Lechner pulls out of UK market

German worktop manfacturer Lechner has closed its UK showroom, following the decision to pull out of the UK. The company, which employed eight people in the UK and rented part of Blanco’s showroom in Hertfordshire, cited lack of orders as the reason for its withdrawal from the market.

Office manager of Lechner in the UK, Farhoud Ganji commented: “The orders were better than last year but we did not have as many orders, as they wanted. They have decided to pull out of the whole market.” Lechner UK had more than 500 accounts and although outstanding orders were being processed, its worktops are no longer available in the UK.

Showroom manager of KSL Sudbury, Richard Hibbert commented: “All but two of our displays have Lechner worktops. It’s the fact we spent £6,000 on the displays and it’s a waste of money.” He continued: “We’re really unhappy. We’ve been with the company through its six years of progression into the UK market. We put a lot on. We sold a lot and it has stuck two fingers up at us.” Rachel Astely, owner of a kitchen showroom, was also disappointed that Lecher was pulling out ofthe UK. She wrote on twitter: “I have a  kitchen showroom and committed ourselves 100% to Lechner in our new refurbishment launching in 2 weeks – not good.” The bespoke worktop company had also fitted out the Blanco UK showroom, as well as the Teka and Kuppersbusch showroom at its UK headquarters.

Homeform group in administration

Around 1,300 jobs are under threat as owner of Moben Kitchens and Dolphin Bathrooms, the Homeform Group is preparing to appoint an administrator. The company is aiming to sell off the Moben and Dolphin brands to save its Sharps Bedrooms and Kitchen Direct businesses.

A statement read: “The Board of Homeform Group Limited have today filed with the Court a Notice of Intention to appoint an administrator This process can  take up to ten working days. At present, the Homeform Group remains under the control of its directors. “The Directors are close to securing a deal that will safeguard the future of the Sharps (Bedrooms) and Kitchen Direct businesses and have mandated advisers to see a sale of the Moben and Dolphin brands.” Manchester-based Homeform Group boasts 160 showrooms nationwide and in addition to its 1,300 fulI-time staff, 1,500 self-  employed fitters and designers also work with all four brands.

The company was acquired by private investment firm Sun Capital Partners, in 2007, for an undisclosed sum. Sun Capital has invested in more than 145 companies across the world, with combined sales in excess of £17billion. These include UK jeans company Lee Cooper and lingerie brands, such as Playtex and Wonderbra.

Hotpoint voted the nations favourite

Appliance manufacturer Hotpoint has come top in a poll, which rated the UK’s most trusted brands, for the 11th consecutive year. ln a Readers Digest Survey of 1,000 people, almost 1 in 4 consumers chose Hotpoint as their most trusted large kitchen appliance brand. It receved 23% of the large kitchen appliance category vote, 5% more than the second-placed brand.

UK design and interiors show, Decorex International takes place at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea in London from September 25-28. Around 250 exhibitors will be showcasing kitchens, furniture, lighting and floorcovering alongside a range of bespoke services. The inspiration for this year’s event is Sanctuary and international designer Nicky Haslam will be interpreting the theme at the entrance of the show.

Scottish retailer Kitchens International has invested £75,000 in a refurbishment of its Broxburn showroom, near Edinburgh, to attract contract and retail customers. The 1,600sq ft showroom features Leicht, Callerton and Hoffermier kitchen displays, with working appliances. Over 100 customers attended the opening, which also featured TV chef Nick Nairn providing cookery demonstrations.

Imperial Bathrooms has published a 266-page Design Guide, featuring its luxury sanitaryware, hand-crafted solid wood furniture and classical basin stands. lt includes the companys latest launch of Simply Black sanitaryware. The Design Guide is also available in a pdf format at their website.

Villeroy to pull out of the internet

Following speculation Villeroy & Boch  was to mirror Kohler and Daryl by restricting sale of products online, I wonder about the value ofan anti-internet or interNOT policy. This type of control has been used for some time by selective kitchen appliance brands. But playing devil’s advocate, is it the best solution for preventing product discounting and helping  high street bathroom or kitchen retailers retain their margin?

I realise etailers can be a major concern for many bricks and mortar retailers, as without the overheads ofa showroom they can work on smaller margins and offer buyers greater discounts. I also understand banning the sale of products online would give high street showrooms back the pricing advantages they crave. But do interNOT policies protect all high street showrooms or only the exclusive few – the technophobes? What about the high street bathroom showrooms who have been astute enough to embrace and invest in e-commerce? Are they now placed at a disadvantage, as manufacturers could refuse to supply their showrooms with products if they also sell online? What message is that sending out to a retail industry which (like the designs they create) should be forward-thinking?

