Shopfloor Analysis: Counting the cost of bureaucracy

As if the current economic conditions and cost-of-living crisis aren’t challenging enough, KBB retailers are also battling against local and central government legislation. Andrew Vaux sheds light on the obstacles they face.

There’s no doubt that in today’s competitive marketplace, KBB retailers face a host of challenges.

Not only do they have to invest heavily in marketing to stay ahead of the competition and stand out to price-savvy customers, but they also face challenges caused by an unstable economy, which has led to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

In the recent kbbreview Retail Survey 2024 – our biggest ever survey into the confidence, opinions, and mind-set of the independent KBB retail sector – we asked retailers what the biggest challenges facing their businesses were, and the top choice was surprisingly not KBB-specific. 

In fact, it was the ‘wider economy.’ A fifth (20%) of retailers chose this as their top concern, followed closely (18%) by decreasing footfall and enquiries, and clients taking a long time to reach a final decision (14%).

But if these economic challenges aren’t enough, there are also challenges caused by ongoing changes in local and central government legislation.

One of these is the ongoing fallout from Brexit.Joanna Geddes, design director at Kitchens by JS Geddes in Kilmarnock, says Brexit is affect­­­ing her business in many ways. She says: “We had to invest a lot of time setting up to import from abroad, as most of the products we use are imported. Also, the taxation on these goods has been a charge and indeed a cost to the end consumer. Overall cost of the kitchen has been inflated.

“Also, we’re seeing builders struggle to employ new tradesmen, as many returned ‘home’ during Brexit. This makes timescales difficult for us.”

Angus Kerr, director of The Bathroom Company in Edinburgh, has also been impacted by Brexit.

He comments: “There’s absolutely no doubt that Brexit has had a very negative impact on the service we receive from some, but not all, of our continental suppliers. The larger suppliers that are supplying through distributors are still providing a good service, however we’re finding that ceramics are the most affected area.

“Pre-Brexit, a lorry could leave the UK, travel to Spain or Italy then return to the UK fully loaded within a three- or four-day period. This can now be as slow as three weeks, with containers sitting at the dock waiting to clear customs.”

He adds: “We’ve also been priced out of quoting for business within the EU. For example, we have many clients who have second homes in France, Spain and Italy. Pre-Brexit we could place an order with our continental suppliers and have products delivered within Europe. Post-Brexit these products land in the UK and are then sent back to Europe, which logistically doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, we end up in a double VAT situation.”

However, somewhat closer to home, locally-imposed parking charges are also causing issues with KBB retailers.

High-street headaches

Ian Coghill, co-director of Edinburgh-based Riddle and Coghill Interiors, comments: “We’ve recently had parking charges imposed on all the roads surrounding our premises. We also have the possibility of a 24/7 bus lane directly in front of our showroom looming, and also, have just had pavement parking banned. We have a pavement approximately 5m wide at our showroom front, which allows a vehicle to unload display kitchens if we are doing a refit inside. But customers are less likely to visit as parking is always an issue.”

Councils just don’t get it in the real world of business. They waste money on hare-brained schemes, and don’t cater for the majority of people’s needs.

Ian Coghill, co-director, Riddle and Coghill Interiors

And Coghill believes it’s not just customers who are affected, adding: “Staff reconsider their employment if they can’t commute easily, and parking costs are an issue along with the lack of affordable public transport. It’s often cheaper to have a car and share with a spouse to travel in than go by train – if they’re running – and if a station is close to home or work. If it isn’t, you need a car anyway to get to a station.

“Councils, or should I say councillors, just don’t get it in the real world of business. I think they waste money on hare-brained schemes, don’t cater for the majority of people’s needs, and focus on those who band together and shout very loudly.”

Meanwhile Matthew Parnum, director of ICE Interior in Lymington, explains: “Our kitchen studio is based in a retail courtyard just off the high street. After many years of threatening change, Hampshire County Council finally implemented parking meters along the High Street in 2023, and whereas the old system allowed people free parking within marked bays for up to two hours, the new scheme only allows 20 minutes free, and then charges £1 per hour with a maximum stay of two hours.

“There seemed very little actual need for this change. In a time of high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, it seems incredible that our council feels that imposing these charges is appropriate.”

He continues: “In our opinion these parking charges are just another barrier to deter browsing and shopping on the high street, and it has definitely had a negative impact on footfall, particularly for the locals. We have a very mixed demographic of visitors – from elderly residents who rely on their cars, to wealthier holiday visitors during the summer months, and it’s definitely affected trade for the local independent businesses.

“There’s not been any noticeable benefit from the funds being raised or any evidence of how this additional revenue is being spent locally. Our roads remain just as potholed and as bad as the rest of the country!

“We’re just having to accept the parking charges and have increased our marketing spend in an effort to maintain awareness.”

KBB retailers also face the issue of business rates. Coghill asks where these rates actually go.

He says: “We pay approximately £10k per year in business rates, but what are these overinflated costs really for? The matching residential property above our showroom pays approx. £2,500 in rates, with the same footprint. They probably use more things like water, as we only have cups of tea or coffee at work. Again, where is the value for us?”

Frankie Powell, managing director of Northern Ireland-based Lily Bain Bathrooms & Tiles, adds: “Business rates continue to be a major overhead for small businesses, and any increase this year could lead to a number becoming unprofitable because of this cost alone.”


Campaigners believe far more can be done to breathe new life into our dwindling high streets. 

Parnum, of ICE Interior, explains: “Up and down the country, our high streets have changed, and we’re seeing many retailers closing, and being replaced by more leisure-based businesses, including coffee shops, betting shops, and charity shops. Despite many campaigns, it’s hard to see what the Government is doing to effect any real change and provide any help.

Despite many campaigns, it’s hard to see what the Government is doing to effect any real change and provide any help for businesses.

Matthew Parnum, director, ICE Interior in Lymington

“Business rates continually increase but offer no real value, as even processes like refuse collection aren’t included. There also seems to be a decline in general maintenance, including street cleaning and removal of graffiti. Unless some action is taken, we’ll all lose something very valuable.” 

“I recently heard of some people that I’d say were stalwarts of our industry now having to cease trading. I fear there’ll be more good people who may be starting to consider putting their feet up. It certainly isn’t getting any easier to run a business, never mind one in the KBB industry.”

Coghill concludes: “Councils should stop seeing businesses as a cash cow. The majority of councillors I have come in contact with are clueless, ignorant people who don’t look at the greater benefit for all. They may think they are helping when they make a decision, but are they making it worse for a larger group?

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