Gerry Watson and Paul O’Brien.



What is your business called?

Kitchens International.

Where is it based?

Head Office is Broxburn, with further showrooms in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Tillicoultry and Aberdeen.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Kitchens International is the UK’s largest independent luxury kitchen retailer. We have a comprehensive collection of kitchen products and can outsource specific one-off products for our clients. We have strong partner relationships with Europe’s top kitchen brands.

To whom does it sell?

A range of customers including people who are refurbishing their properties, developers and restaurants.

What is its turnover?

£11 million.

How many employees?


When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

In some ways it was more a leap of faith than a plunge, as redundancy forced us to take the decision to set up our own business.

Our previous employer, C&J Brown, sadly went into liquidation in July 1994 taking down with it the kitchen department where we both worked. In the months prior to opening our first branch of Kitchens International we worked closely with the Kitchen Bathroom and Bedroom Association to fulfil every outstanding pre-existing C&J Brown kitchen client that needed their projects finished. This allowed us to establish strong relationships with suppliers.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Before C&J Brown, we met and worked together at Magnet. Paul had previously been a professional footballer, starting out in the late 70s with Dundee United and going on to play for Hearts and St Johnstone.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Our respective families were very generous and invested in the business at the very start. We also had great support from some key suppliers.

What was your biggest break?

Although it didn’t seem like it at the time our biggest break was being asked to complete C&J Brown’s projects. We managed to turn round from the despondency of redundancy and make it work for us with our own business.

What was your worst moment?

With the housing market steaming ahead in 2006 and KI winning new flagship developments all over Scotland we decided the timing was right to fast track our expansion plans by creating retail studios from the South West of Scotland to the North East. At the same time we bought a new 12,000 Sq ft logistics centre and head office in Broxburn to support our growth and maintain our focus on service and quality. After the subsequent housing market downturn a very bumpy 18 months ensued. However, with the benefit of hindsight we can see so many lessons learnt, that could only have happened if we had gone through that experience.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The independence of running our own business. Whatever decisions we make we must stand by, which can be daunting but so satisfying when everything goes well. We also enjoy the relationships we build up with clients and suppliers. Watching our staff grow and develop has been very satisfying. We recruit young talented graduate designers and offer apprenticeships to young installers. The vast percentage of our senior management team have progressed from within our ranks.

What do you least enjoy?

Needless bureaucracy and red tape. The rules and regulations of our industry can be so overwhelming that it can interfere with what should be a straightforward process.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Lack of recognition and support for the kitchen industry in terms of national training and Government support. At college and university you can learn every skill, except kitchen design. Since the kitchen design and retail industry is not classed as manufacturing or construction but more as retailing it is not eligible for support from local authorities, government or grants. Despite this we have to pay construction industry taxes and comply with all their health and safety rules.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We have outlets in Scotland, but are doing work all over the UK, with a few luxury projects in mainland Europe, so it’s possible we may even venture into opening new showrooms. Our commercial division is relatively new and we have exciting plans for that market sector.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Provide better recognition and support for small businesses. We are a successful Scottish company but get little recognition for that. We believe that SMEs are essential to the stability of the Scottish economy and bring in significant revenue to the government.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Set the context for discussions. As close friends, co-directors, and shareholders it is vital to establish what hat you’re wearing at each given point.

How do you relax?

I enjoy spending time with my partner, my family and grand kids. To keep fit I enjoy cycling road and mountain biking, running, 5 aside along with the occasional game of golf. Paul loves playing the guitar and piano as it’s a complete release. He used to gig with his brother and is keen to get back to playing live again. It’s not exactly relaxing but its great fun!