Rather than fighting against the internet, after all it’s here and here to stay; shouIdn’t suppliers help showroom retailers use it to their advantage? The internet is where consumers do their research and where they can – and frequently do – buy. Surely, then, we should encourage retailers to offer the best of both – the security of a showroom and the ease of e-commerce? And is internet discounting really the only threat to independent high street retailers? What about DIY giants that are improving the quality of their offer for low prices? Or what about the threat from local bathroom showrooms that are prepared to undercut competitors, at all costs, just to win the business? Perhaps the focus should actually be on equipping high street retailers with the sales skills to counter internet traders. Could suppliers help train staff in high street showrooms to better handle price objections and promote the benefits of buying in-store rather than online? |’m not saying interNOT policies aren’t a valid solution.

My only query is. .. Are they the best solution to prevent product discounting and helping high street retailers retain their margin?

Designing a new brochure

I recently finished the arduous  process of designing a new brochure, potentially one of the most important tools manufacturers have to influence the sales process. Throughout this process I have learnt many things, but none has struck me as much as how the industry seems to be selling to the wrong people. Why are the majority of brochures designed with only men in mind?

Admittedly, this might seem a strange question at first. In an industry where males greatly outnumber their female counterparts, it is only natural that brochures would be presented from the male viewpoint. From a male perspective, the artistic design of a brochure is often thought to be the key to sales, yet there are hundreds of brochures out there that don’t actually sell the product. While artistic design is important, it must be tailored to the end customer; yet there is little evidence that manufacturers know who they are selling to. Why design a brochure for men, when the key decision maker is often female?

With our latest brochure I decided to try to ignore the examples of the past, to ignore the standard A4 glossy brochure and start afresh to see if a brochure could be produced that was solely designed to attract the fairer sex. In order to design an effective brochure, you have to imagine how women would approach the process of purchasing a bathroom.

Inspire with imagery

In recent years the “lKEA effect” of inspiration through the lifestyle shot has found its way into our brochures, and while this is a good thing for sales in general, as an industry we fail to understand the reason for this. Ultimately, we feel it is to show off what we offer and as a result products become lost within a sea of surrounding alternate sizes or colours.

Lifestyle shots should be used to inspire. Men can be inspired to buy a bathroom, but if they can’t afford it they could equally be inspired to buy a cheaper: completely different one, Yet with a woman, the entire future purchase is guided by that initial flash of inspiration. lf they cannot afford the original bathroom, they will seek to replicate it at a lower cost. This is illustrated perfectly by the alternate approaches men and women take to the normal weekly shop.

Different purchasing patterns

When shopping for groceries, a man starts at the front door with vegetables, finishing the shop at the back of the store in the wine section. This is a logical process, usually involving matching product choices to a budget wholly inspired by the need to eat. But a woman, although having the same ultimate goal to eat for a week, shops completely differently.

When women shop for food, they shop with meals in mind, generally inspired by magazines  or TV programs. She will spend the most on the main ingredients of each meal, and compromise on the supporting bits in order to be able to afford it. It is also important to note that as a result of focusing on meals, women often miss the little things like snacks; they essentially get distracted by achieving the end meals they have already decided upon. Men shop to solve a problem. Give them a budget and they will most likely fit the task to the budget. Relate this to bathrooms, and if men are spending £10k on a bathroom they will most likely spread that evenly around the room. Women on the other hand, will shop with an end idea inspired by a home magazine in mind, picking one or two products they like, for example a shower or a bath, and then allocate the remaining budget across the rest of the room.

Ignore the plumber

It is therefore ourjob as manufacturers to inspire women with our brochures from the outset, to establish our products as the focal point of their bathroom. If we do this, they will build their bathroom around us. The key to a decent brochure is not to inform the plumber but to inspire every woman. Remove all the useless product variant shots, put in the nice quote, evoke those flashes of inspiration and a woman will compromise on everyone elses’ product to get yours.

Turning techie at IFA

Shoes and bags; you’ve aIways had my full, undivided attention. But until Ijoined the kbb industry, gadgets have had to work that little bit harder After my recent visit to the global press conference for consumer electronics show IFA, held this year in Alicante. I’m now a complete techie convert.

Power briefings from Siemens, Bosch, Samsung and panels from GFK on the first day, gave way to a conference on the second day and I now know IFA 2011 isn’t an exhibition I want to miss. And with good reason, as GFK figures announced that the white goods market is increasing again after reports of an 8% growth in 2010.

