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What Does Luxury Mean ? (September 2014)

What does the word luxury actually mean ?

I hear the word "luxury" associated with a lot of things; holidays, cars and of course kitchens.

But at the same time, it can be used to make other items sound more appealing. Chocolate, Christmas puddings and even toilet rolls.

But what does it mean to the kitchen business?

What makes a kitchen "luxury" ?

Is it the product ? Most kitchen cabinets are factory assembled these days. They use one of a handful of hinge and hardware suppliers and put side by side, the majority of consumers would be hard pushed to tell the difference.

Could it be the appliances? There are many different suppliers of appliances and countless features available on these appliances, but when I speak to owners of a "multi function" oven, they probably use a third of what's available.

Now we've all had the training and we all know what each of the functions do on an oven, but how many of them are surplus to requirements.

Similarly, washing machines, how many different settings are actually used?

The answer to all this is that it's not the retailer who decided what is a luxury kitchen, it is the consumer.

A luxury item is something over and above what you would normally purchase. Whether it be a kitchen, a car or a bar of chocolate.

Somebody could buy a £30,000 Magnet kitchen and it would be considered a "shed" purchase. On the other hand, they could but a hand-made kitchen for £25,000 and it would be considered a luxury kitchen.

On the other hand, if somebody has lived with a kitchen that 20 years ago cost £500, and then buys a kitchen for £8,000 with solid wood doors and granite worktops, they would consider that luxury.

During my time at MFI in the 90's, I sold kitchens to celebrities and sports stars who wanted the cheapest of the cheap kitchens and then haggled to get the price as low as possible. I also sold kitchens to people who had worked hard all of their lives in 9 to 5 jobs that had saved hard to get the best kitchen that could possibly afford.

At the end of the day, every customer was buying the same kitchen.

When I tell people I work in the kitchen industry, there are two things that make them proud. Firstly is that they have purchased a cheap kitchen that has lasted them 20 years, or secondly, they want to tell me how expensive their new kitchen was.

Now I know there is a certain amount of resentment from certain parts of the KBB market towards the high end stores. I have lost count of the amount of "horror stories" that have been recounted to me by people who have walked into a Wigmore Street kitchen showroom only to be shown the door when it was quite obvious they weren't in the market for a new kitchen. Not before telling them that their shop "looks expensive" as well as various other insults. And then they wonder why they are thrown out ?

I hear all the reasons why the luxury market is just over priced boxes....

"a carcass is a carcass and the customer wouldn't be able to tell one from the other"

"all granite comes from the same place"

"if it's installed right, you wouldn't be able to tell how much the customer paid for it."

"lighting is what sets the kitchen off, you just need to get the finishing touches right."

And, to a point, all of these are valid arguments.

There is a commonly heard theory amongst people in the industry (I won't name them, we know who they are) that a kitchen is a kitchen and the top end manufacturers are just adding a massive mark up to a basic product and exploiting the demand for that product.

But there is a demand for a luxury product and I think it forms an integral part of the kitchen industry as a whole.

There is something about receiving a product when you know it's something above the norm.

Anybody who has also been to Germany can testify, the manufacturers there are excellent when it comes to not only putting a product together, but also packaging it to make sure that any damages are minimal.

If you purchased a three metre length of kitchen worktop from one of the multiples in the UK, you would find that not only is there no channels to protect the profiles of the worktop, but sometimes you won't find any plastic cover on there either. Or if there is any, it is often dirty or ripped.

Every piece of the worktop is wrapped and double wrapped in cardboard before it leaves Germany. And then extra protection is added to the front and back edges, and the corners to protect the profiles.

Now I know that part of the need for the packaging is the transportation of the worktop, but it is just one reason why you pay more for quality.

Other factors can include solid back panels, high grade hardware, and solid timber cabinets. Infills very rarely form part of a luxury kitchen and every item of the project screams precision.

Also, having leafed through many kitchen design magazines, you only have to look at some of the projects in them to understand the limitations of a main stream retailer.

Some of the results are absolutely breath taking and could only be achieved with the flexibility and expertise of a top end outlet.

The ability to manufacture and create the design and shapes of kitchen units needed for a bespoke look and the workmanship that goes into some of the worktops cannot be beaten.

People are prepared to pay luxury kitchen prices when they want something in the kitchen that will not only blow people away, but it will also include a design that nobody has ever seen before and it totally unique to them.

Like in every market, there has to be options for every customer with every purchase. Tesco sells Value products as well as Finest. British Airways has Economy Class and First Class. Audi sells the A1 as well as the A8.

Now there are people who will only ever want the most cheapest product available. But I guarantee that there are also people that if they had the finances available, would have the top of the range every time.

The kitchen market needs to be able satisfy the need for every customer. Not all customers want to buy the £5k kitchen, sometimes is just what their budget currently allows. But I would guess that if money wasn't a consideration, their kitchen would contain a lot more of their wish list and less of their need list.

The message I always taught people was "design the kitchen around the customer, not around the four walls."

There are many restrictions when designing a kitchen from a set range of units and accessories. There are far less limitations when you have no limitations.

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