RED wine, an accidental picture of The Cambridge pub and an empty shop are not the ingredients of a typical business plan.
But, as Greg Smith recounts the build-up to the opening of Bauformat Kitchens and Bathrooms in 2003, each of these elements plays its part in the story.
Having previously owned another kitchen and bathroom business, Greg was in Germany for a meeting with the team from the European kitchen manufacturers when, ‘over a meal at which several glasses of red wine were enjoyed’, the seed for a new venture was planted.
‘Following the sale of my previous business, I had been focusing more on property development and construction,’ Greg recalled. ‘As part of this work, I had formed a relationship with Bauformat and was buying kitchens directly from them for the new-builds. I thought that I had left the world of retail behind but then, after a little too much red wine on the night out with the guys in Germany, I saw the potential for a new kitchen design and installation business.
‘By pure chance, on the day that I returned to Jersey from that trip, I was walking down Burrard Street when I spotted a To Let sign in the window of one of the shops. I sent a picture to the guys in Germany with the message “What do you think?”, not realising that the photo just showed the reflection of The Cambridge pub so they thought I’d gone out for a drink,’ he chuckled.
With the photography confusion resolved, Greg secured the lease for the middle unit of three shops, installing one bathroom and four kitchen displays to launch the business.
From that modest beginning, in which Greg and kitchen designer Celine Venet were the only members of staff, the business has grown significantly – albeit not always at quite the ‘right’ times.
‘At the beginning, I told Celine that it would be a relatively small-scale business, selling one brand of kitchens from one showroom,’ smiled Greg. ‘But, as Bauformat also offered a strong range of bathroom furniture, it wasn’t long before we decided to expand our offer. Frustratingly, though, the shop we had wasn’t large enough to support that expansion. But, in 2007, the shop to the right of us closed, enabling us to link the two and double the size of the showroom.’
While that expansion was planned, the next one caught even Greg by surprise.
‘It was very soon after we had completed that development that the owner of The China Shop – on the other side of our showroom – decided to retire,’ he said. ‘It was really too soon for us to grow further but we had to take the opportunity to secure the premises.’
And, as the company’s physical footprint grew, so did the range of brands it stocked.
‘While Bauformat was, and remains, the name above the door, we have gradually extended the offer in a way which enables us to cater for more customers’ tastes without detracting from, or competing with, the Bauformat kitchen range,’ Greg explained.
‘We have begun steering away from offering traditional handmade English kitchens and have focused instead on delivering more contemporary solutions. Contrasting with the robust, functional design of the Bauformat range, we have added Zampieri kitchens and Novello bathrooms, which bring the added style and flair that you associate with Italian design.’
Ensuring that customers’ finished rooms offer both style and functionality is, says Celine, one of the most exciting and important elements of her role.
With a degree in interior architecture from Boulle University in Paris, Celine initially ‘fell into’ kitchen design after moving to Jersey to improve her English.
‘I came over for four weeks and, 26 years later, I’m still here,’ she smiled. ‘I came initially to do some seasonal work and practise my English and then saw an advert in the JEP for a trainee kitchen designer, working at Greg’s previous business. When he set up Bauformat, I joined him and have been here ever since.’
While designing rooms for new-build projects involves ‘many hours poring over architects’ drawings’, creating kitchens or bathrooms for existing properties follows a different format.
‘Firstly, we need to meet the client and understand who they are, how they lead their lives, what their tastes are and how they use their kitchen based on their lifestyle,’ she said.
‘Do they cook lots of meals from scratch, for example? Do they want a big dining space for family meals? Are they quite minimalistic or are they hoarders who need lots of cupboard space?
‘Once you have that initial insight into their way of life, you put together the first design. When you’ve done that, you invite the customer back into the showroom to see your drawings. That meeting is critical because that first reaction to the design tells you straight away whether you are on the right lines.’
But, while acknowledging the retail adage that ‘the customer is always right’, the Bauformat team admits that sometimes some tactful guidance is needed.
‘While tweaking initial designs is standard practice, sometimes customers will ask for a design which you know will not work in practice,’ said Celine. ‘In those cases, we tend to prepare a design based on their brief and then produce an alternative as well. It is so important that these spaces don’t only look good but are also practical. The last thing we want is a customer coming back after a couple of weeks or months because they are not happy with the room.’
Although the need for practicality and stylish design remains unchanged, other interior – and exterior – design trends are constantly emerging and shaping both the team’s concepts and the business strategy.
‘Open-plan living is a growing trend, as is the desire for more space, which means that a lot of people are now knocking two or three smaller rooms into one bigger area,’ said Celine. ‘Another big trend is bringing the outside inside and vice versa. A lot of people are now installing the same porcelain floor in the kitchen and adjoining terrace so that there is a less of barrier between the two spaces. While this trend for outdoor living was emerging two or three years ago, Covid has definitely cemented it.’
Responding to this demand, Bauformat opened its second showroom – specialising in interiors and outdoor living – on the corner of New Street and Union Street last spring.
Offering a range of pizza ovens, garden furniture, dining sets, wardrobes and interior and exterior design pieces, the second showroom has, as Greg explains, a very different dynamic from the first.
‘We had worked with many of the brands featured in the new showroom for years but we were trying to squeeze their products into little corners of the shop, which wasn’t right for either them or us,’ he said. ‘As a company, we are keen to develop strong working relationships with our brands and, to do that, you need to commit to a certain level of business. This second showroom allows us to do that but the business model is very different and much more retail-orientated than the kitchen and bathroom design. With the latter, everything is made to order so you hold very little stock but it was important for us to hold a good number of the outdoor living products so that has changed the operational and storage sides of the business.’
With a second showroom has come more staff, including business manager Jarred Camm, who joined the firm earlier this year, taking the total team up to ten.
Having trained as a radiographer, Jarred admits that his career path has deviated significantly from his original plans.
‘From my medical studies, I have since worked as a projects manager for Jersey Heritage before going into facilities management and joining Bauformat a couple of months ago,’ he said. ‘While it may seem like a very different role, I am really excited by the opportunity to build those all-important client relationships and help to develop the company’s further growth.’
And it is those relationships, says Greg, which underpin the company’s ethos.
‘It isn’t easy to have a USP in our area of business,’ he said. ‘However, it is the attention to detail and time we spend with our customers, listening to them and understanding their needs, that gives us that edge. That is our ethos. Although we are, of course, in business to sell things, I don’t see us as salespeople. We will not take people’s money today and then have a problem to deal with tomorrow. We want to get each room right from the start so that we can then move onto the next customer and focus on getting their project right.
‘After all, you cannot forget the importance of word of mouth in Jersey. If you do one job right, that could lead to ten new customers. If you get one job wrong, you could have to do ten good jobs to get back on track.’