Shehryar Khan, MD of Twickenham-based kitchen specialist Sheraton Interiors, explains to Tim Wallace how COVID prompted a reappraisal of his entire business, and reveals the areas where all retailers should follow suit.
Q: What impact has the pandemic had on business?
A: We’ve doubled in size since March last year. Turnover has gone from £1.8m to a projection of £3m this year. COVID gave us a chance to update our showrooms and reassess our marketing strategies which paid off when lockdown lifted. It was important to use the digital aspects of marketing to stay visible and that really helped us.
Q: In what ways?
A: Social media and more personalised email marketing. People come to us for service from an independent specialist. You need to portray that connection through the most powerful digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram. We injected personality and became less corporate. Our new website has got pictures of me and the team all over it. There’s a face and an ethos in terms of what we stand for as a business.
We’re also reaching out to clients who would rather support the local high street than go to, say, Magnet or Wren. A lot more retailers would benefit from taking that approach – fully embed it in your marketing strategy rather than falling into the trap of following the larger companies.
Q: And the new strategy is here to stay?
A: Yes, we’ve refined our USPs. We will continue to offer Zoom consultations. Some retailers are saying you have to come in, but we understand that clients are busy – they have jobs and kids etc and we’re happy to make it part of our service offering.
Q: But a showroom is still necessary to sell premium-end kitchens?
A: A shop gives the client confidence that they can walk into a busines premises and speak to someone. But the landscape is changing. I don’t doubt that within the next five or 10 years there will be a lot more businesses without showrooms. Millennials are now ordering cars online.
Q: How long might the home improvement boom continue?
A: It’s been extremely busy but enquiry levels have tailed off a bit recently. Next year will still see quite strong demand and the stamp duty holiday will have a role to play. In the first quarter of 2022 a lot of house sale and renovation projects will materialise.
There’s been an uplift in local house prices in the last few years. A lot of people are re-mortgaging and putting in an extension or a loft conversion. But I feel we’re living in a bit of a bubble as regards this higher demand. When the travel industry comes back we’ll maybe see people going on holiday instead. Furlough is also coming to an end. Next year we’ll probably be riding the wave but not anything like what we’ve experienced in the last few months. From what I’m hearing it’s 2023 that we’ll have to plan for.
Q: What new design trends are you seeing?
A: Very seldom are we just designing a kitchen. I was at Hausmesse recently and a lot of German suppliers like Häcker, Nobilia and Ballerina are looking at walk-through utility rooms and very compact work stations. A lot are going into bedrooms as well. In kitchens, a lot of dark woods are coming through; there’s a continuation of wood in general, and bold colours.
Q: Is the situation with appliance delays improving?
A: No, and clients think it’s our fault because there’s nothing on the suppliers’ website to say there’s a problem. They haven’t supported us. We used to order appliances two weeks in advance and they would all turn up. Now we’re looking at 8-14 weeks.
Q: Which suppliers are most at fault?
A: It’s literally all of them. We’re installing 10-12 kitchens a month so from a cashflow perspective it’s not feasible to order appliances and store them. And it’s difficult when your clients buy from an online supplier. Your bottom line gets hit because if the appliances come in staggered, you have to pay the re-delivery costs and the costs for the installers to go back and put them in.