Walter Peteri: “This is the most conservative industry in the world”

For Walter Peteri, son of founder Henri Peteri, Quooker is much more than a good product, it’s a brand that shows innovation and new ideas can be successful in an industry that he describes as “the most conservative in the world”. Andrew Davies went to meet him…

The success of Quooker in the UK kitchen retail market is an undeniable phenomena. Through a combination of engineering innovation and top notch brand building, Quooker has not just pioneered a new technology, but also effectively invented a whole new product category – the boiling water tap.

There are now few premium kitchen studios who don’t sell such taps, Quooker or not, with virtually every project and – a surefire sign it has entered the zeitgeist – every new concept that hopes to disrupt the market optimistically describes itself as ‘the new Quooker’.

But for all its success it is still a relatively young product. The first Quooker was created in 1992 and it only started exporting from its home country of the Netherlands in 2004. Two years later Stephen Johnson began to build both the UK business and his own prominence as an industry leader. There are now over half a million Quooker systems in the UK.

Walter Peteri, son of founder Henri Peteri, is the company’s global director and a man clearly very comfortable with the direction his father’s engineering expertise has taken his family. But what is the philosophy behind it? And just how far can this growth take them?

Q: The boiling water tap is still a relatively new category so how are you affected by the wider performance of the market?

A: It’s funny you ask because in countries where we’re still young, like  Spain and Italy for eample, it doesn’t matter what the economy is doing because we’re so small. But in the mature markets, and the best example is the Netherlands of course, where we’re practically in every kitchen already, then we are very dependent on the market. The UK is a little bit inbetween so we still have a lot to gain here in terms of penetration but we’re now at a size now where we’re noticeably affected by the economy for the first time. But, the prediction is that the UK boiling water tap market is going to be 300,000-400,000 pieces a year by 2025-2026. So rather than looking at the economy, if we can tell the right story, we can make our sales.  

Q: That’s fascinating as you’ve effectively invented that market. 

A: Yes, absolutely, and that makes it all so difficult. I always say that we still don’t have serious competition and, despite the overall market, our turnover still grew last year and I think that’s a fantastic achievement if you compare it to other companies. And it’s because we are so focused on what we do.

Q: Because this category is so new, you’ve almost been able to write the rules of it. You can sell direct to consumers and have a big presence in DIY while still keeping independent retailers happy.

A: The most important thing is that you have to be honest, so I can say we never want to compete with the kitchen showroom. If people are going to buy a Quooker that way we will never conflict with them. But there is a market of existing kitchens where it’s quite logical to go direct and our ambition is for every home to have a Quooker. We wouldn’t compete with the dealer though, it’s actually less expensive for us to give the dealer a box than it is for us to send a fitter to install one we’ve sold directly. 

Q: Quooker is a great product but the brand marketing has done a phenomenal job. What is the ethos of the brand to you?

A: Internally, we have core values of independence, originality, responsibility and persistence. Everybody is very enthusiastic about Quooker now but we had difficulties at the beginning, a lot of people forget the first 15 years! I think originality is really important so we never look at other brands, we do it completely our own way. That started with my father as what he did was so original and he had real persistence. And, again, honesty is so important. We don’t like crap, we don’t like stories.

Q: You seem to have the balance of technology and marketing right. There are lots of companies who are good at one or the other.

A: I totally agree with you. On one hand we are a technical company and on the other a marketing company. That combination is very special because you need both of them but it’s also about the people. Everybody is really determined and that’s the same here in the UK as it is in the Netherlands.  

Q: The Quooker brand is so strong that there must be a lot of temptation to grow by expanding that name onto other products…

A: I’m not a fan of putting our brand on jugs or whatever, our strength has always been our focus. I’ve been approached with all kinds of ideas, of course, as well as other territories too. At the beginning I was approached to go to all kinds of places and I always said I’m only going to the next country if I want to, and not because somebody phones me from wherever and says ‘I want to sell you’. People were insulted in the beginning when I said I’m not interested but I won’t go to the next one before the current one is running well. We’ve always been very focused in terms of the product, in terms of the market, and in terms of the people. We’ve had no external money either. 

Q:.This whole thing started because your Dad was an inventor and created something genuinely new. Do you think this is an industry that welcomes innovation and new ideas?

A: Totally not. It’s probably the most conservative industry in the world so you don’t see many new developments in kitchens. I come from a time that nobody wanted a Quooker. People only looked for disadvantages and we were shouted at in trade fairs, “oh, it’s so dangerous, it’s a crime that you are trying to sell this”.  So, yes, it’s a very conservative industry but it’s also a little bit of human nature to not want new things. 

Q: Sustainability is a big part of your current marketing, why is that so important and are you getting traction with the consumers? 

A: It starts with the product itself of course and actually it would be difficult to sell a product that wasn’t sustainable nowadays. I think the battle against plastic is probably our strongest point in terms of sustainability – in the UK 7.7bn plastic bottles are used every year, so being able to get instant sparkling water straight from your Quooker tap makes a real impact.  

Q: Persuading consumers to think about sustainability when buying a new kitchen is proving to be a very hard argument to make though… 

A: Yes, if you look at our brand tracker research, the reason people buy is convenience and they then justify the expense with the sustainability elements. But there is a genuine energy-saving to be had as you simply don’t have to wait forever for water to heat up with a combi boiler. So we should educate the people here in the UK more that this option is there.

Q: That’s interesting as there’s lots of talk about sustainability in the way things are made but not enough about how to make customers live a more sustainable life every day. 

A: Absolutely. I always tell people that when I was young we never threw food away. Never. If I would throw food in the bin, my mother would go crazy. We went to Brittany on holiday with eight of us in one car. I got clothes from my older brothers. That was sustainability but we didn’t call it that. All these 23-year-olds talk about how they want to work for a sustainable company and then they fly to Ibiza four times a year… 

Q: Where do you think the market’s going to be in a couple of year’s time? And do you think you’ll have even more competitors picking up market share? 

A: You shouldn’t ask me because I’m also very conservative. I don’t change that many things normally but hopefully the economy will be a lot better and we will have one or two new products to show. In terms of competitors, a lot of people have tried to copy what we do and that’s always there, I’ve heard it for 25 years. In the beginning, when we were very small, I was a little bit frightened every time someone said ‘this other brand is also coming into the market with a boiling water tap’. But I’m past that nervousness now. We are so focused on what we do and  everyone needs to remember that it’s a difficult product to make! So if somebody else wants to do it, good luck but it takes years and a lot of hassle, leaks and flooded kitchens before you’re there..

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