MHK, Europe's largest buying group for independent kitchen retailers, met in June for its AGM in Berlin under the strapline 'The Difference – MHK Group'. Emma Hedges went along to find out just what it is that has motivated 3,800 retailers and suppliers across eight countries to join.
It's a bright, breezy day in Berlin, and our small party from the UK is being bussed to the convention centre where buying group giant MHK is holding its AGM. The event is fully booked, and in total, a staggering 3,580 guests have registered. But on arrival, far from being ushered into a conference hall as we expected, we appear to be entering a buzzing trade fair – MHK's supplier partners are showcasing their latest ranges available to members, and there are 107 stands from more than 80 exhibitors. Key industry partners in the UK include Nobilia, Next125, Bauformat, Brigitte, Nolte, AEG Electrolux, Miele, recently joined member ASKO, and many more.
Our host is UK MD Marcel Crezee, who has 35 years of industry experience and has been with the group for 17 years, and clearly has a deep love of his work. MHK-UK launched in January 2018, and while progress was initially slow due to misconceptions in the UK around what a buying group actually does, it now has close to 100 UK members.
"Five years ago, I was stepping into the market without a single contract, and for the first six or seven months I did it all by myself," says Crezee. He has since been joined by UK sales director Paul Wheeler, sales manager David Morris, and most recently by account manager for the North of England and Scotland, Anthony Davis.
"Step by step we changed things and now every month we get four or five new members. We recently did a questionnaire to all members and one of the questions was: 'Did MHK deliver on everything it promised you?' 100% answered 'yes' – you can only survive when you do what you promised you would," says Crezee.
In addition to a brand's full range, retailer members have access to special ranges from kitchen supplier members, and these feature additional elements such as unique colours and drawer options that aren't available to non-members. "It's more or less the same product but it's a better price and it's different," says Crezee.
As well as immediate access to a broad range of suppliers, a key perk for members is the group's central payment system, which enables every member to enjoy cashflow benefits and get 30-day terms including a settlement discount. A component of the system is that MHK offers a payment guarantee to each supplier, so there aren’t credit ceilings in place. "We take over all the payments – even if someone is doing a project for 10million or 100million, we guarantee that payment to the supplier," says Crezee. The proviso is that all members need to be financially strong. "The benefit of that is that because they are financially strong, the group is also strong," he adds.
MHK also has its own bank – Cronbank – which offers retailers tailor-made financial services. This, combined with the experience of the UK team, has significant advantages for small businesses, or start-ups putting together a business plan, and the group is generally supportive of entrepreneurial initiatives. In addition, MHK offers the Kitchen Experts franchise option, as well as easily available support with marketing, creating websites and social media.
Our progress to the conference hall is slow as Crezee is greeted warmly by every other person we pass, and it's clear that good relationships form a vital element in the MHK approach. This is why, as keen as Crezee is to grow numbers in the UK, he won't do it at the expense of the supportive service he and his team can offer. "We don't want to lose the daily contact we have with our customers," he says.
The sheer size of the group is evident as we find our seats along with around 3,580 others. Then recently appointed CEO Volker Klodwig, formerly of BSH, takes to the stage and presents a summary of the recent successes of the group, plus the current challenges facing all its members. He also welcomes new chief financial officer Carolin Kronenberg and new chief digital officer Thorsten Hallermeier to the board, and outlines new initiatives. These include the relaunched Musterhaus Küchen brand offering, which will be known as Kitchen Expert in the UK, and MHK's Carat kitchen planning software.
The business presentations are followed by a rich programme of guest speakers and entertainment. Among others, we hear from Stefan Hentschel, industry leader in technology & B2B for Google, and Grammy-winning conductor and management expert Christian Gansch, who makes the connection between his passion for conducting an orchestra and the responsible actions of entrepreneurs.
The grand finale is a rousing performance from the 12 Tenors, and the overall message is not hard to follow – individually we're all great, but if we join forces and come together as a group, we're unstoppable. Perhaps the most powerful moment in the event comes when retail partners who have enjoyed a 25-year relationship with MHK take to the stage – their calm and confident facial expressions say it all.
Crezee is used to people thinking that the MHK-UK offering sounds too good to be true. "People always ask: 'What's the catch?'," he says. "I say we have 3,800 other members – ask them." And, as good as their word, MHK is happy to put you in touch with other retailer members for a chat, should you be interested.