Durham-based kitchen and bathroom specialist Ivan Simpson (pictured left with showroom manager David Burns) tells Tim Wallace why soaring prices make now the right time to invest in your showroom.
Q: How has the pandemic changed your business approach?
A: When we came back from lockdown, 60% of our tiles had been discontinued, or were about to be, so we’ve been trying to update things. You’ve got to spend money on your showroom to make it look more exciting. We’ve sold a couple of Pronorm displays off, our main kitchen brand, and we’ll hopefully have new ones by Christmas. So next year will be looking really good – just in time for the recession…
Q: You’re planning for a downturn?
A: Oh yes, we’ve got the perfect storm – with inflation at 3.2% and prices going up the way they are I’d advise getting everything up to date right now. If it’s currently a hundred grand to rerfurbish your store, by the time you get to Christmas you can add another 10 to 20 grand, and you’re also going to have more taxes.
Q: How’s business currently?
A: Footfall has quietened down. Last year the store was like a nightclub – if your name wasn’t on the door you couldn’t come in, which made customers even keener. But people forget we were edging into a nice recession before lockdown. Things had slowed down, the housing market had slowed down – because of Brexit to an extent.
Q: Where has COVID had the most impact on your business?
A: Two years ago a container cost $3,000 – they’re wanting $24,000 to ship now. When we do a quotation it only lasts for 48 hours. We then have to re-quote. We run into difficulties when radiators are going up 15% and we only get seven days’ notice.
Q: Is discounting on bathroom products still as big an issue?
A: Yes the internet guys are still fighting it out among themselves and discounting massively. And there’s no need because you can’t get the product. There’s no logic to it. The people who want to buy are still going to buy, so why not make some profit on the premium brands?
It’s not just the big internet players, but some of the smaller retailers. They must be spending a fortune on trying to keep their websites up to date. Some have shut them down because they can’t get product.
If you’re selling premier brands you need a premier service – a good showroom, a good CAD system on a 50-60 inch TV, time with customers, telling them what’s possible. Not saying ‘this bay is £2,400 and that’s the bathroom you’re going to get'. People don’t all want the same spec.
Q: Has the pandemic triggered new buying trends?
A: Totally – in 12 months we’ve jumped forward five years on how people work and live. People can work from home, they’ve learnt how to cook, they’ve watched all the celebrity chefs on TV.
These are exciting times. We’ve had all the manufacturers sit back for 12-18 months and work on new products, designs and finishes. And they’ve also had more money in the pot because they haven’t had to heat or light or insure their premises. There’s some great product coming through. If they’ve had time to think of something sexy and different, then great!
Q: So you’re happy with Pronorm?
A: Yes – look at every manufacturer in the UK and it’s a Shaker-style door sprayed a drain pipe colour to green to white to whatever, but it’s the same bloody door!
Q: How else have you changed your approach?
A: We’ve been very proactive on Instagram and Facebook and employed an interior designer for another angle of attack. We’re also running a diary on the jobs we’re doing – before, during and after – so people can see what’s involved. A lot don’t understand that if you do a bathroom job properly it takes two weeks. And customers always want a bigger project than just a kitchen.
We’re spending more time with appointments and sitting down and doing two or three redraws. During lockdown we sold two or three bathrooms just quoting on FaceTime. It seemed like it would be the way forward, but it wasn’t because people always want to feel the product.