Kitchen, bedroom and bathroom retailer Jim Gettings has used his 37 years of experience in the sector to defy the pandemic. The owner of J&S House of Design in Oxfordshire tells Tim Wallace how he’s adapted his approach to secure sales.
Q: How much impact has COVID had on the business?
A: We haven’t found a great deal of difference. In fact we posted our best year to date and continue to see a strong level of quality leads from both domestic and development sources. This period has given us a jolt to look deeper inside our business, ensuring we stay on top of the numbers and margins while finding new ways of working. We’ll definitely be stronger financially going forward while improving our quality of service.
Q: Have you changed your strategy?
A: Yes, we’ve made changes to the way we interact with client enquiries. Face-to-face contact had to be minimised and, as with many businesses, the use of Zoom became an everyday occurrence. We were concerned at the lack of personal interaction but surprised to find clients actually like the medium. We’ve also shifted our marketing to digital media. We’ve seen a massive increase in customers accessing online formats and we continue to see good returns.
Q: Is the switch to Zoom here to stay?
A: We have definitely taken to using Zoom. Principally it’s useful for updating design changes so that all parties can benefit from the time saving of not having to travel. This will now be incorporated into any future dealings with clients. They prefer Zoom for interim meetings and updates. We’ve also improved our digital and social media advertising channels and will keep reviewing their effectiveness as we move out of lockdown.
Q: How have other KBB retailers fared during the pandemic?
A: Suppliers tell me some have prospered and some have had really difficult trading. I suspect this will relate to those that have made changes to their market approach and those that have continued to do what they always did. They’re now seeing the consequences of this short-sighted approach. But this period has been a fantastic opportunity to look at the ways we work and a number of us have used it to improve our showrooms and product offerings.
Q: Have you had problems with product delays?
A: We saw minimal effect in 2020 with the exception of a major shortage of dishwashers at the back end of the year. However, we’re seeing delayed deliveries from Europe since we left the EU. To combat this, we’ve placed orders with some suppliers earlier than normal. Initial signs are that costs of certain products are rising, particularly on bathroom products, and the world shortage of containers is having an impact on these suppliers in terms of their pricing. Hopefully this situation will stabilise.
Q: Are retailers right to criticise the government over their treatment of the sector during the pandemic?
A: The government has made every possible effort to help support our sector. Many will believe they should have done more but it’s in our hands to find an effective way of dealing with these new conditions. Those that have looked to adapt will survive and those that haven’t will fall by the wayside.
Q: Are you planning for a market upturn?
A: We are definitely in a positive mood about the short and long term. The market will continue to be challenging but by refining our service and products we’ll continue to grow. We’re working to ensure we respond to the market needs and refine our cost base. The sector will continue to thrive and the better run businesses will benefit as the market returns to normal operation.