Best Practice Representative

Best Practice Representative | Published November 24 2017

Naked Kitchens

When we developed Naked Kitchens, we didn’t set out to become a disruptive innovator – or indeed understand the power of disruptive innovation. A lot changed in a very short space of time. Especially for Norfolk.

The initial concept for the Naked brand was to challenge the prevailing competitive patterns in the kitchen industry. We wanted to offer the essential kitchen – what the kitchen really is. In a highly fragmented marketplace, the low end is dominated by price and a race-to-the-bottom with the cheapest possible materials. The high end seeks to achieve distinctiveness with attractive marketing and brands, design, and customer attention and service. But only a small part that adds actual value to the kitchen itself. The rest simply adds cost.

Disruptive innovation in manufacturing means challenging the accepted business model at every turn. Bespoke requires challenging convention at every turn. Finally at the top end of the market, consumers are no longer bound to the few companies who make a truly bespoke kitchen at excessive cost, whilst at the mid market, a previously unattainable dream is now a realistic proposition.

The intelligent person’s way to buy a kitchen

Until Naked Kitchens, the concept of an excellent bespoke product which more than challenged the very top end, but at a sensible price, was seen as unattainable. The expense of showrooms, the glossy marketing budgets, the sales staff, and inefficient manufacturing frequently outpaced the cost of the kitchens themselves. It was clear that the market was in a period of profound stagnation.

We make no compromise on material specification, to the point where virtually no other kitchen company equals the quality of our materials. We decided to ‘value engineer’ the manufacturing and sales process. We were convinced that any truly outstanding manufacturing business needed to focus equally on client service and satisfaction, on commitment to our staff, and on developing partnerships with suppliers that would allow us to evolve our products and our business.

Making a cupboards strong enough to stand a land rover on

To achieve manufacturing excellence it was clear that we would need to make a massive investment in innovation and mechanisation. But equally important was our real understanding of the raw materials used to make a kitchen, in particular oak and birch ply. Naked Kitchen’s parent company, Norfolk Oak, is the UK’s foremost manufacturer of hardwood worktops and bar tops. We have a deep respect for the wood we use, a commitment to sustainable forestry and the crafting of long-lasting products with minimal waste. Years of experience in machining, gluing and finishing solid hardwoods would prove essential to engineering not just the cabinets themselves, but to managing the entire manufacturing process in a way that avoids waste of precious resources. Without this, not only would the task have been harder, but a lack of understanding for materials would have led to the wrong investments.

A completely clean and fresh start

Most kitchen companies evolve and grow organically, effectively layering one set of inefficiencies over another. Although Norfolk Oak had itself previously made kitchens in this oldfashioned way, the development of Naked Kitchens was the chance for a completely clean and fresh start.

Continual investment is a fantastic strategy as long as growth, no matter how modest, continues. However the emerging challenge is to operate effectively in a risk environment after such heavy investment. 
After the financial crisis, Brexit and Trump, it briefly looked as though we might at last have some stability. But the spectacular failure of the snap election to deliver anything resembling this was a dangerous reminder that even the simplest plans that seem sure to succeed must be flawlessly executed. Political instability from such a profound misjudgement has just made life harder, which has obvious implications for any manufacturer.
Previously confused taxation policy on investment – with the withdrawal and then re-instatement of the annual investment allowance – is an example of how removed some politicians are from the frontline reality of running a business. While it all seems like a numbers game, nothing could be further from the truth. When policy is dictated by numbers alone, then great opportunity is lost. The great headline grabbers of ‘rebalancing the economy’ are entirely meaningless in this environment. Governments needs to realise that homegrown manufacturing, in the low sterling environment of a global economy, needs genuine support, not headlines. There is only one way to compete on the global stage, and that is to invest in technology and automation. This isn’t about forfeiting British jobs for machines, but bringing manufacturing back to the UK for both home and export markets. We have had tremendous support from the Conservative MP for Broadland, Keith Simpson, but it is a different story at Government level. Governments continually expect business to provide risk capital and enterprise – we have learned not to bother asking for help, but we still have perhaps a foolish optimism that at some point Government will actually stop creating barriers to our success. 

Fortunately, the directors have been able to able to make investments in Naked Kitchens from outside the business, and the continued support and help from HSBC, and in particular our relationship manager Terry Spriggs, has been instrumental in our growth and success. A fundamental part of the growth strategy has been to buy equipment which combines existing use and requirement with high growth potential, but also enables us to move further away from our competitors whilst opening new market opportunities. The fully automatic sprayline paint system, a million pound investment all on its own, is a great example of dramatically improving productivity, quality, consistency, capacity and opening up a whole new market for Naked Doors. It’s a brilliant new way to capture value in a kitchen. But most importantly, it’s another giant step in widening the gap between us and the competition. By embracing complex and difficult automation, our understanding at every level of what makes a truly great kitchen sets us apart.

The real key to our success is to innovatively disrupt convention at every turn.