No more busy fools!

The owner of Rugby Fitted Kitchens, Trevor Scott, looks back on a manic December and hatches some New Year’s resolutions he hopes will make things more efficient in the year to come

In over 23 years of running RFK, I have never known a December like it. Normally, we would endeavour to fill January and as much of February as possible by mid-November in the certain knowledge that the British public will switch off on home improvements by December 1 and go Christmas loopy. But not the December just gone. We didn’t stop.

Such is the burden of design work we’ve not yet done, we had an emergency designers’ meeting for me to get a clearer picture of where we stand – something I’ve never done before, but which was actually quite cathartic and might be worth doing every month.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying ‘busy fools’ or ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’, and that is a little how we were all feeling.

In order to consistently supply three to four kitchens a week, each designer – and they are proper designers, not just salespeople – will probably be juggling upwards of 16 clients at any one time. These vary from new enquiries awaiting their first presentation, to those in the amendment phase prior to placing an order. Then there are those in the ready to order phase, followed by those due for fitting in the next week or two, and finally the in aftercare and remedial group.

New business

And while all this is going on, the phone never stops ringing and yet more new enquiries walk through the door, quite rightly expecting our unwavering attention.

Some of you will no doubt be thinking “what’s he complaining about, it must be nice to have more customers than you can cope with”. And I guess they’re right.

Getting your marketing and service levels right does tend to bring you more enquiries than some, so I can’t stress enough the importance of getting this side of your business right. But, and it’s a big but, if you then can’t service those enquiries efficiently, it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of being busy fools.

We’re selling plenty, but I know we could convert more into orders if we were more efficient. So, that’s my first New Year’s resolution – be more efficient.

We have trainees who are shadowing our more experienced designers, but every time the phone rings or a client walks through our door, you can guarantee they’ll ask a question the juniors can’t answer and, before you know it, the old hands must step in. Which, of course, means they can’t get on with the job in hand.

We want our clients to feel suitably loved and attended to, but to achieve this means letting go of the design mouse, getting up and conversing with them. We want to retain that very personal link our customers feel they have with their designers and this is the conundrum we need to solve…

So why was December so manic? My answer is simply… Brexit. The British buying public are a hardy bunch, but it doesn’t take a lot to give them the jitters. The result? A dead late June/early July for new business enquiries.

But there was a pent-up demand that has, over the past few months, slowly but inexorably filtered down to us and December didn’t stop them coming in clutching their architects’ plans. The UK economic situation is looking pretty rosy. Consumers can see that and their confidence has returned.

Despite the 7% to 12% price increases we have all experienced due to the crash in the value of sterling post-Brexit, the British public is back spending. Praise the Lord!

And let’s move on to these price increases shall we?

At the time of writing, the Italians have just had a referendum (with the Dutch soon to follow) and the result has impacted on the value of the euro to the dollar. So sterling is back to us buying at around €1.20, a rate that prior to the giddy heights of €1.34 we were averaging in the year or so leading up to our referendum, would have seemed more normal.

So, where are all the downward price adjustments from our suppliers?

Quick enough to pile it on and, frankly I feel profiteer, but far too slow to lower prices when the exchange rate is favourable again. Fact of business life: base buying prices will always go up, never down.

Consumers, on the other hand, are becoming more and more demanding of lower and lower prices, especially for white goods – thanks to the internet, where the race to the bottom has already been won and lost.

I read with interest in kbbreview’s sister publication ERT the recent interview with Blaine Callard, CEO of Harvey Norman in Eire, whose Australian-owned company has at last turned a profit for the group.

He was asked about the UK market for electricals and whether Harvey Norman would consider crossing the water? He described the UK market as “toxic” and said no major retailer should consider entering lightly.

Blaming Amazon among others, who “continue to butcher prices, making no money and adding no value to the industry” he went on to say “UK [electronic] retailers fell asleep for a decade to wake up and find online retailing accounting for 25% or more of the market”.

Studies have shown that UK consumers’ hunger for online shopping was “off the charts” and totally out of kilter with the rest of the developed world. Even in the USA, fewer than 10% of retail is done online.

Moving forward

So, resolution number two: Offer a broader choice for our customers and break the chains of our enslavement to the big-name brands.

The clever bit will be retaining our favourable discounts thanks to ‘selective distribution agreements’ without breaking the rules the suppliers have set. One of the ways to do this will be to display point of difference products that the big boys have yet to bring to market – such as integrated downdraft extractor hobs.

Thank goodness we purchase most of our furniture (the bit we still actually make a decent return on) in euros at the rate of the day. It hurt us for a short while immediately post-Brexit, but we’re mostly coming out on top.

Moving forward, we hope to complete our head office and contracts functions relocation to the now not-so-new offices and warehouse as the much-heralded cloud-based IT functions of our business are now finally fully operational.

This should free up desk space and give designers an opportunity to spend one day a week having ‘quiet time’ and getting some work done – no more busy fools.

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