##Franchise Makes Concessions To High Street Trading Conditions
Trading conditions are still tough on the British high street, with company failures already giving rise to over 1280 shop closures in 2014, although recent developments in ‘omnichannel retailing’, where consumers make purchasing decisions from different devices, using different apps in different locations, suggest that physical stores remain as important as ever. One of the major retail trends is toward Researching Online, Purchasing Offline (ROPO) and, according to Google, 38 per cent of all buyers browse online before actually buying in-store, with home improvements (up 29%) and home electronics (up 25%) the biggest growth areas.

Home improvements franchise Granite Transformations shares this faith in in-store shopping and, having implemented a sophisticated omnichannel marketing platform, still sees physical showrooms as the focus of its retail business. Nevertheless, acknowledging increasing rents and overheads on the high street, it offers franchise investors the option of ‘concession site’ premises in garden centres and shopping malls.

The success of this network growth strategy is reflected in news that five of its latest showrooms, in Bicester, Oxfordshire, Bridgemere, Cheshire, Burton, South Wirral, Sherfield, Hampshire and Whinmoor, near Leeds, are all concession sites located in garden centres and shopping malls. One more, in the market town of Banbury, is based on a trading estate, whilst yet another, in Redland, Bristol, comprises bricks-and-mortar high street premises, which Granite Transformations still views as the model for mature franchise locations, especially as they offer more frontage and floorspace for an expanding product range.“Busy high streets, arterial routes and retail estates provide a good source of passing trade, as well as prominent locations where ROPO customers can come to check out the products in-store,” says Chief Operating Officer, Danny Hanlon. “Yet, garden centres and out-of-town shopping villages generate their own substantial visitor traffic, as much through the week as over the weekend, and attract a similar demographic to our own customer base.

“Concessions sites provide a lower-cost launch pad for new franchise owners, as our latest round of showroom openings would indicate, and allow existing franchisees to expand their retail presence, without overextending their finances.”

Amongst the Granite Transformations newcomers are Jason and Kelly Ball, who previously lived in Athens, Greece and after moving back to the UK, have now opened a showroom at the Bicester Outlet Village, complementing their combined retail/workshop premises further north in Banbury. Also moving back from abroad are David and Helen Thomas, who ran a building business in La Rochelle, but found franchising in France a no-go area and have instead opened a Granite Transformations showroom in Gordale Garden & Home Centre in South Wirral, Cheshire.

Yet another new franchisee, Tim Davies, had a well-paid job as a Customer Relationship Manager, but wanted a fresh challenge and has invested in a business at Britain’s largest garden centre, Bridgemere Nursery & Garden World near Nantwich, as well as a fabrication workshop in nearby Stoke-on-Trent. Previously involved as Production Manager for another GT franchise in West Yorkshire, Andy Fuller and his wife Alarna have now set up their own showroom at Langland Garden Centre near Leeds, with a smaller display site at Stephen H Smith’s Garden & Leisure in Otley.

Meantime, Martin Sando, who runs the successful Granite Transformations franchise in Reading, has extended his retail operation to a showroom at D H Water Gardens, a long-established aquatic centre at Sherfield-on-Loddon, building his own self-contained concession unit. With a similar eye to business growth, Matthew Bird has added bricks-and-mortar premises in Zetland Road, Bristol, to his successful Cheltenham franchise and is now vying for the top spot in the Granite Transformations sales revenue ratings.

“These are enterprising people and our concession site franchise model has enabled them to enter the home improvements market or extend their retail operation, with a manageable cost base and immediate cash flow returns,” concludes Danny. “Although the new bricks-and-mortar Bristol showroom shows that we and our established franchise owners still have faith in the power of the British high street.”