By any other name

Kitchens aren’t all the same, except when they are.

I used to work with a designer who’d tell customers that he’d met Cooke and Lewis, the chaps who’d created B&Q’s then higher kitchen brand. In fact, Cooke and Lewis were imaginary people, invented by the agency which actually had created the brand.

There was a time, not very long ago, when kitchens at Benchmarx, Homebase, Magnet and Wickes (and, for that matter, even Argos) all came from the same place. No wonder people think kitchens are all the same.

It’s not that simple anymore, and it’s not easy to find a straight comparison anywhere, either. B&Q has a close relationship with a kitchen comparison website, which generously compares factors which reflect well on B&Q; Wren shows examples of its competitors’ cabinets in its showrooms, but it chooses the comparisons very carefully. Some marketing goes further, and simply lies; and then it doesn’t help that you’ll often get your information from a salesperson, who’s had a few days’ training, itself perhaps biased, and then applied his or her own twist to it – and is on commission.

Door materials are a huge subject, which doesn’t receive a lot of attention; I’ll have to write about it one day. Cabinet construction is talked about most. The examples below show what kinds of things are considered. Generally, thicker carcase panels are better; thicker backs are stronger (but don’t be fooled by the simple phrase “solid back”, because you can have a solid sheet of paper); glued-and-dowelled construction is likely to be stronger than flat-pack-style metal cam and dowel, and some kitchens described as rigid are only flat packs assembled before delivery; soft-close hinges and drawers, and full-extension drawers, are easier to use and more durable.

Kitchens in the UK mass market are not bespoke. Apart from the flexibility, bespoke cabinets don’t have all those extra holes inside. At least one retailer uses the term “bespoke built” for its rigid kitchens: whatever they might mean to imply, all it actually means is that they build them just for you – as do their competitors. Similarly, “ready to assemble” and its variations are euphemisms for flat-packed.

Old and new.

Boxing Day, or close to it, is possibly the best time to look at a kitchen showroom: with the public’s understandable lack of interest in kitchens in December, staff have had plenty of time to clean and get in order for January.

Back before Wesfarmers decided to capture the UK barbeque market, and before Wren came darn sarf, Homebase’s Odina showrooms were the best in the mass market:

They’re coming back, but there’s a way to go yet – if they’re going there:

B&Q doesn’t have Winter Sales anymore, and that’s not a bad thing – but, personally, I’d like to see them still try to sell the things:

I’m flattered, really.

At the moment, I work out of two showrooms. Across the road from one of them is a van parked permanently, signwritten for a kitchen company a couple of miles away. Parking there isn’t even free.

I take it as a compliment.

It reminds me of a small kitchen dealer I worked for, out of a compact unit on an industrial estate. He had a car signwritten and parked every day on the main road. I’m not sure he achieved anything: we got all our leads online (in the days before Google’s menagerie of penguins and heffalumps got so good at keeping you buried unless you pay for ads).

As unique as everyone else.

I didn’t notice this the first time: I had to go back and check.

Wren started it, with their carefully-worded claim. B&Q and Howdens, even Magnet, might be bigger, but they’re not exclusively kitchen retailers: they sell other categories too, or sell to trade. By last year – photos below -, it seemed like everybody was climbing onto that bandwagon, with their own claims to be first in one way or another.

This year, it looks like they’ve climbed off.

What are they up to now? 27/12/2019

It’s that time of year again. Everybody’s having the biggest ever kitchens sale – again.

Actually, B&Q isn’t. A few years ago, B&Q stopped playing the see-saw game, doubling prices in order to have a half-price Sale. It hurt them in the short term, and – given the changes they’ve made since then – perhaps in the long term, too, but it was the right thing to do. They have launched their new GoodHome Caraway carcase this year – an 18mm flat-pack -, and that seems to be the core of their EDLP (Every Day Low Price) offer this Winter, along with up to five years’ interest-free credit.

Homebase has been through some shinola in the last few years, too, and feels like it’s still re-building its kitchens offering. In terms of promotion, it’s copying Wre – I mean, by coincid – well, anyway, it’s using the same reasoning as other retailers to support a seemingly-permanent half-price claim, plus another bit, plus another bit. Several kinds of finance are on offer, including up to five years’ IFC, depending on how much you spend.

Magnet’s Winter Sale is as unique as everybody else’s: half price when you buy five units or more, plus a bit, plus a bit, and a raffle. Finance offers include BNPL and up to five years’ IFC.

Wickes are taking a different approach. No, not really. Well, perhaps a little. They’re sticking with the traditional approach to half-pricing – they put the price up first -, rather than the Wren-led “five-units-or-more”; and they’re promoting an offer end (what will happen after the 6th?), and a “price promise” more prominently than the others so far. Interestingly, the offer is on their Showroom kitchens (which are not stocked, but to order), and one of the price-matching requirements is that the competitor’s product be in stock. Seems fair.

This may shock: at Wren, when you buy five or more kitchen units, they’re half price! This is as true in their Winter Sale as it was before it. Interest-free credit is up to seven years. Wren is, I think, still the only national retailer attaching a £200 value to its free design service: this used to be because John Lewis charged (nobody else did, or does).