PROFILE: Helen Lord

Helen Lord, founder of the Used Kitchen Exchange, which promotes the profitable regeneration of used and ex-display kitchens, talks to Rebecca Nottingham about why taking a more sustainable approach can be good for business

How did the idea for The Used Kitchen Exchange come about?
We founded the Used Kitchen Exchange after moving into our Edwardian-style home. We wanted a new kitchen, and had a very specific style and quality in mind. We had the aspiration, but we didn’t have the budget. So, we bought a wonderful pre-owned Clive Christian kitchen on eBay. During the search for our perfect kitchen, it became clear that there was a market for second-hand kitchens, but that there wasn’t really a great portal on which to buy and sell them – so UKE was formed. We work in partnership with retailers and kitchen brands to sell ex-display and good quality used kitchens on their behalf. Used Kitchen Exchange is an ethical, environmentally-friendly solution.

How do the used and ex-display kitchens come to you?
The ex-display kitchens come to us through savvy retailers looking to update their showroom and make money back on their displays. Our preferred route for the used kitchens is to work in partnership with the showroom. When the retailer goes to measure up for the new kitchen, they’ll assess the existing one and, if it doesn’t have to go to the great showroom in the sky, they’ll recommend the consumer calls us. We can also be used as a form of trade-in. The retailer can offer the resale price off the new kitchen with no cost to the showroom. We add real value to their sales process.

What’s in it for retailers?
A lot of forward-thinking retailers, those who are always looking to improve what they do, see the service differentiator in UKE. People go to retailers, like Diane Berry, one of our partners, because they expect an A1-plus kitchen and she will give them that. What they then don’t expect is for Diane and her team to care enough to suggest that their client can release some cash for their new kitchen from the one they’re getting rid of. It’s an altruistic way of doing business and it also encourages retailers to redesign their showroom more often and be more creative.

Why is the recycling of kitchens to create a circular economy so important?
Because it’s great for business. The Government actually released some interesting stats recently looking at social values and sustainability – measuring companies on the effect they have on the wider viewpoint, not just about making money. The research showed that half of the British public would choose one company over another based on their sustainable processes. So, by embedding social values into their strategy, retailers and manufacturers can show that the business cares and isn’t just there to make money. It’s a good way of doing business and you’re also adding another service to your standard offering which could differentiate you from the competition. The big players in the KBB market have a responsibility to try to change the throwaway mentality of the industry, and the only way that’s going to happen is to offer people suitable alternatives.

How would you rate the general level of design in the industry?
From what I see, there’s a good mix of innovation and the obvious crowd-pleasers. What’s most important about kitchen design is to consider exactly what the individual is looking for, because not everybody is looking for a kitchen that’s a work of art. Some people are looking for a beautiful, but practical, family kitchen that’s sensible, durable and within their budget. If the design is perfect for them, then it is perfect. If pushing the boundaries worked for everyone, then David Beckham would have every man wearing a sarong.

There’s been widespread debate recently, over the standards of design in the industry. Doesn’t the UKE approach reinforce the argument that anyone can design a kitchen?
We don’t reinforce that at all. We’re not trying to be flippant. We’re not saying that kitchen design is a doddle or suggesting that people shouldn’t be buying brand new kitchens at full price. We’re catering to a completely different market. The people that we sell to would love to be able to spend £65,000 on a beautifully designed, bespoke kitchen, but they can’t afford it. Our customers have the aspiration for good design, but not the budget. So, how do they buy a quality product and still get that designer feel? They buy from someone who’s done it previously and you mirror their design.

By default, doesn’t recycling kitchens actually challenge creativity?
Rather than restrict, I believe it encourages creativity. Because, rather than stick to a tried-and-tested formula, if a domestic buyer has found a used or ex-display kitchen they like, they really have to think outside the box in terms of design in order to reconfigure it to fit their space. While we’re not designers, and don’t claim to be, we can help people along with the creative process and give them ideas as to how they can consider the layout differently to suit their space. We are no threat to the industry. What we actually do is to add value to businesses. We are completing a circular economy within an industry that’s never had that gap plugged.

Do the brands of kitchens you sell, specifically the high-end ones like Clive Christian, etc, agree with the principle? Does it not dilute their brand at all?
The brands we currently work with at the high-end – Clive Christian, Siematic, Alno, in-toto, Kuhlmann, Kutchenhaus – all recognise that we add to their business because our clients are a completely different purchasers. In fact, it’s actually flattering to the designer and the brand, if you think about it, because we’re promoting the longevity of their product.

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