If you stand still, then so will your business – that's the philosophy of new SieMatic MD, Kerry Furber. She tells Tim Wallace how she's steering the company in a fresh direction, and adapting to changing times.
Kerry Furber is quick to counter rumours that the retirement of her predecessor, Bernard Otulakowski, last May triggered the departure of some key dealers. Instead, SieMatic’s new UK MD tells me these are exciting times for a business that has inevitably been through changes as it evolves but is now seeing the benefits of major new investment.
“We had about 40 dealers in the UK, now we have 35, so it’s not like everyone has jumped ship,” she insists. “We’ve lost a few dealers but it’s part of a larger strategy of having less but higher quality.
"It’s just about needing to protect the brand and how it’s displayed and the customer service. With that in mind we’ve reduced the quantity of our dealers and started afresh. The reason for our decision, or theirs, has just been what’s best for the business. It’s natural evolution – there’s no bad blood.”
SieMatic’s plan from here is to enhance that core dealership, although Furber doesn’t rule out expanding the network if the right partner comes along. Areas being considered include the South East, Bath and Newcastle.
Otulakowski left SieMatic after 43 years with the company, claiming it was “about to enter untrodden territory” – what exactly did he mean by that?
“What he meant is that customer expectations, technological advancements and product developments are changing and the business needs to pivot and take advantage,” Furber explains. “There’s lots of investment coming in with a new factory supporting the UK and loads of new projects and staff.”
They may be big shoes to fill, but Furber has a solid track record with the business having started as a regional manager in the South before being promoted to national sales and marketing manager. As such she’s been heavily involved in strategy for the last eight years. Current business is “a mixed bag” depending on dealer and area, she says. But she predicts the tough market will begin to turn round by the middle of next year.
“Clients are taking longer to consider where to put their money,” she says. “They’re stopping to evaluate the purchase and it’s comparable to the difficult times in the past. But, touch wood, we’re on target this year and had double digit growth last year. We’re happy with that. Interestingly, we’ve noticed a drop in enquiries from time wasters and an increase in customers with longer-term projects with higher budgets. Although of course they take a longer time to convert.”
Viewed as more of a mid-market brand in Germany, SieMatic’s owners are keen for it to appeal to the premium demographic in the UK, illustrated by the launch of its Mondial range in Milan last year.
“Mondial appeals more to an interior design-led scheme with natural stone and real wood veneers and is a strong signal about the brand’s repositioning in the luxury kitchen market,” Furber explains. “Another popular choice is the handleless SLX, which is selling enormously well.”
A developing design trend, she says, is “new luxury”, catered not around status or possessions but experiences and emotional connections to certain objects. “It’s important for brands to form a deeper connection now in terms of ethos, how they stand with sustainability or things like helping the community,” she says. “There's also a big trend towards back kitchens, whether that be a spice kitchen, a back charcuterie or wine room.”
A key priority has been to develop a more streamlined sales strategy, working as an additional arm to the business: “We’re pushing the marketing to create quality leads and business development support,” she says. “We’ve brought it back to basics with exceptional service. We’re increasing our efforts to generate sales for the dealer network.”
SieMatic is also undergoing a full digital transformation, having helped pioneer this form of lead generation. It has also provided the dealer network with an impressive new CRM system.
“We’re advertising in the traditional way but also Google, key media and social platforms, which allows for more specialist targeting,” she says. “It’s really important to be on Facebook because interestingly the largest growth category on there is 65+.”
SieMatic has recently launched a ‘digital encyclopedia’, helping designers write and cost orders. It has also brought out a new intranet for dealers, unveiled a new marketing Cloud with a raft of useful content, and is currently developing an online training academy.
In addition, at the start of the year, Furber put together “success plans” for dealers with support to build up their businesses. “I’m massively into self-improvement and the 1% gains,” she says. “So I’m always asking what they can improve, and how we can level up. We want to position dealers so they’re further down the track when the economy turns. I ended our last dealer network day with a quote – ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ Dealers need a road map and a goal but they also need to identify what actions to take to make it happen.”