I had a new kitchen installed a few weeks ago by a local firm, Alexander MacBeth Kitchens, chosen on personal recommendation. I was closely involved in the project at concept and design stage, but watched with admiration as it moved into the operational installation phase.
Our last kitchen makeover was over 20 years ago, pre-internet, pre-Pinterest and pre-CAD software. It took weeks to plan, and the installation was done by a joiner and plumber who had teamed up together. It took them around two weeks to complete the job and it involved lots of ad hoc trips to the local DIY store and builders’ merchants. But it turned out well, and was the production hub for daily family meals through to special celebrations and 20 Christmas dinners!
But times change and I felt it was time for a complete revamp from heavy pine and Mediterranean colours to a more streamlined look. Crucially, our 20-year-old washing machine and 30-year-old dishwasher were also in need of replacement.
Enter Pinterest, Instagram and Google. The choice was endless, and could become overwhelming, so a degree of discipline was required. I had to be focused about browsing, but Pinterest was an invaluable tool, allowing me to create sections for appliances, space-saving ideas, cupboards and sinks/taps.
This saved a huge amount of time and let me discuss my preferences with the kitchen company. Friends and family were not excluded from this process, and all good advice and ideas were taken on board and added to my Pinterest board.
I also discovered seemingly endless discussion threads with granular detail on paint shades, the pros and cons of crockery drawers, and don’t even get me started on cupboard handles. 20 years ago, the choice was basically “take it or leave it” but Instagram influencers’ pressure (not to mention affiliate marketing) was palpable in some of these threads. I was aiming to blend style and functionality, but if I were 30 years younger, I may have felt pressure to conform and pick the latest trend on style alone.
I settled on grey shaker units and white tiles, which were ordered by the kitchen company using the Just in Time method. I was able to seamlessly order appliances online and have them delivered to the firm’s premises a week before work was due to start. Pre-internet this would have involved a trip to the electrical store, viewing, measuring, weighing up the pros and cons, ordering and waiting sometimes weeks for delivery.
Standardisation in the manufacturing of white goods and improved logistics have reduced costs dramatically, and the price of all my white goods was lower than 20 or 30 years ago.
The team arrived at 7.45 am on the Monday morning and the job was completed by 4.30 pm on the Thursday.
The teamwork was exceptional. Two men worked on the installation full time, supported by the project manager, who was hands-on when necessary. Other trades (electrical and tiling) were brought in when appropriate, and it was interesting to see how they accommodated each other in a very small workspace. They all had a healthy respect for each other, were able to hone in on their own area of work without being distracted, and yet kept up a great stream of banter and singing.
Teamwork like this does not happen overnight, and I believe this was principally because they were employees of the firm and well-used to working with each other. The use of regular sub-contractors added to the positive teamwork ethic and aided productivity.
It requires a certain leadership style for a small local business to be successful in a highly competitive market. Meeting the challenge of business growth was clearly on the owner’s radar, and he spoke of the balancing act of following up new leads, whilst ensuring existing projects went to plan. I was promised a high standard of workmanship, and a clean and tidy workspace, and that is exactly what his team delivered.
The team who installed my kitchen were mature, experienced workers and they put in a long, hard day. Their level of productivity was impressive, and demonstrated why the company had won a number of awards. When I asked them if they took pride in their work, one of them told me that he was too focused on the task at hand to see the bigger transformation. This seemed rather sad, but I could understand the pressure they were under to simply do the job well, and then move on to the next one.
Many young people today are opting out of the vocational skills/apprenticeship route and aiming for university. But the trade skills shortage is a growing problem, offering opportunities for employment and good wages and salaries. The Federation of Master Builders State of Trade Survey Q1 2019 reports that almost two-thirds of construction SMEs have difficulties hiring bricklayers and just under 60 per cent are struggling to hire carpenters.
So, I take my hat off to Alex and his team, and look forward to spending many happy hours in my new kitchen prepping and cooking meals, and, of course, Christmas dinners.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
Take care. Lead well.