Benchmarx Kitchens and Joinery
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Review of "Benchmarx Kitchens and Joinery"
++ "RICHADA" possibly looking for a new outlet - suggestions in a GB please! ++ Any takers for the theory that WITHOUT remuneration Ciao! could actually be a better consumer review site????? Just an 'out loud' thought here...... ++
Carrying out our customary on-line research prior to buying our new kitchen threw up very little about Benchmarx, a relatively new option in the well-populated kitchen market. This could well be the first, or only, review that you have read about this company. I sincerely hope that if you are about to spend a substantial sum of money on a new kitchen that it proves of some use to you.
Set up only in 2006, Benchmarx have rapidly expanded, appearing in most Travis Perkins sites across the country. I counted a total of 86 Benchmarx showrooms – you are probably no further away from one than from your nearest Travis Perkins branch.
INSERT SITE STILL “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” IKON HERE......
......The commencement of writing a review on a product actually still under construction may strike one as a touch odd; however, prevailing circumstances have induced me to do just that. In life I go by the mantra that, when judging a company’s performance, it is not what they do right that scores the points, but how, inevitably these days, when things go wrong, they sort them out. Right now, as I write these words, our new kitchen is indeed still a building site – very much work in progress.
THE THIRD MOST EXPENSIVE PURCHASE OF MY LIFE
.....a house, a car (many cars in times of old!) and now this, the first time that we have purchased a new kitchen. I hope in light of the value, and length of time that a kitchen will serve, you will bear with the length and complexity of this review.
BENCHMARX? NEVER HEARD OF THEM? NOR HAD WE!
Having undertaken a much larger building project than we had ever anticipated, we realised that, in order to insert a staircase in the hall of our bungalow, in its’ virtual conversion into a house, major changes were also going to have to occur downstairs. Whilst our small, almost windowless, kitchen could be deemed acceptable in a two bedroom bungalow, in a much larger four bedroom house, this would simply not be the case. Thanks to shifting the bathroom upstairs and installing a shower room in a front extension downstairs, we were able to almost double the size of our kitchen by knocking through into what was previously the bathroom. This also gave the kitchen a proper external window. Come the day that the stairs were installed, the wall from the hall also had to come down, leaving us with a slightly unconventional open hall / kitchen / bathroom arrangement. With a pile of rubble on the floor of what, the day before, had been our kitchen and bathroom......
......our builder suggested that now might just be a good time to go out and order a new kitchen.
Naturally we had done a fair degree of legwork prior to that day, having already discounted the likes of B&Q and Homebase – they did not have what we were looking for in style or specification terms - also having dismissed, on pure cost grounds, the “bespoke” route, we were left with Magnet, Wickes and a “trade only” kitchen company that we had stumbled on by complete accident – Benchmarx.
Being part of the Travis Perkins group, City Plumbing Supplies also share Travis Perkins site, we were actually on a completely different mission sourcing bath and shower room fittings when we spotted the small Benchmarx showroom nestled on the left hand side of the large City Plumbing shed opposite Shoreham Docks on the A259 to the west of Brighton.
THE GENTLE SALES PITCH 10 / 10
We met the amiable Chris Appleby in the showroom, a gentleman salesman of the old school, who laid our reservations very quickly to rest about buying a kitchen from a completely unknown supplier. As luck would have it, he had worked as a kitchen designer for Wickes for many years and knew their products – and the trade – inside out. This actually proved very advantageous to us as customers. The first time that we met him we had a gut feeling that he and Benchmarx would be providing our new kitchen.
Not only were we reassured that, as part of the Travis Perkins Group, Benchmarx had a sense of permanency about them (kitchen companies have been known to go broke taking plenty of customer’s money with them), but also with quoted delivery times in the region of four days, any financial risk on the part of the customer is minimised. I actually thought this four day delivery promise – especially on a complex kitchen like ours – a bit far-fetched at the time; however the boast proved (almost) to be reality, so five stars there!
