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Dylan Brennan @ Kitchen Things
#029 : In this Chill episode, Overdose Auckland MD Jodi Irving chats with Dylan Brennan, eCommerce & Digital Marketing Manager @ Kitchen Things, covering growth, omnichannel marketing, the evolution of marketing in Covid, and what we can expect to see in 2021.
Kitchen Things is a nationally recognised New Zealand kitchen appliance retailer, specialising in premium European brands. They are 100% family-owned by the long-standing Jones Family Business and have grown to a network of 19 retail stores throughout the country. They are New Zealand’s exclusive supplier of Smeg and Asko and represent premium brands including Miele, Bosch, Gaggenau, Neff, and Samsung.
Kitchen Things recently implemented a digital transformation to meet customer needs, strengthen engagement, and focus on the customer experience. It’s an omnichannel approach providing ‘The Kitchen Things Experience’—expert knowledge, service, sales, and aftersales support.
Getting to know Dylan Brennan
Dylan launched into his adulthood studying robotics to appease his logical, data-driven mind. But, starting a family at a young age meant he never finished his study; instead his analytical mind ended up in the appliance industry (appliances are machines and so are robots so we can see the segue there).
His career was largely founded during a phase at Fisher & Paykel, an iconic New Zealand born-and-bred appliance maker, where he worked on their direct-to-market digital strategy in the UK. A few years later, he was recruited into the Jones Family Business, starting as a Digital Marketing Specialist, before progressing to be the eCommerce and Digital Marketing Manager.
Group business strategy
The wider business strategy for the Jones Family Group of Businesses aims to cover the entire customer journey—including retailing, delivering, and servicing. Jones Services is a new entity specifically added to provide a customer service and repairs division, and it was born of an amalgamation of two acquired service businesses. Additionally, the business has an importing arm, Applico, to bring in appliances from all over the world.
With the different business units needing to interact with one another, there’s a lot of data—cue Dylan with his analytical mind—to sift through and interpret in order to best determine how to move business forward and perform well.
2020 marked a new era for Kitchen Things, a coming-of-digital age, which saw the development of digital foundations and a new ecommerce website.
Founder Mark Jones had identified the need for a digital transformation a few years earlier and had started hiring a team to progress the digital journey.
Dylan was one of the key recruits. He says initially they had a false start and their first digital launch didn’t go well for them. Pushed by the owners to reboot and get their ecomm website off the ground, the team engaged Overdose in mid-2019.
Luck was definitely on their side this time around. There was no mirror ball for what was just around the corner when, on the 1st of March, 2020, the new Kitchen Things digital platform was launched. Covid turned up shortly after, and New Zealand was in lockdown by the month’s end.
The unwittingly timed website launch was Kitchen Things’s first big step in running the digital transformation. But as Dylan puts it, “it was a bad time to shine.”
Keeping on course through Covid
At the end of March, all of their stores were shut due to lockdown. It was a confusing period initially—no one knew who was allowed to trade and who wasn’t.
So the team just nutted down and used it as an opportunity “to run as hard as we possibly could with our foundational pieces of the digital transformation.” Long 12 to 16-hour workdays during level-four and level-three lockdown periods meant much was accomplished—they developed and deployed a full CRM in three weeks. “While it was extremely difficult, everyone was thankful at that point that we still had jobs. Nobody knew how it was going to pan out.”
The Jones Family Business had spanned over 30 years, and in that time, the owners had jostled a few crises, like the GFC, so they knew how to steady the ship. Dylan explains, “They were really down in the trenches making sure the business survived and thrived, and they made sure everyone was supported.”
An inward look at the business brought them back to focus on the core fundamentals: “What are we doing as a business? How can we keep our customers happy? How can we keep creating? How can we make the most of this situation?”
The early days of the Covid pandemic became a period that really accelerated their overall digital journey.
“In New Zealand,” Dylan says, “there’s a localised need to engage with people—talking to your customers via any media, engaging with them wherever you can.”
With the new ecommerce site launched right when Covid came along, Kitchen Things had, at the ready, the tools to support their customer engagement—chat was activated and business operating hours were extended to support the new era of store-less trading.
The team identified the need to take better care of their customers and hired a Head of Customer Contact to champion the customer service team.
