It’s probably safe to say that an interviewee citing Kung Fu Panda as a business influence is a TTJ first. But a mantra of Jamie Everett, founder of Naked Kitchens, is that his customers, like Po the cartoon panda, are seeking the ‘secret sauce’. This turns out in the film to be self-belief. And Mr Everett maintains, success in the market today is about reinforcing just that in buyers; a confidence that they have made the right decision in installing a Naked Kitchen, that it’s something special. That “every time they go into it, they feel it reflecting their moods and aspiration and think ‘Wow! We made a good choice’”.

Consumers today are much more savvy. They know a lot more about defining their personal space and they’re less convinced by the suppliers trotting out the same old line; ‘quality kitchens and lovely people to deal with’,” said Mr Everett. “They want a deeper reason to buy than a bog-standard list of all the kitchen’s features and benefits. We need to give them something at a much more charismatic level.”

Sounds a bit esoteric maybe. But what it translates to for the kitchen business, he adds, is differentiation; something that sets it apart in its segment of the market. Hence the vintage jet fighter in a Naked kitchen in one of its latest adverts – of which more below.

The bottom line is that the company is “having an absolutely storming time” in a kitchen market that’s already increasingly challenging and set to become more so given still high interest rates and inflation. That’s not to mention national uncertainties, with an upcoming election, and continuing wider geopolitical anxieties.

Eighty percent of clients are including natural look materials in prominent parts of the kitchen

“I look at a lot of market indicators and how other market participants are faring,” said Mr Everett. “It convinces me that any company without a well-defined position in their segment is facing a lot of stress. Those with just a fairly homogenised offering are going to have a very bad 2024.”

Over the last year, Naked Kitchens has further stepped up its efforts to stand out, with a brand refresh and new marketing campaign. Its tagline is now ‘Built for life’. That’s not just emphasising durability, but that its kitchens are designed and made to cope with the changing demands of everyday living.

“We want to embrace the chaos of the kitchen; the highs and lows played out there,” said Mr Everett.

This translates into Naked’s new adverts, featuring online and in lead home style publications, including Homes and Gardens, House and Garden and Elle Interiors. These include the image of the kitchen with the jet – bought from the set of the new John Travolta movie The Shepherd. Others show kitchens variously swarming with dogs, full of plants and with famous works of art on the walls.

“Our marketing agency looked at competitors’ marketing, with shots of their picture-perfect sterile kitchens, and said ‘who actually lives there’,” said Mr Everett. “We’re showing kitchens people live in, asking what if people are mad about dogs, or planes or plants, stressing how far you can take it. We want to really get clients going and thinking these other kitchens look pretty dull.”

The company has also focused on efficiency and competitiveness.

“In the space we operate, clients have the money, but they’re ever more savvy about how they spend it. They demand value,” said Mr Everett. “And if you drill down and compare like-for-like with our producer peer group, we are very competitive.”

This is achieved, he added, through the manufacturing strategy.

“Everything the customer touches in our kitchens, the finish, is the product of manual craft skills, but 80% of the manufacturing process is automated and mechanised,” he said. “In the last three years we’ve invested £3m in new technology, latest timber processing machines, robot handling. It’s delivered great stackable efficiencies, while making a hell of a difference to accuracy.”

As for materials, Naked uses all solid timber and real timber veneers on Finsa plywood and moisture resistant MDF. Species include walnut, maple, and a small percentage of other varieties – some clients supply their own wood, including one who brought in elm for a 3.5in-thick worktop. But oak is dominant, solid from the US and veneer from sources including Croatia and Ukraine.

“There are so many positive connotations with oak; the aesthetic and durability,” said Mr Everett.

Naked has had to pass on some cost increases in the current economic climate, but managed to ride out the most extreme fluctuations in timber prices in the last three years. “With Brexit, we got into the habit of buying lots of stock – everything from timber to drawer runners – as we saw supply issues coming. And these were heightened by Covid,” said Mr Everett. “That’s served us brilliantly well. We haven’t failed to deliver a kitchen for want of a hinge. In timber we’re sitting on about 450m3 of oak and 50,000m2 of veneers.”

Naked sets out to “embrace the chaos of the kitchen”

Ever more important when it comes to wood for kitchens, he added, is assured sustainability.

“It’s a must for us and clients – and anyone not swimming with that tide is nuts,” he said. “We’re now working a lot more with architects and designers and they are especially focused on environmental issues. When we tell them we’re all over it, there’s a palpable sigh of relief.”

For Naked, sustainability means also steering clear of ‘exotic’ species. “As far as US oak is concerned, what we buy may not all be FSC, but it has other forms of assurance, and the whole structure of the timber industry in America is clearly more than sustainable,” said Mr Everett. “But, while you may get certified from the tropics, in the back of our minds that can be certified on paper only.”

In terms of kitchen style, the natural aesthetic is a key. “Even where clients want a sleek, urban look, 80% are including natural look materials in prominent parts of the kitchen,” said Mr Everett. “As for colours, we went green two years ago and now that’s mainstream. We see the coming trend as nature-inspired pastels. Stains are also big, but not standard types. Our supplier has products that change the patina and shading of wood. It’s very cool.”

So, while there may be troubles ahead for the wider kitchen market, Naked Kitchens is confident about its prospects ploughing its Kung Fu Panda-shaped furrow. Making that patently clear, it’s increased its workforce by 30% in the last year. That included doubling its team of designers. Now it’s looking for six more.