Ben Phillips, the MD of Steamer Trading treated BHETA members at the March 21st forum to a detailed insight into the philosophy behind the success of the leading specialist kitchenware retailer and set out some key criteria for potential suppliers.
Now at 29 stores – counting the one about to open in Glasgow – family owned Steamer Trading turns over £20m at what Ben describes as “the top end of what is reasonable in the UK”. Its offer is 95% branded and aimed at the more affluent 35 plus homeowner who is prepared to invest in the best equipment. It is also very keen on high quality service, knowledgeable staff and ‘going the extra mile.’ As the owner of most of its stores, it is also a very financially stable company whose expansion is not the fastest, but is nonetheless determined, planned and reliably successful.
Despite Steamer Trading’s expansion plans – double sales to £40m and 48 stores plus the internet site as ‘the largest store’ with a database of 500,000, all by 2015 – Ben is keen to reiterate that its ethos is not that of a chain. With its locations carefully selected in market town high streets, the character of each is very much ‘our local shop’ with many customers not realising that there are others.
For prospective Steamer Trading vendors, Ben’s presentation offered a lot of guidance. Product-wise it’s ‘anything that could be found in the kitchen’, which could include items like cushions and books as well as the more obvious kitchenalia, all based on the principle of the kitchen as the heart of the home. The crucial qualification is that products must delight, entertain or tempt, preferably all three. Of all the possible categories, the key opportunities are tableware, especially casual dining, glassware and textiles, electrical, books, knives, coffee equipment and cookware. Potential listings must show innovation, be supported in terms of marketing, have confidence in terms of stock, be upmarket and be prepared to ask for and listen to advice from Steamer Trading. Vendors must offer staff training, decent margins, good forecasting and good brands.