We did not, eventually, get a quote from Magnet, but we did from both Wickes and Benchmarx – on what, as it turned out, was to be the same kitchen, only the Benchmarx design simply worked and the Wickes one did not. More to the point, for most I suspect, is that Benchmarx proved in all-round value terms to offer vastly more for the money, our builders had advised us to haggle “hard” on any kitchen, in a sense it was not that hard work – Mrs R having printed up internet prices of the appliances - Benchmarx even came very close to matching those so we ended up ordering the kitchen complete from them. In spite of Wickes’ promotional 50% off plus 15% (just how low can you go on a kitchen unit?) Chris at Benchmarx made little fuss about beating their quote on the units.
HOW EASY IS IT TO DEAL WITH A “TRADE ONLY” OUTFIT? 10 / 10
Obviously I am unable to speak about their many other branches, but at Shoreham, we found Benchmarx, probably thanks to Chris’ accommodating attitude, easier and more friendly to deal with than Wickes, or indeed the DIY stores which we had already visited and discounted.
Yes, Benchmarx is nominally a trade kitchen supplier, although in our case we were set up, without fuss as customers – Chris having realised that we were not going to DIY fit the kitchen, indeed, via our main building contractor, we had already on site a specialised team of kitchen and bathroom fitters. I was expecting to have to deal through our builders Travis Perkins account, in the event the whole thing was done, just as it would have been elsewhere, through my personal credit card.
As a bonus, this being a much smaller, yet better equipped than the much larger Wickes, showroom, there was something far more personal about the service.
THE DESIGN STAGE 10 / 10
As with any such project, you have to design it first, before it can be costed. The Wickes and Benchmarx process is identical here. You visit the showroom, admire all the lovely room settings and make your choice - only we didn’t as we already had only one kitchen in mind, a cream handle-less one that we had actually first seen in Wickes last year. In the Benchmarx showroom they had the identical kitchen on display, but in white. On the strength of that, we made a separate appointment to sit down with Chris for an hour to design our kitchen.
Before setting about designing the new kitchen, Chris (as did the designer from Wickes) arranged to visit us and take detailed measurements - indeed he ended up making two visits - before and after the bathroom wall came down.
The appointment actually lasted two hours, ours is not an easy kitchen shape and, larger as it now is, we did not have the wall space required to get both a dishwasher and washing machine in. Nor could we fit standard 600mm units in facing one another – one side of our kitchen had to have wall units (300mm depth) facing 600mm ones, although the lack of protruding handles actually made this arrangement work very well. Regrettably, even with our small extension at the front we had no space for a washing machine in the shower room, so eventually, having thought long and hard about it, sacrificed the dishwasher – we have had one for the last eleven years and in that time used it twice – not much of a sacrifice therefore.
After Chris did the initial design, he emailed both plan and 3-D images to us for consideration. The initial design was not really what we were after, but, on the second appointment, proved an excellent basis from which to design the kitchen that we really did want. On paper at least, we were convinced that thanks to Benchmarx and, in particular, Chris’ design skills, we had our ideal kitchen, given the shape and space constraints involved.
As well as purely designing the shape and choosing the format of the units – you will end up with a unique design, no two kitchens will ever be the same – decisions also have to be made over the specification and make (determining price!) of the electrical appliances. The very comprehensive Benchmarx catalogue lists three different options for each appliance, a lower, mid range and premium price appliance – although even within those boundaries I found the choice of different oven / grill / double oven (etc!) options bewildering. Making things easier at this stage was that before we even chose the kitchen supplier, we had already chosen the appliances, which, in turn, helped Chris in design and specification terms.
THE COST / PAYMENT 7 /10
I am not going to reveal what we paid for our kitchen, without listing the dozens of separate items on the invoice it would not mean a lot to the reader here anyway. Chris, having designed it, the computer then generates a bill of materials – a parts list if you like – all of which are costed. This is the stage at which you start haggling down the price. We saw ours come down substantially at this point, until it fell, overall – including the worktops – just - into my budgeted figure.
Incidentally, the total was, once Wickes fitting costs had been taken into account (we were paying our own fitters), about £3000 less than the “all in” quote provided by Wickes – more importantly, from Benchmarx we got the kitchen that we wanted, rather than a far less well equipped one that the Wickes designer said was the best he could do with the given space.
