Half what price?

I was at B&Q when they broke it.

A few years before that, I was at MFI. We had two months a year in which all our kitchens were full-price, and we all went on holiday; the rest of the time, they were half-price. Later on, we experimented with having half the range full-price at a time, so that there was always something half-price. Sometimes, we’d offer something on top, and even something on top of that: I remember trying to explain to customers that 50% plus 20% plus 10% isn’t actually 80%, and it was all made-up anyway.

It was legal – still is -, but, obviously, according to common sense, if something’s one price nearly all the time, then that’s the real price.

B&Q, while I was there, decided to abandon all that, and go EDLP: Every Day Low Price. They chose to do it at the start of their Winter Sale, without telling staff or customers, and it was devastating for their sales and, ultimately, their model: they’ve adapted, but the designers are gone, the installation service is gone, and they sell different things now, differently.

Wren launched with a strong statement against see-saw pricing, but it didn’t last. Their approach now is similar to that of the trade outlets, Howdens and Benchmarx: there’s a list price, and in theory you’d pay it if you bought just one or two items, but if you buy a kitchen, you get it half-price. When I was there – and I don’t think it’s changed -, it was physically impossible (without hacking) to sell a kitchen at its full price, ever. Since a ruling against them by the Advertising Standards Authority, they’ve been making this clearer.

Again, according to common sense, if that’s the price all the time, then it’s not really half-price: that’s the price.

The way the trade outlets work it, there’s the list price, but they only sell to trade, and trade gets the discount. As at Wren, you can’t pay full price even if you want to.

The Winter Sale’s the same. The days when it was really about clearing unsold seasonal stock – if those days ever existed at all for big-ticket items like kitchens – are long gone. The Winter Sale is like all the other sales, all year ‘round.

I’ve often used the phrase – I’ve used it elsewhere on this site – “Hurry up and buy, before the price stays the same!” Some retailers still use the MFI approach – put the price up for a bit, then bring it back down -, and some the Wren one, but nobody – nobody – sells kitchens at one price for most of the year, then at half of it in January.

There’s an argument that if you believe it, you get what you deserve. I think that’s a bit harsh, because I don’t think businesses should be tricking people just because it’s easy. It’s not going away, because look at what happened to B&Q when they went solo: it would need everyone to do it at once, and that’s not going to happen. But don’t be fooled: kitchens aren’t really half-price, and you’ll pay pretty much the same next week, or at the worst next month.

I don’t always post my references, but here are some:



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.