Monday, 15 April 2013


Recently my dear Father decided he needed a new mini kitchen. This was a wise decision as the one in situ at the time was very old and broken. God it was a mess. I applauded him for taking the initiative. I thought it was a great idea. We were going to construct it together in the typical Father and Son tradition. We could listen to Radio Four, drink tea and generally bond. It was going to be fun. It would be life affirming.

The following is an account of what occurred during that eight week period. It is written without exaggeration or bias. I encouraged my Father to keep a log of all his grievances and lucky for me he did. It's all there in his little book. Everything is described as it happened, with nothing omitted or embellished.

Our first step was to decide where we should buy the kitchen. We chose B&Q. Dad liked the look of the stuff and thought it was a good price. I've heard horror stories about B&Q kitchens but chose to believe that these were simply one-offs; nightmare scenarios that had been caused by sheer bad luck and incompetent DIYers. The exception rather than the rule. After all, surely a massive company, a household name, must offer a good service? Right? We weren't after a £20,000 custom built marble creation. Just a simple, wooden kitchen at  reasonable price. How could this be too much to ask?

We chose the kitchen. The parts were delivered and we set to work.

Immediately things were wrong. We couldn't fit the runners to the drawers because no holes had been drilled. The instructions clearly said that there should be precut holes in exactly the correct positions. It was printed clear as day. Alas, there were no holes. Balls. We were mildly perplexed but glad that there was a telephone helpline to assist us. Nobody answered so we left a message. Now, this is odd. We were ringing on a Saturday afternoon. Surely most people choose to do DIY at weekends? We couldn't understand why, on the most needy time of the entire week, nobody was around to answer the phone. It was okay though because they were going to phone us back. They're experts after all. All was well. We simply put the kettle on and waited for the call.

Nobody rang back.

We got sick of waiting. Time was marching on. We're both busy men. We used rulers, protractors, tape measures and spirit levels to try and figure out where the holes for the runners should be. It was impossible. You'd need a Cray supercomputer and a degree in trigonometry to fathom it. We trawled the web and found an obscure discussion on an even more obscure forum between people who had suffered the same problem. An engineer had actually found out the measurements and was kind enough to provide us with them. Thanks, whomever you are. We managed to bodge the cabinets together but nothing quite fit right. Every time we opened or closed a drawer we could see fresh metal shavings tumbling out of the runners. It wasn't good.

By this point I was annoyed. I don't like seeing loved ones stressed. It makes me stressed too. I sent a message to the B&Q customer service twitter account and a guy called Russ got back to me. Russ was good. I like Russ. He cared. He contacted the store to seek clarification about exactly what had happened. Turns out the lady who took our order at the Chester branch ordered the cabinets from a mix of different ranges. This was bad. This was the reason why nothing fit together. At last, an explanation. Things were being done. Excellent.

A lorry turned up to remove the cabinets that had been sent in error. The ones we had laboured over. It was a big lorry. Another lorry turned up to drop off the cabinets we should have received in the first place. That was a big lorry too.

A week went by.

We carried on work.

Again, problems. The drawer fronts didn't seem to fit the cabinets. We tried everything. The buggers just wouldn't go on. No escaping the fact that they just didn't fit. We rang the manufacturer. They ascertained that we had been sent the wrong ones. Interestingly, we had actually been sent the incorrect drawer fronts in the first (erroneous) delivery but had not got far enough to notice.  So effectively it was the second time this had happened. We told the store and they promised to send us the correct ones.

It was annoying but at least we could carry on. For a bit.

We noticed other things wrong too. The hinges. Where were the door hinges? We eagerly rang the store and asked. We were told that they must be ordered separately. Let's hear that again: they have to be ordered separately. This is perplexing for two reasons. Firstly, it's unusual that the hinges are not included with the units. I have literally never, ever encountered this before. Secondly, when we were ordering the kitchen this was never mentioned. How deeply, deeply weird. We were offered a free (normally £10) set of the required hinges and these were ordered. Well done B&Q.

Happiness. Progress could continue. We actually had the cabinets built and all drawers were present and correct. The fronts were still missing but at least the right ones were being sent to us. We were glad. Then something else occured to us: the cabinets we had bought were white. The little plastic plug things that hide the screw heads were grey. We rang to see if we could swap them and were told it was not possible. B&Q policy is to supply grey ones. This was confirmed by the Chester store and fulfillment centre. White not available. This is incredible. It's like buying a brand new car and then it being delivered with white-wall tyres, or buying a pair of brown Clarks shoes but being forced to have black laces.

Undeterred we ploughed on. The end was in sight. It was time for the sink to go in.

By this point we were wise to the fact parts were missing. We had started rigorously checking the contents of each new box as we opened it. I'm glad we did. They were mostly wrong. We were saddened to discover that the sink fitting kit was not included with our lovely new stainless steel sink. We queried this and were informed that it has to be ordered seperately. Again, when we were actually in the act of buying the kitchen nobody told us this. Fool us for not knowing! We really must pay more attention in future. There's us thinking that when buying a complete kitchen it would actually come with the parts to connect the sink up. Oh folly! We rang the store to see if we could buy one of these kits and were told they definitely had nineteen in stock. We drove there. They didn't have any. We had to drive to another store and get the kit. £10 plus travel.

So by this point the sink was installed. It was awkward but we managed. The new drawer fronts arrived. Excellent. Alas, we quickly realised that we needed to drill some extra holes to accommodate them. This was fine. We like a bit of light drilling. Problem was that the instructions made no mention of the holes or the required dimensions. How unusual. Andy - we were now on first name terms with him - the manager of the Chester branch, sent a foreman and fitter round to my Dad's house to see the problem. They quickly realised that we had been supplied with incorrect doors. They showed us how we could overcome this by redrilling the cabinets. They saw it as an exercise in problem solving and ignored the fact we had been given the wrong parts. Again.

By this time I was having regular contact with B&Q. I warned Russ that I was about to comprehensively list everything that had gone wrong in the most public way possible. I would go to Watchdog, Dominic Littlewood, local radio, the local paper. Anything. I was even ready to set up camp outside the store with a megaphone and sandwich board. It wasn't funny anymore.

We deserved some kind of gift. An apology for the stress caused.

They initially offered £20. I thought this was disgusting. Dad seemed reasonably happy though. We waited three weeks for the gift card to arrive. It never did. We complained. We offered to collect the gift card at the store and they said yes. We collected the gift card. We went to use it a week later and it was blank. Nada. Nothing. We complained again. They offered us £50. The manager met Dad at the Chester store and physically put the gift card in his hand for the second time. I should note that at this time Andy said to my Father "Oh Mr Stearne, you have no luck do you." and then laughed. He treated it as a joke. He implied that my Father's misfortune was to blame and that he or his store were not fully responsible. But they are. Completely and utterly.

I will not allow any family member to use B&Q ever again. The worrying part is that multiple failures have happened from all over the company. It's not confined to one department or team. The absolute basics; providing a disgruntled customer with the compensation they were promised, took a month and three attempts. The burden was placed on us. It's sad because we weren't dificult or demanding customers, we just wanted to buy a simple kitchen to fit ourselves. A job that should have taken a weekend took eight weeks. Confusingly my local branch, Ellesmere Port, is simply wonderful. I have a spent a lot of money and many hours of my time there over the past six months.  Their customer service is simply brilliant and I cannot commend the management team highly enough. A shining example of how things can and should be done. But I won't be going back.

The culture of a store can be so utterly different depending on who is in charge. Clearly a lot of things are going wrong at B&Q and it's not good.

For the record; I recently installed a kitchen in my new house. I went to IKEA.They were brilliant.