Unless you are a tradesman and have a BIG credit limit on a Travis Perkins account, being a trade only supplier means that, at Benchmarx, you need the means to pay for your kitchen “up-front”. With their speed of delivery, you will not have time to set up funds between ordering and payment either. Most of the traditional kitchen companies will be able to lay on some form of easy terms – in some cases you may even find an interest free finance deal on offer – which in our case would have been very tempting indeed. As it was, thanks to covering it on equity mortgage funds we were cash buyers and able to complete the purchase using our credit card, lots of points then with which to feed my beloved Goldfish Card!
THE DELIVERY 7 / 10
Unfortunately, I was at work four days later when our kitchen was delivered. Our builder said he needed the kitchen there by 26th March in order to start fitting, it arrived, as promised by Benchmarx, the previous Friday morning.
Although I was not there to see it, this was no ‘drop and go’ exercise on the drivers part. My wife, who was there to accept delivery of our new kitchen – albeit into the garage at the bottom of the garden, said that the “very nice” delivery man was extremely thorough in checking every package according to the invoice. He was also most concerned that our precious and fragile hob – an induction model, was placed safely indoors out of harm’s way. The microwave and cooker hood were given similar protective treatment, whilst the larger and heavier double oven and washing machine were left to wait their turn in the garage. I have never seen the garage so full – there was not room left to squeeze a bicycle in there, let alone my car.
In our case, unfortunately, Benchmarx failed on one of their key promises: “Reliable deliveries. On Time. In Full”. Once the whole kit was assembled in the kitchen one unit door and a set of feet were missing, the feet were delivered later the same day, the door went on back order for delivery on Monday – 4 working days later. Thanks to using Yodel, my courier of the last resort (yes we have suffered in their incompetent hands before), both the missing door and replacements for damaged wine racks (more anon) failed to turn up on the promised day.
Benchmarx proved that within their own capabilities, they are able to deliver on their promise – a stainless steel microwave replacement for an incorrectly ordered and delivered white one was indeed delivered, as promised, on the Monday, four working days later.
THE PACKAGING. 7 / 10
Obviously there is a slightly grey area here as one does not know the precise condition the units and accessories were in prior to being packed and despatched. Sitting in the garage, our new kitchen appeared to be extremely well protected from knocks and scuffs – indeed that is the way the majority of it was as, unit by unit, the fitters unpacked it in the empty space soon to be transformed into our kitchen.
However, on close inspection there was a gouge on a corner unit – invisible once the door is closed and the worktop sealed over the top of it, but more concerning, both wine racks were visibly damaged on their faces – a case for replacement.
Thorough packaging and environmental friendliness do not go completely hand in hand, the amount of packaging left over once the whole lot was unwrapped exceeded the height of the garden fence!
However, considering the large number of components involved, three tiny areas of damage I felt to be more than acceptable.
This being a high gloss kitchen, I particularly appreciated the fact that all of the flat surfaces, drawer fronts and doors primarily, are covered in plastic covers, this is extremely useful as protection whilst the remainder of the kitchen is fitted.
THE ASSEMBLY & UNIT QUALITY 8 / 10
Admittedly, this is where writing such a review at this time falls down. Ideally I would like to tell you that our Benchmarx kitchen has been fitted for ten years and has proved faultless. I am obviously unable to do that – and from the lack of information online about Benchmarx, I suspect that, on this score, this review is going to, for the time being, be about as good as it gets. The truth is that being set up in 2006, NOBODY has ten years experience with a Benchmarx kitchen. However, if it is any consolation the units used are manufactured alongside the Wickes ones – they in turn have a reputation for being the best of the non-bespoke units.
All Benchmarx cabinets carry a lifetime guarantee. Drawer boxes and runners, hinges, unit legs, hanging brackets and shelf supports carry 25 years cover, whilst the drawer, door fronts, handles and knobs come with a five year guarantee.
Unlike our previous, 25 year old, DIY installed, Wickes kitchen, the new one is very obviously made of sterner stuff. Not only are the units themselves sturdy, but so are their legs, bracketary and hinges.