Director of Messe Berlin, Christian Coke reported that IFA 2011 exhibition is completely booked. So it seems the only limit to this show is space. The exhibition attracted 125,000 visitors, 29,000 of which were international in 2010, and the numbers are expected to grow again this year. So much so, that two new halls are being built for this year’s show, with direct links to the existing exhibition halls. As if it wasn’t big enough already, there will be an extra 15,000 sqm to contend with, as well as plans to provide home appliances with an extra 10,000 sqm by 2014.

The IFA conference also took a turn to look at challenges for retailers. The internet, which I would suggest is becoming slightly like Marmite where you either love it or hate it, was declared one of the main challenges. It was stated that there were 1.97 billion internet users in the world and Europe represented 14% of consumer electronic goods internet sales. There was also said to be a 13.6% increase in internet sales in 2010 and 9.1 % of internet sales were white goods.

However with all that said, reference was made to the fact that Europe is the worId’s largest market for consumer electronics and home appliance sales, representing 29%. And this year is said to be the year of the tablet PC. So, could it be possible that retailers will justify investing in an iPad (or equivalent) for their showrooms as a new gadget to design kitchens and bathrooms on? And will consumers start to use tablets not just as detergent, but as devices to control their washing machine start time or oven temperature? Why not take a trip to IFA in Berlin from September 2-7 to End out? I know I will. . .

I’d like to give my showroom a revamp by including some of the latest ‘smart technology’ products, but I need a bit of help as to where to start?

Intelligent products are now firmly established; once they were a niche market and regarded by many retailers as novelties at best – and at worst, expensively prohibitive, not to mention difficult to sell. However; things have moved on and if you were a recent visitor to ISH or kbb London, you’ll know that technology-driven kitchen and bathroom products have entered a new era of accessibility and affordability.

Put simply, ‘smart’ products – whether we’re talking hobs, showers or lighting – have never been easier to install, use or display. That’s great news for showrooms and designers who really want to be able to offer consumers something different. And the best thing of all, you’ll be relieved to hear you absolutely don’t need to be a ‘techie’ to show off some of these clever products. Whilst each product sector has its own ‘smart’ stars, |’d suggest that you » start at the very beginning by taking a look at the general ambience of your showroom.

It’s likely you’|| have created differently styled schemes that have been designed to appeal to a reasonably wide range of tastes and budgets. And obviously, that’s what a showroom is all about. However, beyond the room sets, one of the easiest ways for you to introduce new technology that customers will appreciate is to install some of the latest generation of touch; sensitive lighting. Great lighting will instantly lift any space and together with a few other key basics such as flooring and wall colours or coverings, it’s certainly a showroom essential. But, here’s your chance to show off.

The latest wireless lighting systems such as Taptile allow you to control up to three different lighting circuits by touch alone. You can switch on,. off and dim as appropriate – and there’s nothing to stop you fitting multiple control panels, even in wet areas like next to the bath or shower: Which, by the way, are wafer-thin and a doddle to install. The key to showcasing and selling smart products is demonstration. You need to diffuse the apprehension that some people have about technology and let them see for themselves what the benefits are. Similarly, I’d suggest picking a few key items that customers can fiddle and twiddle with products such as a digital shower with a remote control or a touch – controlled hob. They’re things your customers will relate to, that you and your staff can easily explain and that ultimately, will deliver you sales.

Water products for new homes

I’m involved with specifying bathroom products for a new house. I know I have to meet the Building Regulations Part G and the Code for Sustainable Homes. But it’s really difficult to calculate the water usage from the products I have chosen. Can you help?

The Building Regulations Approved Document G and the Code for Sustainable Homes are quite specihc when they start talking about water and energy usage in new homes. The details are difficult to sum up here in just a few words, so for building professionals, such as yourself, l recommend that you visit a useful new web-based tool which will help you. It’s simply called the Water Calculator at www.thewatercalculatortorg.uk

It is designed to create usage statistics for a new home based on products chosen from the 1500 or so listed in the Water Efficient Product Labelling Scheme database. www.waterefficiencylabel.org.uk  The calculator assumes that the user already knows the product ranges available in the UK bathroom market, together with their product numbers. The user selects products from the drop down menus and the calculator does the rest by following the rules embedded in Part G and The Code.

The results can be saved for later or printed immediately for showing to the planning people. The website has loads of information on the Regulations, answers to your FAQs and an example calculation. It was recently shortlisted for the Sustain Awards. Further information is available from the BMA: Phone: 01782 631619 or email: info@bathroom-association.org.uk

A range of lighting products

A range of lighting products have been launched by Flos, including NET, designed by Philippe Starck, featuring a USB socket above the light diffuser for an iPod, iPhone or iPad. The company’s Soft Architecture collection presents RUPTURE, designed by Thierry Dreyfus, representing a crack in the wall which is lit from within. LED versions of its ARCO and TACCIA lights have also been introduced. ln addition, FLOS has joined with Quantis to launch a remote wireless lighting system.

