Perennial Kitchens was started in January 1996 by Directors Peter Schelfhout and Michael Simpson. We sat down with them to talk about the ins and outs of running a successful design and manufacturing business.
CONGRATULATIONS on 20 years of successful business together!
So, take us back. How did it all begin?
We met at Woodcraft Cabinets where we both did our apprenticeships in cabinet making. We had actually gone to the same high school but did not know each other as Peter was 2 years ahead of me (Michael). We started off doing small jobs for friends and family to supplement our incomes. Given we lived in close proximity, we were also socialising together; camping and fitness training being similar interests. For us, it just made sense that we would work together on these small jobs so we could both earn the extra money.
After we finished our apprenticeships, we got jobs with different cabinet companies but maintained working together on the small jobs out of Peter’s garage. We would be up most nights till very late (or early) doing this private work; working 90 hour weeks were common.
How long did it take before the private business you were doing became consistent enough that you could rely solely on Perennial Kitchens?
In 1997, Perennial Kitchens had secured regular work with a couple of small builders. This meant it was becoming difficult to balance both our full time jobs with our growing business. It was then that we made the decision to leave the safety of our regular jobs and start working full time in our own business. An exciting, yet nerve wracking day!
Tell us about your first official Perennial Kitchens job.
From memory, it was an architectural kitchen for a builder. The job was on Park St in Brunswick. We were installing late one night using a hammer drill until the neighbour came in at 1am and asked us politely to “give it a rest”. Fair enough too! Haha!
You launched The Kitchen Design Centre (TKDC) in 2009, why then and what was the purpose of separating it from Perennial Kitchens?
The Kitchen Design Centre started as a collaboration with John Crooks. We had been working very closely with John over the years as he was bringing us work for the domestic kitchen market. Perennial Kitchens was already loosely in the domestic market at the time but builders work was certainly our main staple. We were interested in taking the domestic work to the next level so, with the help of John Crooks, we decided to open our first TKDC showroom in Eltham. Since the purpose of TKDC was to solely focus on the domestic market, it was going to require a much more personal service through a Kitchen Designer. Keeping Perennial Kitchens separate from TKDC made sense as they serve different purposes however; all TKDC kitchens are manufactured by Perennial Kitchens. Two years after starting TKDC, John sold his share of the business to us but remains one of our top Kitchen Designers at The Kitchen Design Centre. In 2012, we opened the TKDC showroom in Blackburn which has been a huge asset to our business. Now, across the two locations, we have 14 full-sized kitchens on display demonstrating some of the most innovative products on the market.
Because you were friends before you were business partner, do you have any cautions against or advice for going into business with a friend?
The biggest one would be to not take one another for granted. Appreciate the value that each person brings to the business and always be honest with each other. Talk often! Communication is the key, without a doubt.
What is the best and most difficult thing about having your own business?
The best (and sometimes hardest) would be; knowing that the more you put into it the more you get out. Seeing ideas implemented that change your business in a positive way is really exciting.
The most difficult part is; knowing that the decisions you make not only affect the business but also all of its employees. As business partners, we are able to balance each other out which usually means we make good decisions together.
How do you agree on the division of management/leadership responsibilities?
Because both of the businesses are living things: ever growing and changing, so too do our roles. We do have different areas that we individually focus our attention on but even then all of the major decisions are discussed and decided on together. Regular meetings and phone calls about what is best for the companies and for us as individuals at that particular time helps us make sure we get the right outcomes.
What’s your advice to someone who would potentially like to start their own business?
I would always encourage anyone thinking of starting their own business to do so. Back yourself and take the chance! Be patient, build up slowly and don’t expect things to happen too quickly. Don’t be scared to take risks, you will make mistakes but the experience you gain from them will serve you well in the future.
What are your plans for the future of the business? Where would you like to see it in 5-10 years?
Currently, we’re happy with where things are at but the long term goal would be to open a third showroom for The Kitchen Design Centre which would, in turn, grow Perennial Kitchens.
What is your biggest success or achievement with the business to date? What is the proudest moment for you?
Michael – for me the biggest achievement was opening our second TKDC showroom and watching it flourish to where it is now. It was a huge risk to take at the time in such a fragile market but we had faith in our abilities and those of our employees. It proved to be a great decision with the official opening of the Blackburn Showroom being my proudest moment.
Peter – My biggest achievement is that both Michael and I were able to take a step back from Perennial Kitchens after many years of implementing procedures, check measures and manufacturing. The daily running of Perennial Kitchen is taken care of by an incredible team which allows us to watch and enjoy. The additional benefit is being able to focus on The Kitchen Design Centre as a business now and designing kitchens for the domestic market which we both really enjoy.