A month’s a long time in retail, but around Christmas it’s an eternity. By the time you read this fortunes will have been made, shelves plundered, budgets burnt out and executives nationwide will be either warming their hands on seasonal bonuses or chilling their arse cheeks on the paving slabs outside former offices.
It’s a fast moving, ruthless, pressure-cooker environment and if you can’t stand the heat you’d better get out of the kitchen. Or, in Nick Booth’s case, kitchens – and that’s something that he has no intention of doing.
Booth is the man that last year sent seismic ripples through the Mancunian marketing pond when he moved the Magnet advertising account, worth around £9million, across town from Bonis Hall to Astley House. Those of you au fait with the scene will know that these are the stately homes of two of the UK’s biggest agency players; McCann Erickson Manchester and Cheetham Bell JWT. It was quite a shift, made even sweeter/or harder to swallow by the fact that McCann’s had previously exerted a vice like grip on the business for 12 very prosperous years – reports of a Christmas card stand-off between the agencies could not be confirmed at the time of going to press.
Considering the nature of the on-going retail maelstrom, and the unusual longevity of the client/agency relationship, some might see this as a move fraught with potential pitfalls. With that in mind we thought it’d be suitably judicious to start with the background on the pitch process and the responses, decisions and any machinations that facilitated the move.
\"One size doesn’t fit all anymore,\" started Booth, with all the festive joys of the time non-existent retailer, \"the consumer is increasingly more demanding, and we’re answering that with our individual approach and service.
\"We believe that our philosophy is pretty much tailor-made – looking to treat the customers as individuals, with individual needs for their kitchen solutions. We take them from initial survey and design all the way through to fitting and a post installation check. It’s our unique full circle service, totally from start to finish.
\"It was this that was one of the key pointers to McCann’s in the review; how do we bring this idea of tailor made to life? That was the brief really. We weren’t changing strategy as such; we just wanted to focus on the ‘individual’ approach. That’s something that we feel hasn’t been catered for within our sector of the marketplace.\"
And, apparently, it’s here where CBJWT won the episode of ‘Ready, Steady, Cook up a Storm’ while the other competing agencies (including BJL, Brahm and PWLC, alongside McCann’s) were pipped at the post. The dish that they presented to Booth and co-centred around the strap-line ‘what happens in your kitchen’, and it’s left our interviewee salivating for more:
\"It’s a clever advertising slogan, but to us it’s so much more than that. We wanted a whole campaign and brand philosophy rather than a simple strap-line, and that’s what we’ve now got. The activity that launched last year wasn’t a one off, we’re looking for longevity and the ‘what happens in your kitchen’ theme will be on going. We’ve got a very strong campaign launching for Boxing Day and we’ll look to build on the impact so far.\"
The essence of the attraction Booth proclaims for the ‘what happens’ strategy is the fact that he sees it as a catalyst for a two-way relationship. It’s not a blatant attempt to flog a truckload of kitchen units, it’s the inception of, as he puts it, \"a conversation\" with the consumer. He explained:
\"Cheetham Bell came up with the idea of being a bit different and asking the customer what happens in their own kitchen. That starts a conversation and shows that we really try and understand what it is they want – what their lifestyle requirements and particular needs and wants are. Once we’ve found that out we’ll develop a design and solution that’s absolutely right for them. In that way we’re demonstrating, through the advertising, that we’ve got kitchens to suit all tastes, all needs and all budgets.\"
The ‘all budgets’ part of that last sentence might come as a bit of surprise, particularly when Booth himself unashamedly refers to the retailer as \"the BMW of the kitchen market.\" But throughout the interview there’s an underlying feel that the company is attempting, or on the cusp of attempting, to move away from its air of exclusivity, of affluent middle-classness. Booth never actually admitted ’yeah, we’re desperate to nick market share from B&Q and Ikea’, but he did talk of appealing to \"value seekers\" and having \"something for everyone.\" In one telling spell he commented:
\"Magnet has mass market appeal and that’s very much where we’re trying to take the brand to appeal to a wide consumer audience. We’re developing a very strong product portfolio to ensure that we can do that, with a wide range of styles and a wide range of budgets.\" We’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from that.
In all honesty though, it’s no surprise that Magnet are lacing up their gloves proper and getting ready to fight for further market share. Every marketer is well accustomed to the doom and gloom engulfing planet retail, and probably pretty bored of hearing about it, but for Magnet and its peers there’s far more to worry about than just the paucity of pounds on the high-street. There’s the housing market too.
\"I think that the sector generally is heavily influenced by consumer confidence,\" responded Booth when quizzed over this factor, \"that includes the state of retail in general and, yes, the buoyancy of the housing market. We simply have to accept that and, generally speaking, we look to ensure that we’re always performing in line with the market, if not better.\"
And that was the end of that. Although the sector in general is struggling, with Magnet’s sales down 6 per cent year on year from the January to September period, it’s Swedish parent company Nobia (Europe’s largest kitchen retailer) is understandably keen to safeguard the firm that provides about a quarter of its substantial operating profit. What’s more it has the deep pockets to prove it.
This is currently manifesting itself in a major refurbishment programme to bring all of the company’s 200+ showrooms in-line with its quite beautiful concept store in Chester (there’s a 360 degree virtual tour just waiting to be taken at www.magnet.co.uk). Booth sees this as an integral part of the Magnet brand’s continual refinement and its subtle assault on the consciousness of potential kitchen consumers.
\"The concept in Chester is something that we’re very proud of, especially as it basically brings the showroom in line with our brand. It’s being rolled out across the entire estate and I think there’s 31 stores that have now been refurbished in line with that footprint.\"
He continued, candidly admitting: \"We recognised that the showroom network had suffered from a lack of investment over time. So thanks to the backing from our parent company we’re investing heavily in the stores themselves. We’ve got a number of new showrooms opening in time for the Boxing Day sale and the rest of the rollout programme will continue over the next year or so.\"
The signs for Booth having warm hands, rather than cold cheeks, come the end of the sales look rosy then. The firm has the financial muscle of its powerful parent, brand spanking new showrooms and the marketing clout of a triumvirate of battle proven northern agencies behind it (Brazen handle the PR and Shipley’s MBD the all-important trade brief). What’s more, consumer confidence is creeping back up the charts, mortgage approvals are on the rise and shards of spending sunlight now appear to be penetrating the aforementioned retail gloom.
It’s hardly perfect trading conditions, but with the team Booth’s got behind him he should be able to get his \"BMW of the kitchen market\" off to a flyer in 2006. If he succeeds in doing that the skid marks will be over at his competitors’, rather than on the pavement outside his own office doors.