Pegler Yorkshire has extended its i-temp programmable radiator control (PRC) range with the addition of a remote, USB stick and window contact. i-temp forms part ofthe company’s Terrier range of heating products and allows the temperature to be controlled in each room. The remote allows PRC temperature control without moving, the USB stick allows communication with i-temp devices and the window control allows all round management.

Stow amazing

It’s easy to become focused on the kitchen frontals (or face value) when creating a customers dream kitchen but it must function effectively too. While, an interior and shelf matched to the colour of the external carcase was once the epitome of sophistication, it’s long been succeeded by state-of-the-art storage solutions.

Marketing director of Blum, David Saunders comments: “Storage solutions have now become a vital factor in kitchen planning at any level (arguably even more so in compact kitchens). The kitchen is now the centre of the modern home living area and people want clutter-free surfaces and storage that is intelligently organised and placed  to hand.” And Josie Leivesley, new business development manager of Sycamore Products, agrees adding: “Over the last three to five years the sales of storage components have increased.

Compartmentalisation has also become a big issue, with products such as cutlery tray inserts and storage jars being more readily available.” ln fact, the success story of storage solution sales can be easily seen in figures from distributor LDL Components. Director of the company, Matthew Lord cites that its sales were up 15% in 2010.

Maximising cupboard space

The use of storage solutions not only allows consumers to store a vast array  of goods but it also eases access to otherwise redundant areas. Carousels have been joined by rotating corner shelving that pulls clear of the cabinet and manufacturers have also sought to claim redundant space with under sink units and plinth drawers. Andy Story, product manager for Four Seasons, continues: “ln terms of function, think pull-out tall but narrow larder units that stretch from floor to ceiling to maximise on space and corner carousels that make good use of otherwise dead space that often goes unused as it is not accessible.” And design manager at TK Components Jitendra Mistry agrees, adding: “We have found the most popular forms of storage components are corner storage antall larder pull-outs. Our Genius storage solution, for example, enables the user to access items stored in a corner easily and efficiently without unnecessary bending or exertion, as the shelves move out towards the user:” But with a move away from the traditional 600mm base unit, towards a combination of pan drawers and overhead units, will storage solutions continue to be as important? Dave Saunders of Blum explains how component manufacturers have already catered for this market: “Servo-Drive automatic opening of base unit drawers and the automatic opening and closing on the Aventos lift systems for overhead cabinets have proved amazingly popular.”

Enhancing furniture value

With consumers increasingly demanding more bang for their buck, these intricate storage solutions add perceived value to the kitchen where perhaps detail – free, gloss doors fall flat. Sales director of Caple Danny Lay says designers should spread the message that the inside of drawers and cabinetry should mirror the quality ofthe outside ofthe kitchen: “There really is no point in spending thousands on a new kitchen, only tohave the feel of it tarnished by low quality internal storage components. By upgrading to luxury fittings, such as beech wood trays and stainless steel knife racks over the plastic, you can ensure the aesthetics of the entire kitchen run consistently throughout.”

Show and tell

But to help consumers understand how useful storage solutions can be, they must be displayed in the showroom. Managing director of Sielvlatic UK, Bernard Otulakowski says: “The problem with hidden storage is exactly that; they are out of sight. Retailers need to remember  to make a point of showing off storage capabilities within showrooms. Filling cupboards and drawers with internal solutions and then with pasta, olive oil, tin foil and jars of lentils will show a potential purchaserjust how important these ‘add-ons’ can be to their home; while most importantly to the retailer; potentially bolstering proHt margins.” Karen Ferguson, UK country manager of Nolte, agrees: “By displaying the kitchen in their showrooms with everyday items stored away designers are able to easily show customers all the potential storage solutions from extra deep pull-out drawers that can – accommodate crates of beer to utensil organisers for smaller accessories.”
Meeting customer needs

Arguably the key for storage sales, then, is not to treat them as a trade-up but an intrinsic part of the kitchen tailored to meet the customers needs. Designers should ask consumers how they use their current kitchen and what difficulties they face with cupboard storage. They can they show how they can improve their experience in the kitchen with a variety of solutions. Jitendra Mistry of TK Components points out: “Understanding the needs of the customer and how they use the kitchen is a good starting point, then demonstrating the various storage solutions that meet these needs and explaining how they will make their time in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable? And his view is matched by Karen Ferguson of Nolte: “lt is these suggestions that consumers appreciate when designing their kitchen as it shows an understanding by the designer of their requirements.” Certainly storage solutions have become a significant sales opportunity and with continuing moves towards hi- tech electronics and even remote operation, they could be profitable too.