The 2020 strategy to re-engage with the customer included “promotion after promotion after promotion.” With the new digital platform, Kitchen Things ran a brand awareness campaign using messaging to highlight that they are a family-owned business and pushed a call-for-action for consumers to chat with experts. It was a deliberate, targeted approach aimed to communicate reasons why customers should come to Kitchen Things, rather than just shouting out they were on promotion.
Striving to be different
When asked what are the significant differences between Kitchen Things and other retailers, Dylan says they work really hard with their suppliers to ensure that they’ve got the best offering. Also, they are focused on the premium end of the market—a different portion than most other retailers.
Kitchen Things uses BigCommerce as their ecommerce SaaS platform. Dylan says it was chosen because it provides a solid foundation for the business to be able to move forward in the digital space.
Challenges encountered along the digital journey
Selling high-value appliances online is difficult, Dylan explains. “Appliances are large, heavy, boxes—for example, a large, freestanding oven can be a couple of hundred kilos—so the vast majority of them are not courier-able. There’s a logistical challenge to meet customer expectations, especially as customers are used to getting an online purchase within a matter of days.”
The other challenge is major appliances are ‘a touch-and-feel product’—people want to go into the store and see what the oven or fridge looks like. They want to open it, they want to touch it, they want to compare it to others.
There’s a recognition that trading major domestic appliances online requires a very omnichannel approach and so the Kitchen Things online channel is designed to support, or enhance, buying decisions.
“Our business has come out the other side swinging.” Dylan is thrilled that post-lockdown there has been growth in every key metric. He says while it’s no surprise digital growth in New Zealand has been increasing over the last decade, the data for Kitchen Things shows “five years of growth crammed into six months.”
Delving into the data, it shows an increase in people researching online, much higher average engagement on-page, and higher engagement with social media advertising. Dylan says there’s been a big shift, one which is not pedalling off. “It reinforces that New Zealand’s consumer behaviour around digital has changed quite drastically.”
Changing consumer behaviour
Dylan observes that “customers are walking into a store less but contacting us more via any method—email, chat, phone, engaging on the website or via social media platforms.”
While other businesses may focus just on digital channels, Kitchen Things realises they need to really support getting customers into store and support that store visit as well: “That store visit becomes even more critical to ensure we get it right if they are entering it less,” he explains.
There’s also a noticeable shift in customers making more one-off purchases. Traditionally sales for Kitchen Things were based around purchases of a whole kitchen set-up, say for a new kitchen build or a renovation. But an additional type of buyer has come in: “We have seen a big uplift in customers purchasing one appliance instead of multiple. And that’s a fantastic thing.”
Also, they’ve seen a rise in repeat purchases—significant for ‘big box,’ or large value items, which typically have a longer funnel for repeat business. “We were finding that many people were purchasing, say, a cooktop, and then coming back three months later and purchasing the oven or our small appliances. For example, they would buy the kettle, then they would buy the toaster, and then the mixer.”
Another notable change in consumer behaviour is that a larger demographic of customers is purchasing online.
Dylan says they’ve been really encouraged by the lift in sales from online. “And it’s not just the purchasing, the entire digital space in general. And people will know this from the media consumption over the recent period. It’s been on fire.”
Providing a personalised service digitally
“We need to ensure our digital platform is speaking with the tone the customers expect to see instore, and at the same time, supporting the post-store visit.” Dylan says one of their major digital focuses is on content, “We are concentrating on getting the full range up online with beautiful imagery and associated information.”
Another focus is on supporting their salespeople to become experts through training with the brand, which in turn supports the customer to find the right solution and engage in the buying process.
However, as Dylan says, “In the end, purchasing a large appliance is like buying a car; most people will at least once go and test drive the car and want to sit in it and feel the seats and smell the leather. Then, typically, they’ll engage with one of the platforms for more information and may end up buying it on the platform.”
What does the future hold for Kitchen Things?
“We’re going to continue our digital transformation. And that’s not just website but everything associated with it. Also, renewing, changing and enhancing all of our core systems to support our customer focus.”
He says there are plans in the pipeline to continue to merge online and offline, and these are to be rolled out over the next few months.
By the end of Dylan’s discussion, it’s established that Kitchen Things’s business model is very much a holistic, omnichannel approach where the in-store experience complements the digital experience and vice versa. The business really thrives when both work in harmony.