Turning the kitchen industry around

The impact of Covid-19 and lockdown has been felt throughout South Africa, with manufacturing and construction having to take a serious relook at how they operate.  The kitchen industry sits split between many sectors all facing their own unique challenges as they fight to survive – manufacturing, construction, installation, design, sales and importing.

Level four facilitated the manufacturing sector to return to work but for most in the kitchen industry at a highly reduced capacity.  While the large-scale board manufacturers were relieved to be given permission to return to production their value chain was still under severe restrictions which meant their ability to trade to their full potential was limited.

 

Smaller producers, like kitchen manufacturers, were placed in a strange predicament.  While they could start manufacturing again – even at a reduced capacity – they could not install on site or meet with clients to design or sell their products.  This meant that many in the industry were slow to get back to work not wanting to put their staff at risk when a full kitchen design and installation was not possible. 

The opening up of the industry in level three was a vital lifeline for the kitchen industry.   The KSA worked hand in hand with key manufacturing members, the Manufacturing Circle, Forestry SA and the South Africa Furniture Initiative in lobbying Government to see this happen.  Originally work on commercial sites was planned for level three and on residential sites, only at level two.  Being able to get back to site to measure up and install meant that the industry could get back to work properly.

Returning to work in a pandemic has come with numerous new challenges for the kitchen industry.  Compliance with health and safety has been paramount.  The safety of both staff and customers is a vital part of instilling confidence in a homeowner to allow contractors on site.  A kitchen usually takes up to four weeks for installation.  The industry has had to accommodate supply chain issues as well as their own challenges of manufacturing and installations delays due to infections within the industry which has extended these timelines. 

 

While lockdown facilitated a time at home for consumers to revaluate their spaces and realise the need for upgrades and new ‘at home’ work spaces it also created a nervousness about having people working in your home.  Kitchen manufacturers have had to take this into consideration in their marketing and their dealings with existing and potential customers.  Allaying these fears and assuring consumers that the company is taking COVID-19 prevention measure seriously has had to be a key message.  The peak of infections has made this more pertinent than ever. 

The initial access to work has been fairly good with the industry managing to complete contract and residential work signed up before lockdown.  Getting new work has been more challenging.  New builds have slowed drastically and where consumers were planning for a new residential kitchen they are now considering a ‘make over’ rather than a full renovation.  Shopfitting has been particularly hard hit with KSA members that work in that field finding new jobs almost impossible to find.  All of these pressures shaping the new normal has forced the industry to stating to think  outside the box.

While we have all been in lockdown our desire to see new and inspirational design and trends has not diminished.  Consumers have taken to online platforms to satisfy their need to see something new.  This has meant that the kitchen industry, many of whom are small, no-too-tech-savvy businesses have had to move themselves into the digital space quickly.  This has forced them to  learn new skills and developing new marketing strategies and platforms to showcase their work and connect with consumers.  Essentially COVID-19 has forced a very quick tech-upskilling within the industry.

Large supplier members from the industry have taken the lead in the move to online.  Worldwide lockdown has kept us deprived of many new industry trends.  With both local and international trade shows being cancelled due to Covid-19 the access to new ideas and products for industry and consumer alike has been limited.  The kitchen manufacturers have relied heavily on suppliers with international links to keep them abreast of new colours, patterns and textures through the launch of their new product ranges.  Used to being able to celebrate their new materials through in-person launches, supplier members have had to find new ways to engage the industry and industry professionals, and make them aware of what’s new, both locally produced and imported.  Several members of the KSA have celebrated new product ranges so far this year including PG Bison, Caesarstone, Rehau, Cosentino and Sonae Arauco.  The KSA has been proud to be part of many of these launches working with the suppliers to help get their message out.  The extended lockdown is not getting the better of suppliers who are continuing to find new and innovative ways to get their new products to market.  We are guaranteed to see more new products before the year is out.

Kitchen companies and members of the stone and surface fabricating community have also used this time to repurpose themselves and reassess what they do and how they do it.  For many KSA members the time has been constructively used to rebrand, relocate and open themselves up to work previously not undertaken, challenging their teams and designers.  In many cases this has meant teaching new skills to staff and repurposing production lines.   The determination, tenacity and work ethic of these smaller companies combined with their desire to survive the pandemic and continue to add to the SA kitchen and design industry has been admirable.

For the KSA this time has also been an opportunity to really step up and support our members through this crisis.  Now, more than ever, standing together as an industry is vital.  As a non-profit organisation the KSA has had to find new and innovative ways to add value to its members and industry.  Walking our members through lockdown, the changes to legislation and implementation of correct health and safety protocols has been paramount.  Creating online events and training has also be important ensuring members don’t suffer from industry isolation or a sense of entrepreneurial loneliness.

While the real impact of Covid-19 and lockdown will probably only really be felt by the kitchen industry over the next 6-8 months the survival instinct from within the KSA membership is palpable.  Now is an opportunity for the South African kitchen industry to step up and showcase its skill set and design capabilities. With limited trend input coming from overseas it’s a real chance to start seeing a unique South African spin on what is being produced. The industry is rife with often uncelebrated talent with many consumers not understanding the true costs and skill behind a well-designed, made and installed kitchen.  Looking to celebrate out local industry is vital.  Whether it be locally manufactured, designed or installed it is time for us to support our small businesses that are fighting for survival and keeping our people employed.