Our appliances are made by third party suppliers to our specifications. We have always worked in partnership with our suppliers to improve the energy performance of our appliances, and each year this brings improvements in different product categories. Highlights in 2016 are:
Our end-users' demands are changing all the time and we need to make sure that our builder-customers can offer a Howdens product to meet those demands. People want the highest levels of quality, safety and design, and the lowest energy consumption, at the best price. We have a rolling development programme with our main appliance suppliers where we look forward three to five years to develop our products for the future. Together, we are planning tomorrow's energy savings today.
Offering our customers no-call-back quality kitchen and joinery is part of our mission statement. We manufacture all of our cabinets ourselves, which means that we have direct control of their quality and can be confident in offering a 25 year guarantee on them.
We test the durability of our manufactured products by subjecting them to a range of tests intended to represent the challenges of a real kitchen. For example, we test the durability of their surfaces by covering them with everyday household products, from bleach and other cleaning products, to curry powder and red wine. We "slam test" doors and drawers up to 10,000 times, we put excessive weights on hinged cabinet doors to represent the action of someone using the door to pull themselves up from floor level, and we put half-tonne weights on the shelves of our tall cabinets to represent a fully laden fridge freezer.
Our suppliers test all of our Lamona appliances in their own laboratories. Their testing is accredited by independent third parties, so we already know that these products pass all the required safety directives. In addition we test all Lamona products in an independent test facility. This gives us extra assurance as well as simulating four years usage in a home environment. We also put our kitchens and appliances into Liverpool John Moores University teaching kitchens where students put them through their paces every day and give us direct feedback on their performance.
We design safety features into the products we make ourselves, and we carefully select bought-in product from reputable sources and then we carry out additional safety testing before we sell it to our customers.
As an example of safe bought-in product, our Lamona tumble dryers have always been designed so that the heating element and the main airflow are separated. This is to prevent excess fluff coming into contact with the heating element and potentially catching fire.
It's important to us to do as much as we can to trace the ownership of our appliances, in case we ever have a product recall. We have installed scanners at all of our depots, so that we have a record of which items have been sold to which builder-customer. We're also working hard to encourage the domestic end-user to register their products so that we can support them if the need ever arises.
In 2016 we have:
We're also working with the UK trade association for domestic appliance manufacturers to see what else we can do to encourage end-users to register their appliances.
Our business model is designed to have the greatest positive impact on our customers' businesses. Around 400,000 small builders have trade accounts with us, and we offer each of those businesses the same high levels of service and support.
Small builders are typically managing more than one project at the same time. They may have to change priorities and reschedule work at short notice because their customers need them to. Managing that complexity can be a headache, but our unique business model is developed to support them.
Because we have invested in being an in-stock business, a builder can come into the depot and take away a complete kitchen to start work that same day if they need to. We can also offer delivery onsite at a time to suit the builder's schedule. Time is money, and we have spent our money to give the builder more time. Being in stock also allows us to swap product if the end-user changes their mind.
We support the builder's business by offering them trade accounts with nett monthly payment terms. This means that the builder can be paid for the completed job before they need to pay us. During our peak trading period in 2016 we made £220m of working capital available to our customers in this way.
We also offer a high level of support to the builder's customer, the end-user. Firstly, we invest in offering a wide selection of different kitchen ranges. We offer different styles, colours and price points, so that the builder can offer their customer choice and personalisation.
Secondly, we offer specialised support in planning the ideal kitchen. Our designers will go out to the end-user's home, for free and at a time which suits them, to measure the space and discuss options. We will then produce state of the art 3D kitchen design plans that the end-user can view at their leisure and discuss with their builder, friends and family.
We also stand by our products once the builder has installed them. Our aftersales service will work directly with the builder's customer to resolve any questions. An end-user can phone our helpline or can go into their local depot. We can send locally-based engineers to deal with any appliance issues quickly and efficiently.