Over the course of almost thirty years, Neil Lerner has become a well-known name in kitchen design far beyond the North London market his design studio largely serves. Blending the German kitchen style of Häcker’s extensive product range with his own more bespoke tendencies to suit customers’ individual requirements, this is a business that has been built steadily over time on a foundation of recommendation and repeats business.
Formerly Sales Director at Bulthaup in the UK for three years, Lerner set up his own company in 1991 from a small showroom in Marylebone and the business soon expanded to take on a second location nearby. Then, around 12 years ago, Lerner spotted a shop that was being vacated on Finchley Road. “I drove up and down this road every day and spotted that there was some work being done in the shop. I came and had a look and decided straight away that this is where we needed to be.”
For Lerner’s business, the location has been key. This prime spot on Finchley Road, North London – originally one shop but which for a number of years now has been joined up to a neighbouring space – is not simply busy. The road carries 600,000 vehicles each week – 31m vehicles per year – making it one of the busiest non-motorway roads in Europe.
It is a TARDIS-like showroom in some respects, with a total of 10 kitchen displays concealed behind a comparatively modest-sized exterior. An early innovation for the showroom was the installation of a large, eye- catching 3m x 3m TV screen on the front of the building, attracting more attention and showing more kitchens than a single, relatively narrow shopfront would allow. “What you don’t get here is the kind of footfall that you might have somewhere like Wigmore Street for example, which is why we put in this big LED screen. It’s been so important over the past decade or so – people say ‘oh, you’re the showroom with the big screen’.”
The business has had a long partnership with German kitchen manufacturer Häcker, having been a dealer for the brand since day one. But far from simply being a place to go for anyone looking for a Häcker kitchen, Lerner has developed the Neil Lerner brand in its own right. “Estate agents and developers reference the fact that a property has a Neil Lerner kitchen, that’s the kind of progress we’ve made in terms of branding.
Given that changing dynamic, Lerner believes there are many opportunities ahead. “We’re making a fundamental change in the way we’re going forward. There is a shift in the market and people are becoming more discerning, wanting a different look, and we’re finding that we’re selling much higher priced kitchens than used to be the case.”
In order to expand its offering, Neil Lerner has now dedicated one-half of its showroom to the kitchens of Varenna, and the bedroom, dining room and living room furniture of Poliform. “It’s a big change for us because we’ve always been all about Häcker, but I feel you just need to look at these things and take on board that there is a sizable part of the market that is wanting a different look – more sleek and Italian in style. We’re also getting more people asking us for the bedroom and living area furniture, whether it’s dining room tables or TV areas.”
“Of course, we could do all this using Häcker furniture, but we just felt we wanted to be able to offer something different, and importantly, we wanted it to look very different. People can come in and see the difference between the Italian and German style.”
Lerner added: “Our aim was to achieve a real cross-section of doors, finishes, worktops and furniture so that we can inspire our clients visually with as many potential design options as possible. Even the lighting has been carefully selected throughout the showroom to demonstrate the breadth of expertise that we can now offer our clients to furnish their bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, and of course, kitchens.”
There remains a strong commitment to the German kitchen offering too, however. As well as the all-new Poliform/Varenna displays, the Neil Lerner own brand half of the equation has also been fully re-fitted with new Häcker-based displays. Lerner adds that this desire for something different stems in part from repeat customers. “Some clients are on their third or fourth kitchen from us. They say they want us to provide their new kitchen but that they want something really different, so instead of us trying to customise what we have, we felt it was the right time to also work with someone who could offer that very different look in a standard range.”
Look out for Part 2 of Neil Lerner’s insightful interview to learn more…Neil Lerner | neillerner.com