One of Benchmarx boasts is that all of their units are ‘soft close’; this in itself bodes well for the longevity of our new kitchen as it reduces the stress on doors, hinges and drawers.
There is something in the argument that a good fitter can make the best of a poor quality kitchen, whilst a poor fitter can do the reverse for a very expensive one – our main fitter was actually delighted that the majority of the units are delivered as pre-assembled carcasses, as opposed to flat packed from the majority of kitchen companies. For obvious reasons, the big larder units do come flat packed, ours are to contain the cooker and microwave, but their assembly took place remarkably quickly. Certainly everything appeared to align properly first time and very little jiggery pockery took place on the part of the fitters.
THE ODD SCREW SHORT OF A MECCANO SET? 7 / 10
Chris was rather more concerned, mortified indeed, about the missing and damaged parts than we were. Our kitchen fitters had already informed us that with such a complex kit of parts, there are always, no matter who supplies the kitchen, parts missing: “better than most” was their verdict here on Benchmarx performance.
WHEN THINGS DO GO WRONG, ARE YOU LEFT HIGH AND DRY? 10 /10
One major hiccup has proven to be the pull out basket units. These are narrow wire baskets – primarily used to fill in spaces between the main units. We actually have three of them and they were all afflicted with the same design fault. Unacceptably stiff to operate, once the handle-less fronts are screwed onto them they simply do not work as intended, having a massive resistance to initial movement and then, once forced open refusing to ‘soft-close’ without an almighty push. To my frustration, the ones in the showroom worked perfectly......a swift call to Chris at Benchmarx explained why......
......”oh those in the showroom are much more expensive units – about £90 more each – we don’t sell many like that.” Chris went on to say that he had only had one other complaint – and had to replace a door front, but that he would look into it and let us know. The following day when he spoke to my wife, having rung around, he had discovered that this is a recent issue that had been referred back to head office – both Benchmarks and Wickes were withdrawing them from sale and he had been instructed to replace ours, free of charge, with the more expensive ones......
......which he duly drove all the way to the Tunbridge Wells depot in order to collect himself and deliver to us in person.
Ten out of Ten for Chris’ personal service, the man is a rare marvel in this day and age of routinely poor service.
The wine racks proved rather more problematical – the replacements, when they eventually arrived, also being slightly damaged, we decided to leave the best of our two existing ones in-situ and replace the more obviously damaged unit with one of the replacements.
What about the worktops I hear you ask! Well, thanks to the Easter holiday, this job, subcontracted by Benchmarx to a specialist stone company, was rather delayed and has yet to be completed. Before fitting the worktops, a specialist has to visit to template the units in the kitchen. The templating was carried out without fuss by another very pleasant and competent man, and we now await the fitting - a week to ten days separating these two events. Naturally, the kitchen remains pretty much unusable as without the worktops in place, neither the sink nor the hob can be installed.
CONCLUSION – IF BUYING A NEW KITCHEN TOMORROW, WOULD I GO BACK TO BENCHMARX? 9 / 10
An unequivocal yes to that question!
If all of Benchmarx staff at all of their depots and showrooms are of the calibre of Chris Appleby, the delivery driver (whose name sadly I don’t have) and Matt at the Brighton depot, then you can be assured of a first rate service.
A kitchen is a substantial investment – indeed the majority of people do pay less for the family car than we have spent on this kitchen, but then, if you want it to last, buying the best you can afford should prove a good investment. Having someone like Chris Appleby on side to help you do that, undoubtedly takes the sting out of what could prove to be a fairly traumatic process.
Regrettably, unlike when reviewing cars, I am unable to give you any comparative data between various kitchen suppliers, for us, I rather suspect that this may prove a once in a lifetime purchase!
RICHADA’s VERDICT – an 85% score and that is not just my verdict either - our main builder remarked that he is most likely to source the kitchen for his new house from Benchmarx - a company that, until fitting ours, he had never heard of either!
Our builder did indeed order his new kitchen from the Brighton branch of Benchmarx and, as far as we know, is as satisfied as we are with it.
Product Information : Benchmarx Kitchens and Joinery
Manufacturer's product descriptionKitchen Company
Type: Kitchen Company
Listed on Ciao since: 30/03/2012