Feature: The recipe for success
How important is the UK for international kitchen manufacturers? We ask some of the leading brands what they need to do to survive and succeed in this market.
by Claudia Baillie
The kitchen has come a long way in the last 20 years. Once a purely functional space seen more by homeowners than their guests, it has now evolved in to the most important room in the house, thereby shifting the focus from the front to the back of many properties. For many home buyers an open-plan kitchen is often at the top of their list of priorities when considering a purchase. Add to that the fact that cooking has become a national obsession with celebrity chefs inspiring a raft of wannabe Berrys and Blumenthal. Given that London is ranked as one of the wealthiest cities in the world, it should come as no surprise that international kitchen manufacturers see the UK as a critical market for global sales.
‘[The kitchen now has] a much more elevated role in UK homes.’
“We supply city apartments, Victorian terraces and country houses, but the one thing links them all is that the kitchen is key,” says Simon Richmond, UK managing director at German brand Poggenpohl. “It must function as a living space too, and therefore many customers want to invest in the best,” agrees Chanda Pandya, UK brand director at Italian kitchen manufacturer Rossana. “Contemporary kitchens now double up as entertaining spaces. Our clients need their kitchen to be a place for social interactions between family and friends, and as a result it has a much more elevated role at the centre of the home.”
This move towards larger kitchen spaces and therefore the need for more cabinetry has of course driven an increase in value of individual projects, but it’s not the only reason why the UK tops the league when it comes to a higher spend. “A marked difference between the UK and many other countries is that here, there is a huge demand for bespoke solutions,” says Steven Salt, UK managing director at Italian manufacturer Boffi. “Customers want personalisation, custom detailing and finishes, and a kitchen tailored to their specific project. That’s not the case in Italy, for example, where people tend to go for more standard options. Budgets are also bigger here in the UK so we present the higher end of our range, as – more so than anywhere else in Europe – it’s what people are looking for.”
‘As well as expensive finishes, UK customers specify more appliances. There is definitely an element of keeping up with the Joneses.’
German manufacturer Bulthaup is also conscious of the UK’s potential. “Most of the kitchens we install in the UK have big islands,” points out Roland Spieth, director of export sales, “and many of them are in open space situations, which is of course exactly our concept. I think that minimalism and clear architecture has a strong tradition and is very much appreciated in the UK.”
Keith Atkins, director of design at DesignSpace London and exclusive supplier of Italian brand Modulnova in the UK, also finds that the style of his brands easily finds an audience in the UK and sees UK customers often spending more than their continental counterparts. Atkins estimates that the typical cost of a kitchen on these shores is up to twice that of the manufacturer’s home market. “Our sales strategy isn”t necessarily any different, but what we actually sell is,” he says. “As well as expensive finishes, customers specify more appliances. So instead of having an oven and a microwave, they might have two ovens, a microwave and a warming drawer. There is definitely an element of keeping up with the Joneses.”
‘We trade from only two shops in London yet we’re the fourth largest market for Boffi in the world.’
Stylistic differences do exist between the UK and the rest of Europe but this doesn”t present a problem for manufacturers. “Significant differences in the UK are, for example, the integration of big appliances and the focus on wooden fronts,” adds Spieth. “It seems that UK customers like to use veneers and solid wood in their kitchens. But this is much in our favour and our product system is flexible enough to deal with the differences.”
Reasons for investing in a kitchen in the first place are also based around different criteria. According to Atkins, whereas on the continent people tend to move much less, in Britain – and even more so in London and the south-east – people are still keen to buy, renovate and move on. “Customers choose a new kitchen with the view to selling the property in three years time,” he says. “They want it to still look good so they”ll see a return on that investment, and that’s what drives sales in the UK as much as anything else.”
‘We supply city apartments, Victorian terraces and country houses but the one thing that links them all is that the kitchen is key’
When it comes to marketing, strategies across the board have become less about advertising and more about word-of-mouth as well building relationships directly with trade partners. “We are accredited CPD providers for RIBA and SBID, and run regular events targeted at interior designers, architects and developers in order to create a relaxed environment for them to communicate with their fellow professionals” says Bernard Otulakowski, UK managing director at German manufacturer SieMatic. The same approach is taken by Rosanna, Boffi, Poggenpohl and DesignSpace London, which has even run a showroom event in conjunction with a well-known graphic artist. “We also study property magazines and look at planning applications to see where buildings are being renovated or new developments are planned” adds Atkins. “Then we make contact with those people and introduce ourselves if they aren”t already aware of the brand.”
“Architects and designers are important multipliers for us,” stresses Bulthaup’s Spieth. “We have a CPD course with RIBA and value professional feedback on our products a lot”
‘As accredited CPD providers, we run regular events targeted at [professionals] in order to create a relaxed environment for them to communicate with their fellow professionals’
Despite the consensus on marketing, there are conflicting opinions as to whether a nationwide network of showrooms is necessary for a brand to succeed. SieMatic has 44 studios across the country plus flagship stores in London, Birmingham and Manchester, while Poggenpohl has nine directly owned showrooms (five in London, plus Manchester, Birmingham, Guildford and St Albans) and displays in a further 13 independent locations. “London is important” says Richmond, “but we have very successful showrooms throughout the UK.” Bulthaup has been in the UK for 40 years and now has a total of nine partners and 14 showrooms across the country – a presence which has kept the UK as Bulthaup’s strongest export market for the last five years.
Conversely, the Italian brands we spoke to see London and the southeast as a hub, and therefore choose to keep the core of their business in the capital. “London has represented a huge part of our business for 30 plus years,” says Salt. “This is partly due to its size, plus the fact that people are passionate about their homes and the quality of their interiors. The sheer volume of projects and the architectural stock is incredible, and there are a huge number of properties that fit our client profile, which is why we”ve grown every year since we opened a decade ago. We trade from only two shops in London, and we”re the 4th largest market for Boffi in the world.”
Similarly, Modulnova operates from a boutique studio on London’s Wigmore Street plus a more architectural 4000ft space in Southwark, while Pandya is confident Rossana customers will travel to source the right kitchen, therefore an extensive network beyond their single London store is superfluous to the company’s needs. The global appeal of London is also helping to maintain a level of confidence in the wake of Brexit. While companies have seen cost increases due to the exchange rate, and many have absorbed those so as not to pass them on to the customer, moving forward the feeling is that the market will remain buoyant. “I”m quietly confident” says Salt. “London is resilient. It’s an attractive, international city and someone will always be looking.”