was our record, and then we matched it in 2023, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. All of our growth areas have been with our own branded products.”

And businesses that are new to the industry have also reported good business – better than they might have expected.  

Leigh Martin, managing director of business management software specialist, TruBlue said business has been “fantastic”. “

We went live in June last year, and since then it’s just skyrocketed. It’s gone better than expected and better than planned – we’re really pleased with the reaction. For us, because we’re so new, we’re still ploughing virgin territory. We’ve not really been affected by the downturn, because we’ve not got a customer base built up yet, but I’ve had software businesses through several recessions and there’s always winners and losers. I’ve never lived through one where everyone’s losing at the same time.”

Sean Collins, sales director at Merlyn, acknowledged the impact of higher interest rates on the KBB market. He said: “Our trading performance is pretty good at the moment, but the markets are very fragile still. The biggest impact on the KBB market is interest rates. Most of the bigger developers are reporting 20% to 25% down in terms of reservations year-on-year and, if people aren’t confident to buy new property, they probably aren’t buying second-hand homes. That said, the upside of people not moving is they tend to renovate and convert, so we are moving into that recovery now.”

When asked for his advice for retailers going forward, Collins added: “The independent retail chain is absolutely critical to this industry. In a challenging market, my advice to them would be to focus on service and innovation. I’d also so be optimistic. The markets will pick up – they always do – and I’d say we’ll see gradual improvement throughout the year with a real recovery in Q4.”

For the long term, the general consensus is that things will slowly pick up. Sensio’s Linsky sums up his feelings: “I don’t think it will bounce back quickly, but I don’t think it is disaster either. We believe that towards the end of this year and the start of next, we will see a recovery, but until then we are where we are. This is a market cycle.”

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