Retailer Profile: Elgar Kitchens – kbbreview – kbbreview

March 14, 2022
Elgar Kitchens near Worcester won kbbreview’s New Kitchen Retailer of the Year award in 2021. Chris Frankland meets co-director Lisa Palmer to find out the secret of its success
Meteoric. That would be the word to describe the rise of Elgar Kitchens from a small group of people working around a kitchen table to the 16 staff that now work in its impressive 5,000sq ft destination showroom just outside Worcester.
From those humble beginnings in January 2019, the company now has six full time designers servicing both retail, trade and new homes, where its biggest project to date involved supplying 140 kitchens.
And in recognition of the company’s achievements so far, Elgar Kitchens won New Kitchen Retailer of the Year award at last year’s kbbreview Retail & Design Awards. 
Lisa Palmer sat with her business partner Carl Douglas at the event and thought  ‘we have no chance of winning’. She says: “After such a difficult year for everyone and the challenges we faced in just getting the place open, and then having to close because of the pandemic, we couldn’t have been prouder to win that coveted award. It has even led to new business.”
Mind you, when she started her journey with Douglas and Elgar Kitchens, Palmer was already well versed in the KBB industry, having spent 25 years in the trade kitchens sector, ending up running one of the flagship branches of a well-known national chain.
She recalls: “It taught me a very simple, but structured way to go out and get business. Business doesn’t just walk in. Everything I learnt there was a huge positive, because even though Elgar is completely different, from the minute that client walks through the door, it is all about the service we give them. That customer has come to Elgar because of proactive way in which Elgar develops its business and the sales promotions that we do, and those years in trade kitchens taught me how I want to run our business.”
So how did Elgar Kitchens end up in this impressive showroom? 
Douglas had been suggesting to Palmer for years that they should go into business together. Having already started two other successful companies, Douglas knew with Palmer’s knowledge and his solid business foundation they could make a formidable team. 
So when he approached her with an opportunity to buy a well-established existing retailer that had got into difficulty, she jumped at the chance. In the end, however, the owner wasn’t happy with Palmer coming in as a managing partner and so the deal
fell through. 
But, as Palmer recalls: “That was the catalyst and we said, ‘OK, let’s do this’. That guy saying no was the best thing that could have happened. It made me realise it was what I actually wanted.” So they set up Elgar Kitchens early in 2019 and started out working from the kitchen table. 
She adds: “My business partner also owns a company called Stone & Earth who supply our worktops, so we put a couple of small displays in there and I worked from home while we were looking for a property.  
“It started with just me and then we got our sales guy out on the road straight away, to help with promoting our business. Quickly, Sam came on board to do designs, and within a short space of time, we had six people working round the kitchen table – and it was a nightmare. We were gettng deliveries from BSH and various suppliers, trying to squeeze everything into to our garage. My husband would regularly come down for breakfast to me holding sales meetings around our kitchen table. That was tough, however it was a means to an end.”
Things took off quickly, Palmer recalls, and now Elgar has 16 staff and five subcontracted installers. 
Her business partner found a plot of land for sale on the business park where Elgar is now, which, completely coincidentally but rather serendipitously, is called Elgar Business Centre.
Somewhat dauntingly, this was just a plot of land and so Elgar would have to have a showroom built from the ground up. Luckily, Palmer’s business partner has a successful building company, so this wasn’t a problem and it would mean the business started with a clean slate. 
Initially, she was sceptical about the location, but “when we came to have a look, I knew Douglas was right – the location was perfect. It is three miles out of town, plenty of free parking, and easily accessible from Birmingham off the M5, so it is a great location”.
And she was clear about what she wanted: “You look at some show-rooms,” she says, “and they have suspended ceilings. No kitchens ever have suspended ceilings. The drylining company warned us how much it would cost, but the quality feel it gives made it worth it.”
They moved into the offices on the mezzanine level in January 2019 and started testing their product offering and supply chain by supplying and installing nine kitchens on a development Douglas’s building company was working on. Fitting out the showroom began in December. “We didn’t want to cram it full of displays,” she explains. “We wanted it to feel very open. We receive a lot of compliments about the showroom.”
There are 17 displays in total – 13 downstairs and the rest upstairs, and I can attest that the displays have plenty of room to breathe. The showroom has a welcoming and homely vibe. 
Then 2020 brought its lockdowns. They opened for a week in February then had to close again, scuppering their opening party plans. But business started to take off and they were also able to supply the building trade from March, finally reopening for retail customers in June.
Summing up the experience of setting up a business, she says: “It is the most amazing and exhilarating thing I have ever done, but also the hardest. Because you eat, sleep and breathe it – and if you don’t, it’s not the right thing for you.”
But why call it Elgar Kitchens? Well, the composer Edward Elgar was born near Worcester and then lived there. So, when Palmer’s husband and business partner’s father-in-law both suggested it, they knew it was meant to be.
We were keen for Elgar to be a destination store – “somewhere worth driving to” with an offering that would allow them to be competitive.
She explains: “It was all about creating a place you could walk into and not feel it was too expensive. This is difficult to achieve. We want all clients, irrespective of budget, to have a better-quality kitchen, and an independent retail experience, rather than going to the big boys, where it is all about the shareholders. There are always ways of reducing the cost – by having a cheaper sink or worktops etc. We work together with the client to hit their budget. We don’t ask the budget when they come in, but the designer will ascertain that for the survey, as there’s no point quoting for a £30k kitchen when their budget is £5k.”
To achieve this, Elgar offers component kitchens where they buy in the cabinets and then add doors from PWS or Burbidge. Then they have a totally bespoke offering from a local Herefordshire joiner and the bespoke range from Burbidge Kitchenmakers. They also offer 1909 from PWS. Worktops are supplied from Stone & Earth and they deal with all the major brands, such as CRL Stone, Silestone and Dekton, while appliances are from Neff, Siemens, Bosch and Caple, with some from CDA. Sinks and taps are 1810 and Caple, Villeroy and Boch, Quooker and Insinkerator. 
Mind you, she describes the appliance supply situation as “horrendous” and getting worse, meaning they have to hold a large stockholding, although she praises Caple for not giving her any problems.
Contract clients are a large part of Elgar’s fabric, and with Palmer’s trade experience, the company capitalises on this: “Contracts are a huge part of the business,” she explains, “and we have a contract designer who just works on new-builds. We will tackle anything. Our biggest site was 140 down to ones and twos. There is a gap in the market that we fill. Before we started, there wasn’t anywhere local builders could go where they would find experience and under-standing of how the trade works, timelines and how sites work. We tell them that we may be a little more expensive than some, but that they will get a level of service that will save them time and money.”
During the visit, kbbreview is  also keen to learn more about how they proactively develop their business. She tells us they go out and look for new sites and building works through a sales guy.
Next on the agenda for Elgar Kitchens is to extend the main showroom and improve the bedroom section upstairs, which Palmer admits was a bit of an afterthought. They are also developing a new showroom at Stone & Earth, which is due to open
in early spring and on the marketing side Elgar is going to take an illuminated advertising hoarding at the Sainsbury’s Local in Droitwich, as well as adverts on the backs of local buses and coaches.
“It works,” she explains. “Even on the high street, you can’t rely on somebody just walking in and we don’t have any passing trade here. We sponsor our local rugby club and have recently refurbished their cafeteria kitchen. We also do some radio advertising, but that’s it. We must go out and find our business, not wait for it to come to us. 
“Getting clients through the door is the key. Once they are through the door, they love what we do and a high percentage convert into a sale.” 
For such a young retailer, Elgar Kitchens seems to have plenty on its plate and the energy and appetite to take on more in the future.
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