Friday, December 30, 2005

Half price kitchen, anyone?

The post-Christmas sales have started and nowhere is this more apparent than in the new kitchen market. I’ve just seen an advert on TV for Magnet — Half Price Sale starts today plus an extra 10% off — followed immediately by one for B&Q Kitchens — Half Price Sale starts today plus an extra 15% off. What is it with new kitchens at this time of year?

One of my regular golfing buddies works for one of these outfits and he tells me that what happens in the kitchen market is a mirror image of what happens in book retailing. With books, the market goes ballistic in the two months leading up to Xmas, and then cools off. With kitchens, November and December are completely dead and suddenly the market bursts into life after Xmas. However, when asked why this should be, he just shrugs his shoulders and says that’s the way it is.

So are there bargains to be had at this time of year? Are these 50%, 60% or even 75% off offers what they appear? I don’t think so. In fact I know so. These kitchens are always at least 50% off. I think that on one day each year they suddenly advertise kitchens at the full price in an obscure store like Runcorn, and then every store in the chain can claim to be at least 50% cheaper than this. And, in point of fact, when you are ordering a whole kitchen, the price is often negotiable anyway, especially if you have an offer of something similar for less from a competitor.

Three years ago I spent a morning with Wickes looking at one of their new stores. Wickes have recently been taken over by Travis Perkins but are still operating in much the same manner as they always have done, a sort of halfway house between a builder’s merchant and a DIY store. Their core strategy is to sell basic products very cheaply, known by business studies students as Everyday Low Pricing or EDLP. They don’t go in for promotions, 10% offs or 3 for 2 offers, they just like to sell stuff cheap all the time. It works for Wickes, across their entire product range. With one glaring exception. Kitchens! They couldn’t shift any if they advertised them at a low price so they now use the old 50% off% routine beloved of MFI, Magnet and B&Q.

So it seems us Brits require a little encouragement to buy our kitchens. Either that or a Swedish name. IKEA is one store you won’t see any seasonal promotions. That is because the business is owned and run by elves so imbued with a collective work ethic that they have no concept of bargaining.