Granite Transformations franchise owner Gavin Whittaker is growing his home improvement business in a local garden centre
Recent forecasts that up to 40 per cent of high street shops could close over the next five years might concern those considering a retail franchise opportunity. But not all retail products are readily traded online and not all retailers are electrical chains, bookstores or music and DVD stores, which have been hit hardest by the rise of online shopping. As the British Retail Consortium suggests: ‘Whatever ecommerce may bring, it is unlikely to fundamentally change the need for most retailers to have a physical presence on the high street.’
Forward thinking home improvements expert and global franchise brand Granite Transformations, while continuing to build its online presence and reinforce its call handling capabilities, remains convinced that physical property is crucial to its business and requires a manned retail showroom at the core of every franchise territory, each with a catchment area of upwards of 100,000-150,000 households.
However, its definition of a manned showroom has been reshaped by more demanding trading conditions and now includes high street shops, industrial and retail park outlets, extensions to fabrication workshops, in-store displays in existing kitchen and bathroom businesses and garden centre concession sites. Just as long as the site is staffed at least five days a week, has space for displaying core worktop and replacement door ranges and has ample nearby parking for customers, it is considered a manned showroom.
Gavin Whittaker was Granite Transformations’ original UK franchise owner and his family owned business runs a mix of retail outlets across two adjoining franchise territories - a high street shop in Sidcup, a combined workshop and showroom in Tunbridge Wells and a concession site at Polhill Garden Centre in Sevenoaks, as well as several other unmanned and occasionally manned displays.
He is an enthusiastic adopter of the garden centre concession option, having analysed sales returns across the mix and found that a manned mini showroom in a ‘destination’ retail complex like Polhill delivers top quality customer leads and compares favourably with his high street premises in cost effectiveness terms.
“We run a smaller display at another garden centre, which is manned several days a week, and noted that when it is staffed it generates considerably more customer leads,” says Gavin. “We also have a showroom host, Carol Walker, who has previous retail experience in double glazing and who is very good at delivering high quality home appointments. She has the perfect 40-something profile for a garden centre demographic and appeals strongly to would-be clients.”
Unlike many retail propositions, a Granite Transformations sales transaction is not typically finalised in the showroom, but concluded in the customer’s home, where worktop and door colours are reviewed and initial measurements taken. So providing Gavin and his team with pre-qualified leads from prospect customers, who are comfortable with the price parameters, is important for securing valuable appointments and eliminating uncommitted browsers.
“When the opportunity arose for a larger plot and an extended lease at Polhill, we jumped at the chance and installed Carol there as our main ‘door opener’,” recalls Gavin. “A well sited modern centre with a good mix of trading partners, including its own shopping village and 400 cover restaurant, Polhill draws a bigger customer footfall and its visitor mix is an excellent match with our own core demographic of 55-75-year-olds. People interested in doing up their gardens are equally keen on home improvements and there’s little doubt that the impulse purchase tendency is strong, with visitors happy to make unplanned buying decisions.”
Granite Transformations’ distinctive worktop material is characterised by its franchise owners as a touchy feely product, since once customers actually handle it and appreciate ‘the top that fits on top’ installation concept the sale is virtually made. Which is precisely why Gavin is experiencing this favourable impulse buying effect at Polhill and why Granite Transformations is helping other franchisees to benefit from similar customer behaviour at garden centres elsewhere, county shows, shopping precincts and other venues by producing a range of purpose designed merchandising and display stands.
Extending from a 16 square metre modular unit suitable for a show stand or ready made garden centre showroom, to a three metre long display fitted with TV/DVD screening facilities, these designs project the quality of workmanship and finish that show off the brand to best effect and should grab the attention of passers by.
Available to buy or rent at subsidised in-house rates, these display stands and mini showrooms will enable existing franchisees and new franchise recruits to set up shop wherever there’s good customer flow, ample adjacent parking and a suitable demographic mix. They help to reshape perceptions of a physical retail presence and equip Granite Transformations franchisees with complementary trading premises to their high street shops.
Gavin, who had his garden centre display designed by Granite Transformations’ professional shopfitting consultant, is happy that the returns on his Polhill investment make the whole exercise worthwhile and provide a pointer for fellow franchisees.
Despite the annual leasing and staffing costs, the volume of qualified monthly customer appointments more than justifies the outlay and provides an additional revenue stream to his existing retail outlets. Add in the fact that replacement kitchen doors are now augmenting his core worktop installation business, typically doubling the size of contracts, and Gavin and his team are managing to buck the retail trend and consistently increase sales revenue year on year.
Which goes to show that an enterprising franchise owner, a supportive and forward thinking franchisor and a revised trading model can contradict those headlines about the inevitable decline of the small retailer.