Matt Podesta has proved you don't need a showroom to be a successful kitchen retailer – particularly when the pandemic is giving consumers much greater confidence in buying online. He tells Tim Wallace how last December he launched interiors brand Huckleberry Home, relying solely on the internet for sales, and how the results so far have exceeded all expectations…
Q: Was the launch of Huckleberry born out of COVID?
A: I’ve been talking about it for a long time but COVID has really triggered it. People are buying from us online and it’s fantastic. There’s a big opportunity here. Look at car giant Kazoo – you’ll spend thousands on a vehicle that you’ve never seen. You don’t even get a chance to haggle on the price. And if it turns up and you don’t like it you can give it back. That’s phenomenal.
Q: So are the days of the showroom numbered?
A: Companies with 20-30 showrooms will have to consider how they operate. Our overheads are very low, we sub-contract everything. But take a company with 10 showrooms with staff, ground rent, rates and vans. Your mark-up has got to be very, very high just to tread water. Over the next few years we’ll see a lot of companies pull away from the high street. They’ll maybe open up one ‘super showroom’ instead.
Q: Tell us more about the brand…
A: I’m going back to my passion, no longer guided by what the client wants. Firstly, we have our fitted collection – joinery that all fits together, but you’re actually getting unfitted cabinetry so it’s more individual. The key point is that I envisage clients being much more confident in buying online and not having to visit showrooms and be sold to by a salesman. They design their own room sets and we make it much easier for them. If you get your marketing, photography and presentation right, people will buy.
Q: But Huckleberry isn’t just a kitchen brand?
A: No – we’re doing freestanding to fitted, wardrobes, rugs, beds, duvets, pottery, paintings… It’s the whole homeware package. We’re upper mid-market, but the reality is whether you go to a high-street brand or a local cabinet maker, they’re making kitchens the same way now. The difference is down to the fitting, which is the biggest risk, and the quality of the paint finish. We have fitting teams and we paint in the workshop, which cuts down a week on the delivery.
Q: Are you hitting target?
A: It’s far exceeded where we thought it would go. At the end of the first year we’ll seek investment to get to the next stage. We already have a couple of people lined up; one is a major manufacturer, which is really exciting.
Q: Do you see an uplift for the KBB sector later in the year?
A: We need to be wary that it will quieten down in the next few months. Half the population are going to try to jump on a plane. So there’s pent-up demand but from May onwards it will get quieter. In the winter people will start coming back. The chancellor has extended stamp duty, which is great news.
Q: What’s your longer-term forecast for KBB retail?
A: The end of a recession is historically when a huge amount of companies go bust because they’ve run out of money. In the next year it’s possible that we’ll see a lot of businesses going under. Everyone is buying up brands. There’s a seismic shift in the way retail is being done – they’re getting rid of showrooms and buying the brand. Look at Debenhams for example. Kitchens will be the same, but it’ll be a slower process.