Competing with Howdens Joinery | In Practise

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Competing with Howdens Joinery

Former Commercial Director at Benchmarx Kitchens & Joinery, Travis Perkins

Why is this interview interesting?

  • Differences between a trade and retail kitchen buying experience
  • A typical trade kitchen transaction process
  • How pricing is set for kitchens in the trade channel
  • The importance of scale for Howdens
  • What builders care about and how it was difficult for Benchmarx to compete with Howdens
  • The importance of stock availability and kitchen designers
  • The unique advantage of Howdens’ vertically integrated kitchen model

Executive Bio

Terry Brown

Former Commercial Director at Benchmarx Kitchens & Joinery, Travis Perkins

Terry was one of four early managers inside of Travis Perkins tasked with bringing a new trade-kitchen format to market to compete with Howdens Joinery. Terry joined Travis Perkins and launched Benchmarx Kitchen and Joinery where he was Head of Commercial and responsible for rolling out over 180 depots in 13 years until 2019. Terry worked closely with builders and designed depot formats and the full supply chain. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Terry, could you start by sharing some context to your role and responsibility at Benchmarx?

I was the commercial director at Benchmarx, until January 2019. I’d been there since the start of a project and was part of a small team of senior managers that was asked to set up a project to set up a trade kitchen business, for the Travis Perkins group, that sprang out of combined efforts of Wickes and Travis Perkins. The four senior managers set up a test format which was deemed successful, and then we went on to open, from a standing start of zero, up to 187 branches, to take on the trade kitchen market. I was looking after the product marketing of the business, so was in charge of the range, what we sold, how much we sold it for and how we marketed it to tradesmen and customers.

What was the market structure, when you started in 2006?

In 2006, it was more retailed dominated, I’d say. You still had the DIY sheds trading successfully, in that arena. Other than Magnet Trade and Howdens, there weren’t any real multiple trade businesses, to speak of; there were lots of independents in the sector. It was mainly retail oriented, with installation services provided by retailers. But the trade business was seen to be a growing part of the sector, and that’s proved to be the case, since then.

What is the core difference in the value proposition, between retail and trade kitchen offerings?

The trade and retail businesses are very similar, but targeted to two distinct types of customers. The trade operation is built around the tradesperson and their needs. Specifically, local branches, within a 20-minute drive time; well stocked, so things can be collected straightaway; negotiated prices with the local branch management; and a service and price really packaged around them and their needs. It’s all about local relationships, having a great relationship with the local branch management and looking after the tradesmen in every way they can.

Whereas, for retail, it’s the mass market; it’s not about the relationship, but about appealing to consumer’s needs and aspirations, trying to get them into the store to spend. The trade area is much more about working behind the scenes, to build up relationships with the tradesmen and demonstrate that you can deliver on time, reliably, at a great price, with a great service and a great product. It’s all about being built around the very specific needs of a tradesman. They don’t want to shop in retail. They don’t want to queue; they don’t want to wait behind consumers. They want to go straight to a place where they are recognized and can get served quickly and readily.

Why do you think we’ve seen such a s shift, in the UK, from retail to trade, over the years?

There was a time when people would go off and do their kitchens themselves or get their mate or a friend or a builder to do it. The skill base is disappearing, certainly for consumers; no one is keen to tackle those sort of jobs anymore. We’ve heard the phrase, time poor; people want more do-it-for-them services. The tradesman is in a perfect place to help them do that. They can come in and, basically, take the project off them, in lots of ways. That’s where the trade kitchen sector steps in and helps the tradesman do that and tries to make it easy for everyone to do business. It’s just a general shift in consumer patterns, towards wanting more people to do it for them, I think.

Can we walk through a typical buying process in the UK? Let’s say that I want to refurbish my kitchen; I have £10,000 to spend. What is the process for me to eventually buy from a Howdens, for example? Do I have to contact my builder, he comes round? What’s the step by step process?

Typically, you will have been thinking about a kitchen for some time; perhaps for a considerable time and maybe years. You’re out shopping in B&Q and DIY stores at weekends, you’re online, browsing; you’re being fed TV adverts from Wren. Over time, you are accumulating a notion that you want a new kitchen. You get a little bit more serious and you start visiting retail branches, because you probably don’t know about Howdens yet. You start getting a few quotes and then you want to talk to a builder and he will step in, at that stage, and say, the good news is, I can get you want you want, at trade prices. Here’s a Howdens brochure; have a look through there, choose what you want and I can get it for you at a trade price. The consumer feels as if they are getting a good deal and the tradesman is fulfilling his role in helping the customer make an easy decision.

It’s really about that long burn. The consumer might be vaguely aware of Howdens, in the background, but it’s when they come into contact with the builder that things really change, because they will direct them towards Howdens, in most trade cases.

Does the old retail customer not contact the builder and just go to Wren or Magnet and purchase the kitchen themselves?

The other way of approaching it is, I’m having some work done on my house; I’ve got a builder and they’ll do the kitchen for me. By the way, I need a kitchen, where do you recommend, and Howdens will come into the conversation. That’s the other route in. They’ve got a builder in their pocket and need a kitchen and he will direct them towards Howdens. Or they’ll be directed towards it, once they make contact with a builder.

So there needs to be a builder involved, somewhere?

Yes; you can walk into a Howdens and say, I want a kitchen, but the first thing they will say is, have you got a builder? They won’t recommend a builder but they will put them in contact with two or three people that they know well, to get them quotes.

What I’m curious about is the actual retail process. I’m trying to think about in what situations it really makes sense for them to choose that option, where they choose a builder and trade, versus builder and retail?

The builder, for trade and retail, are the same person. If you go and buy a kitchen from Wickes and want it fitted, it may be that the builder is the same person that shops at Howdens. Your specific request is, I’ve brought a kitchen from Wickes and I’d like you to fit it please. It’s the same builder. There are not two different markets of builders out there. There are just two ways of arriving at it which are, you’ve been thinking about a kitchen for a long time and have been put in contact with a builder, or you’ve gone out and found one because you’re having a number of projects done in your house, at the same time.

In the trade route, I contact my builder; the builder gives me the Howdens brochure and then I choose one from there. Do I got to the depot or does the builder go? Do I get to touch and feel it?

Typically, he would want to direct you to Howdens, so they will either come out and do a home survey or you visit the branch, or both. At that point, he’s not interested in the aesthetics, the layout, the design; he wants to step away from it, at that stage. He wants to be back in on it when there’s a conversation about price. Howdens don’t want to negotiate the price with you or me; they want to negotiate the price with the builder. Yes, you will go into the branch, as a consumer and have a plan or a home survey done and the tradesman steps away at that point.

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Competing with Howdens Joinery

August 11, 2020

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