A leading manufacturer and supplier of high-quality kitchens, Online Kitchen Store knows just how to keep things organised. We spoke to the company about using state-of-the-art machinery while retaining the human touch, cutting out the middleman, and how Leave Dates has been a “life-saver” helping them keep staff leave all in one place
Online Kitchen Store manufactures high-quality kitchens at affordable prices, selling directly to the general public, local housebuilders and developers.
Founded 10 years ago by managing director Olly Martin, it grew out of the existing family business, Waterford Kitchens, set up by Olly’s father, Tim, in 1997. For the past 25 years the family business has operated out of a bespoke manufacturing facility in Ampthill, Bedfordshire.
The company sells an extensive range of kitchens, from classic shaker and traditional styles to contemporary, high-gloss and handleless kitchens.
It offers a design service, too: each customer is assigned their own personal designer who renders photorealistic images based on the specific dimensions and fine-tunes the design until the customer is happy with it. Following a quote and online order, the kitchen goes straight to production and is manufactured on-site, fully assembled and ready to go.
Quality is the name of the game: all cabinets are made using glue and dowell construction to ensure strength and durability, as well as state-of-the-art computer-controlled machinery, such as being CNC machine-pressed, to ensure precision and accuracy.
Fixtures and fittings are top notch, including Kesseböhmer storage solutions (German engineering at its best) and Grass Scala drawer systems direct from Austria, and it sources cabinet doors from well-known names like Second Nature, Burbidge and Multiwood.
Everything is made to measure: “We offer hundreds of different cabinet colours – if a customer wants a pink edging with a bright blue door, we’ll do that for them. There’s nothing we won’t do for them. Everything’s made to order: we don’t stock anything on the shelf that’s a single size, so if a customer needs a unit, a specific height, width and depth to fit into a space, we make that specifically for them every time,” says Olly.
Another important factor that sets the company apart is that it sells directly to the public at trade prices, cutting out the middleman: “Because we manufacture everything ourselves here on site and we’re selling directly to the customer, we’re cutting out that high street showroom markup,” he says.
As a second-generation family-run business, there is a wealth of experience to draw on, and family runs deep.
“My dad started it up 25 years ago, I joined three years later, and I run the business now. But as much as Online Kitchen Store was founded by me and I run it, the bit behind it goes even further. I didn’t just start into manufacturing from nothing, we had a smaller set-up already initiated.”
“I like seeing things grow. When I started doing this a long time ago we were making two or three kitchens a week, and I’ve got it into a state-of-the-art facility, with the help of machinery and technology and development we’re now producing 25 to 30 kitchens a week out of the same building. That to me is a massive achievement.”
While the company continually invests in the latest computer-controlled technology to stay ahead of the game, it’s still very much a hands-on organisation that retains the human touch.
All doors are fitted by hand and each unit is meticulously inspected to ensure perfect quality before being cleaned, wrapped, packed and delivered to the customer.
“We have state-of-the-art machinery, but we’re not like some huge manufacturers in the European market that are fully robotic in their factories, where no humans get to see the product. Robots are great for making machines, but they don’t pick up on blemishes. As much as we’ve got the latest machinery, we’ve also got the quality control, with humans actually touching it and working through the process with it.”
Innovation while retaining the human touch extends to its use of Leave Dates.
“Leave Dates has been a bit of a lifesaver,” says Olly. Before Leave Dates, staff leave was organised with a hand-written diary. “It was very archaic, but the person who was doing it had been doing it for such a long time, for 20-odd years, that they didn’t want to change their ways. They retired so I thought let’s just get this sorted now, and have it all digitalised.”
Olly read up on lots of different software and decided that Leave Dates was the system most suited to them. “I was looking for something that was all in one place, that I’ve got complete control over. Just something that was nice and organised – and it works perfectly for us.”
It’s a hit. “It’s all in one place and it’s like everyone’s connected into this one room, which is much better.”
All 20 staff have the Leave Dates app downloaded on their phones. “Everyone uses it. They request holiday on their phones and the production manager can see who’s on and off. We even get a daily email reminding us about who’s off that day.”
“If somebody’s off sick in the factory then the operations manager just marks them down as sick. We use it every day. It’s part of our day-to-day business now.”
Now in their third year of using Leave Dates, has it solved all their problems organising leave? “Yes, massively. Before, we were having to remember to email people to say, “Oh, you’ve got to make a note about this person being off”, things got lost, and now it’s just all in one place, it’s simplified and it’s much easier.”
And he is impressed with customer support, too: “Phil’s been great. Whenever I email Phil to say ‘I’m stuck with this, can you help me out?’, he comes straight back and says ‘just do it like this’ and he’s on it. Brilliant.”
Would Olly recommend Leave Dates? “Definitely, yes. I’ve already recommended it to a few of my friends who have their own businesses. It’s an easy system to learn, easy to use, all your staff will find it easy and it’ll make your lives a lot more organised.”
Just like their bespoke kitchen cabinets.