Top Franchisee Shortlisted For Major Industry Award

Home improvement retailer Peter Morrison, who has showrooms in Trumpington, Cambridge and Brentwood, Essex, has been shortlisted for the finals of the prestigious bfa/HSBC Franchisee of the Year 2010 award.  Peter is a franchisee of the Granite Transformations retail brand, one of around 20 in this country and 160 worldwide, and was encouraged to submit an entry by the European franchisor, Rocksolid Granit. His entry has been assessed by a judging panel headed by Sir Bernard Ingham, former Press Secretary to Margaret Thatcher and today President of the British Franchise Association, and was found to be among the top 16 finalists ‘all encapsulating the best qualities in franchising’.

“What distinguishes Peter’s franchise operation is a clear focus on maximising net profit and managing every aspect of cost,” says Rocksolid Granit’s Chief Operating Officer, Danny Hanlon. “Our Granite Transformations franchise business involves the fabrication of worktops, the fitting of these surfaces and replacement kitchen doors, and marketing the brand within designated postcode territories. He has cut costs and improved efficiency in every one these areas, always looking to refine procedures and reduce waste, and developed some innovative marketing ideas. His turnover now exceeds the £1 million mark and, at the same time, he has managed to reduce his customer call-back ratio, for snagging and minor complaints, to one of the lowest in the network. So he has achieved success in both directions and has a high rate of word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients.”

Franchising is an increasingly important sector of the UK economy, contributing in excess of £11 billion annually, and attracts enterprising people who want the independence of running their own businesses, but the reassurance of operating within a proven business model and marketing a tried and tested brand. In America, franchising now accounts for half of all retail sales and, in this country, the franchise sector has grown ten-fold since 1984, covering almost every imaginable business type and many of the best known high street names.

Peter Morrison, his wife Helen and brother Henry first got into franchising as a family business in 2003 and they now run two successful showrooms, the original location in Trumpington and a relatively new site in Brentwood. They retail Granite Transformations worktops, unique surfaces that fit over existing kitchen counters, although replacement doors and drawers have now been added to the product offering. Both showrooms’ catchment areas pretty well match the demographics of their target customers, namely older, more upmarket homeowners.

“I’d been in IT recruitment before, selling mainly business-to-business, but a colleague went into estate agency and I rather fancied the idea of dealing with the public on a daily basis too,” says Peter. “Then a good friend, Gavin Whittaker, the original UK Granite Transformations franchisee, told me about the unique ‘top that fits on top’ concept and I realised the only way we could get into this brand was through the franchising route, because there really wasn’t another product on the market like it.”

Just seven years on, the Morrisons are now amongst the most successful and profitable Granite Transformations UK franchises. They have demonstrated consistent year-on-year growth and recorded a particularly high rate of first-time closures, when their sales people visit customers’ homes.

“We have a clear business focus on maximising profit and managing costs,” he says. “Take our workshops in Sawston, for example, where my brother Henry and his team are always looking to improve productivity, maximise the efficiency of material usage and reduce the level of offcuts and waste. It all adds up. We also have a relatively small, but highly dedicated team of installers and we optimise their duties to extract the most from their combined working days each week.”

Although nowadays the UK franchisor provides award-winning marketing support and sophisticated merchandising material, the pioneering Granite Transformations franchisees in this country tended to develop their own ideas. One marketing tool that Peter originated was the Silent Salesman merchandising stand, which has now been adopted across the network and contributes about 15% of national customer enquiries.

“Our worktop material, which fits over existing surfaces without mess or demolition, is a very ‘touchy, feely’ product, because it really has to be seen to be believed,” explains Peter. “So I had the idea of building a display stand, with a cutaway worktop to show how the system works, together with a leaflet dispenser and colour samples, which I could install at a nearby garden centre and hopefully attract some of their customers. I negotiated with the owner, who agreed to a trial period, and we got a great response over the first weekend alone. We have now installed identical units in seven other garden centres across our catchment areas and, other than word-of-mouth customer referrals, they are by far our most effective marketing tools.”

“The franchisor really liked our idea and asked if it would be OK to produce ready-made units for the whole network,” he adds. “So now there are three or four Silent Salesman units working simultaneously in each franchise territory, usually in areas that are located some distance from the nearest showroom. Actually, we do get some reciprocal benefit, because people often see these displays when visiting garden centres whilst on holiday, then call in on us once they get home.”

Peter applies similar creative thinking to showroom window displays, which feature ‘before and after’ kitchen sets to illustrate the total transformation that replacement worktops and doors can create. That is why he searched long and hard for the second showroom site in Brentwood, which has quite a prominent high street location, alongside a busy set of traffic lights and definitely has a ‘drip drip’ marketing effect on passing motorists. The Trumpington showroom is also on a high density route into Cambridge and, partly as a result, has even attracted commercial contracts from nearby university colleges.

When it comes to fellow Granite Transformations franchisees, Peter and his team are always happy to pass on new ideas and market intelligence, even pioneering an open day for technical staff across the UK franchise network to discuss best practice. This approach also extends to the international network, in the interests of learning from other franchise owners with virtually identical commercial interests.

This collaborative outlook and a healthy team spirit, combined with Peter’s overriding profit principle, have built a highly successful franchise operation, which has now been shortlisted for that coveted industry award.