Kitchens For Less | Kitchen renos running hot

This article was written before the August 2021 Covid-19 outbreak.

It’s all hands on deck at Otago firm Kitchens For Less as Covid-confined Kiwis splash out on new kitchens.  
Owners Warrick and Julie Dodds say would-be travellers are diverting holiday funds to renovations and kitchens are often top of the list.
“Every third or fourth customer tells us they are replacing their kitchen because they can’t travel,” Julie says. “A lot of them are in their fifties or older and are used to spending $10,000 to $20,000 a year on travel.”
The 15-person firm designs, manufactures and installs about 500 kitchens a year, mainly in Dunedin but also in Oamaru and Central Otago. Their kitchens range in size from small to commercial. About 70 percent of jobs are renovations – reflective of Dunedin’s older housing stock, with the remaining 30 percent being kitchens in new builds.
During the Covid-19 lockdown last year, sales and design staff kept working from home, and once restrictions lifted, demand for new kitchens surged, Warrick says.
“People spent six to eight weeks in their homes looking at and cooking in their old kitchens. And it was also a time when families were all together to make decisions about things like renovations – that doesn’t often happen.”
Whereas the firm used to have a quiet patch in the year, it is now busy for the full 12 months, he says.
The couple bought the business five years ago. Both had been involved in running other businesses and both had worked for GJ Gardner Homes so they were familiar with the construction industry and the demands of owning a company.
Moore Markhams Otago director Charles Craw was invaluable throughout the purchase process, Warrick says.
“He went through the books with us and really helped us to make the right decision. It was a lot of money and he talked us through the risk. He was also able to mediate between Julie and I when we didn’t always see things the same way.”
Warrick and Julie manage the firm’s day-to-day accounting except for payroll, which is handled by Moore Markhams. The Moore Markhams team has helped the firm adopt software and technology, including Xero, to improve and streamline their processes.
The couple value having the expertise of the Moore Markhams team at their disposal, Warrick says.
“It means I don’t have to have those experts in our business, we can just focus on what we do. Charles is our sounding board. I call him up to talk through any major decisions – like purchasing machinery or hiring staff – and we meet a few times a year to have a really in-depth look at the business.”
The couple’s initiatives to build the business have paid off, Warrick says. “We’ve improved processes, the quality of our products and we’ve invested in new machinery. We’re getting quite a few repeat customers now.”
They have hired three staff since buying the business and would love to employ more, but finding employees with the right skills and attitude to fit the culture of the small firm is a challenge, Julie says.
The firm prides itself on being genuinely local – all manufacturing is done at its Portsmouth Drive site in Dunedin - and that has been an advantage as international shipping and supply delays due to Covid mean many customers see locally-made as a safer bet.
Covid supply issues have meant some stock is unavailable and the price of materials has increased by an average of about five percent, Warrick says.
“It can be frustrating, you think everything’s on track and then at the last minute you find out you can’t get a particular sink or drawer. But our customers are generally pretty good about it.”
As a unique selling point, Kitchens For Less invites clients to check over their newly manufactured kitchens pre-installation to make sure they are happy, Julie says.
That is the firm’s ongoing focus - continually refining and improving processes to increase efficiency and ultimately, customer satisfaction.
The couple have no regrets buying the business, says Julie. “We will continue to get organic growth but we’re pretty much where we wanted to be when we started out five years ago.”