“An Honest Comparison”

We exist in a competitive society and to consider that Independents cannot compete with National Retailers would be an incorrect assumption. On a like for like basis the Independents will compete however we don’t want to just compete on that basis we want to offer our clients a wider choice to personalise their project. We want our clients to have a say in their design and to feel part of the purchasing experience, as well as getting great value for their investment.

This question of Independents versus National Retailers is asked of me regularly and I expect it is also asked of many other Independents so I will try to answer it.

National Retailers: They have large showrooms with lots of staff and a national presence. They offer standard products often at discounted prices which are beneficial to the client. They would normally complete the design and quote process at the same time which is generally on the client’s first visit to the showroom. This is based on drawings provided by the client and they normally require an answer from the client within a certain time restraint but it DOES NOT cover a full installation quotation.
Independents: Normally have one to three shops which offer a far greater number of products with many variants. This will enable the client to personalise their purchase and in most cases compete with the National Retailers. Some Independents (as we do) will also include a full installation quotation which will give the client an overall cost for their completed project.

THE PROCESS

Independents: The process will generally differ between companies, but based on our process I would discuss the client’s requirements in the showroom on their first visit, before we visit them in their house to conduct a full survey. After the house visit & survey is completed I would then send the client a 3D design which may be followed by 2 or 3 more client visits to the showroom to discuss the design before it is finalized and accepted. Based on the agreed design we will then produce a quote inclusive of all the client’s requirements which will include both supply and installation. The client will then have the comfort of their own home to discuss & digest this quotation and in some cases they may make further amendments before completing their purchasing decision. This process can take anything from under two weeks to over a year, the timetable is based on the client’s interaction & needs.
National Retailers: The staff are mostly sales people first and designers second, with their main objective being to make a sale. They are normally “numbers people” therefore they do not have the time to get to know the customer and find out really find what the customer’s needs are. It has been my experience that they do not have the same level of in depth knowledge required to be a designer and this is reflected in them not asking the right questions. If the right questions are not asked you are not in a position to design the best project for the client’s needs. They also have company restrictions where only a limited range of products are available and offered to the client which may not necessarily be the best suited products for the client, even though more suitable products are available on the open market.

STAFFING

Independents: Generally the staff are long serving members of staff who have extensive product knowledge coupled with design skills polished by experience. They should know the right questions to ask and be willing to take ownership of your project. In a majority of the cases they will be with you all the way and see it through to the end ensuring that the final outcome is what you and they envisioned. In the larger Independents companies they will have a Project Manager to oversee all projects, however the Designer is still available until the project is completed. With an independent generally all the staff know who is scheduled to install your project and as in my case you will also know his contact details, bank account details and home address.
National Retailers: Once the sell is made the relationship between you and the sales person is over and the project is then passed over to someone else whom you have never met. They know nothing about any previous discussions you’ve may have had to help identify what you or your family’s lifestyle needs are, and no understanding of your requirements. It is also worth pointing out that as it is a pressure sales culture environment this can normally lead to a high staff turnover, meaning your initial contact may not always be there on your return if an issue arises. With a project purchased from a National it is very rare that you would know who will be working in your home until the day they arrive to start the project OR to give you additional installation costs for any extra work you have requested.

SIZE

Independents: They are generally around the corner and you know the staff and who is in charge. You can always get to see someone, and if the person working on your project is not available there will always be someone who may know about your project or can find out about your project.
National Retailers: Normally considered a large, secure Company, however that is no longer always the case as many National Retailers have ceased to exist for many reasons eg: MFI / Dolphin Bathrooms

REVIEWS

National Retailers: There is nothing wrong with the quality of the products sold by National Retailers and their existence is based on them selling vast numbers of products at competitive prices, and as a result their negative reviews will always get the most coverage. A large number of their sales are successful and the clients are satisfied with the outcome however a few are not, so let’s consider the factors leading to these few.

The issues are well documented dissatisfied customers have gone to great lengths to ensure that their problems are reported both in the press and on Social media. The majority of the issues fall into two areas as seen below.

SHORT OR DAMAGED DELIVERIES

Independent & National Retailers – Every company will experience these issues regardless of whether they are an Independent or a National Retailer but it is how they deal with it, and whether the company takes ownership of the issue that matters. This is where the Independents are generally stronger. A smaller Company will be in a better position to move faster and be more proactive in addressing issues, rather than being lost in the some kind of departmental blame shifting and waiting for someone else in the chain to make a decision.

INSTALLATION ISSUES

National Retailers: National Retailer issues are generally more problematic for them and it is usually all about numbers. With the large numbers of sales they are making and the lead times they offer, they are in a position where they need to provide a large number of installation teams to cover all of their work. It is my belief that the vetting procedure used by some of the National Retailers for some of these teams is fairly casual and this normally surfaces when a problem arises. Therefore it is not unreasonable to say that they employ some teams who are not up to a standard that would be expected or aspire to. Unfortunately it is not until the installation has started and a problem arises that their lack of abilities is exposed.
Independents: Independents also suffer from installation problems. This would normally happen when they have a number of projects on the go (at any one time), and the installation team exceed the scheduled time that was allocated for the project. Even though jobs are project managed some areas will be out of their control and issues may still arise even though it is tightly managed. This is normally a delivery issue where the date for delivery has been changed with little, or no notice. I have found that the main difference between Independents & National Retailers in this area is that Independents normally have regular trusted installation teams. These teams are vetted tightly and are able to work unsupervised, therefore they will re-juggle their workload to accommodate any issues such as this if they arise. They also have a clear understanding of the standards that are expected and which they need to adhere to, plus an in depth knowledge of the culture of the Independents. The Independent teams are generally paid a higher project value than those working for the National Retailers. This enables them to spend sufficient time on the projects that they have been assigned to which in turn will ensure that they are completed to the company standard.

I am not saying that my Company or any other Independent Retailer has not had their fair share of dissatisfied customers, but it is how these issues are resolved that matters

Communication channels always need to stay open and my stance has always been that if you are unhappy with the any part of the service you are experiencing then talk to us, and we will always try to resolve it.

At the end of the project I am confident that I would have tried to resolve any problems that may have occurred and although you may still be slightly unhappy with the overall process, this will not have impacted the final outcome of the project as sold to you at the beginning.

My company will learn from any mistakes that have been made ensuring they don’t re occur. We have a very transparent review system using “Checkatrade” which keeps us honest & open and allows our customers to give their feedback on our performance / service.

In 2018 46% of our projects came via Recommended or Repeat Business which I feel is a feather in the cap for Independents.

I hope this has answered the question and also helps you determine the best fit for you. There will always be occasions where the National Retailers will for an “off the shelf purchase” be the best fit for you.

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