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).

Shut the front door.

I worked in department stores in the Eighties (the Nineteen-Eighties, thanks). In those days of coal, Winter Sales started on Boxing Day, and people waited all night in sleeping bags on pavements for the “call birds”: one-off special offers, worth sleeping rough for a few hours for. It was theatre.

Somebody – I don’t know who – had the bright idea of offering a Sale preview, allowing shoppers before Christmas to see what would be on offer in the Sale after it. Inevitably, somebody else (or it might have been the same somebody) then started allowing people to buy at Preview prices. It wasn’t long before Winter Sales were starting in mid-December. As far as I know, somewhere in the course of this transition, call birds flew away, until the only people in sleeping bags were the people who lived in them.

It was only an extension of the same process by which January Sales had become Winter Sales.

But starting post-Christmas events before Christmas meant that Boxing Day wasn’t such a peak anymore. Even as National DIY Day, it had declined, as people were getting longer breaks from work and didn’t want to do DIY while there were still leftovers to be eaten. Retailers always want to have their Christmas cake and eat it, too, and big-ticket items like kitchens never gained much by starting early: whatever you do, most people aren’t buying kitchens for Christmas. Perhaps that’s why some of the large kitchen retailers started to manipulate their figures around Christmas, by holding back sales from earlier in the month, to pump them through – usually with the customer absent – on Boxing Day.

It turns out that when retailers talk about how great their Boxing Day performance is, they don’t want to be told that it’s because they held it over from the previous three or four weeks. Consequently, for some years, we had kitchen designers all over the country coming to work on Boxing Day to spend a few minutes processing old sales as new, and the rest of the day sitting around doing nothing. Customers weren’t coming in, because they knew the same offers had been available for weeks and would be for weeks to come, and it was Boxing Day, after all. It’s a holiday.

(Unless you work for Walmart in the US, where apparently this year staff were given a discount instead of holiday pay for Boxing Day. Merry Christmas.)

Anyway… this Boxing Day, I visited my local retail estates. Wren was open, of course, and B&Q (not having a Winter Sale on kitchens, because they don’t do that anymore) – but Homebase and Wickes were closed. If their staff were sitting around doing nothing, they were doing it at home, with their families, like normal people.

My guess is that they won’t have missed one kitchen sale by staying closed on Boxing Day. Others will have processed sales they really took on other days, and perhaps they saw customers who will visit their competitors over the next few days, when they’re open. The figures they publish will show that they had a stonking Boxing Day, and they’ll stand by those figures.

I don’t believe them, that’s all.

In fact, I’ve got backup, and follow-up: All of the people; It’s a holiday; No sooner said.