Mark Bassage gives us the inside track on life as a Schmidt franchisee and why he decided to invest in the kitchen showroom business
After spending 10 years as the chief financial officer for a chemicals and energy company, I decided to settle down in the UK with my family.
The Schmidt franchise was aligned with my aspirations and passion to start my own business in partnership with my wife Renee. Renee has run a business in the past and has a flair and passion for design, which complements my business acumen and experience.
Before opening for business
After we came across the Schmidt kitchen showroom concept, we knew it was the right opportunity for us. Schmidt is a recognised brand across Europe. It offers quality products at an affordable price that are manufactured inhouse, plus its service is first class. In addition, the kitchen sector is becoming increasingly attractive to potential investors, as homeowners are spending more time in their kitchens than ever. It’s now the hub of the house.
On top of this, the company provides franchisees with comprehensive initial and ongoing support, including assistance with finance and sales and marketing, as well as access to Schmidt’s experienced head office team. Startup business risks are minimised by this fantastic, knowledgeable and experienced support.
After researching the business model, learning about Schmidt’s longterm vision and ambitions in the UK, meeting the people behind Schmidt and visiting the company’s operation in France, we felt very comfortable.
Our franchise business - Schmidt Dorking - was the fifth of the new company branded dealerships in the UK.
Before we opened, we were introduced to Schmidt’s expert partners, who helped us locate suitable premises, prepare our business plan and secure a loan to finance the business. They also assisted us with the design of the showroom, as well as product and software training and explained how to manage our showroom effectively.
In the beginning, our learning curve was steep, but we have received a lot of support from everyone along the way.
A typical working day
Renee and I believe the business has to be owner-managed, especially in the early days. A typical working day for me includes everything from selling and product ordering to planning fitting and delivery schedules. I also deal with the administrative side of the business and finance. Renee looks after sales and marketing and we have recently appointed a studio manager, who manages our two kitchen designers.
Usually we start our day with a cup of coffee and a chat about our schedules. We all have our own stations and roles, so organisation and communication is key.
We have regular visits from our area sales manager, who keeps us up to speed with the brand’s marketing campaigns and logistical set-up. They’re also our link with Schmidt head office in France. The company’s sales department helps us to process orders when required, while the rest of the franchisees in the network are always on hand with advice if needed.
When it comes to staff training, new designers are invited to attend a seven-week design academy, where they receive a complete overview of all Schmidt products and methods.
For me, the most important thing is the reliability and trust we have in the company. Schmidt is a consistent and trusted supplier, so we’ve never had to worry about whether the furniture would turn up in time or not.
In terms of the product itself, Schmidt recognises the UK market as a significant one, which has unique needs compared to the rest of Europe. The company’s product managers, who visit the UK on a regular basis, make sure these needs are fulfilled. Schmidt’s product development committee means franchisees are able to have their say on the future direction of the company.
The quality of the product is first class and any issues get dealt with quickly. This high quality is backed up by the showroom services provided, which enable us to deliver what we’ve promised to customers.
Recruiting staff has been our greatest challenge, followed by making the transition from business operator to business owner and handing over the day-to-day management of the showroom so Renee and I can focus on expanding the business. In my experience, you can’t hand over the reins until you’ve built solid foundations for the business, such as a consistent turnover, which can only be achieved if you have a good team.
Other challenges we’ve had to overcome include developing a successful relationship with the right logistics platform via Schmidt, finding a reliable fitting team, dealing with demanding customers and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
It’s magical to be able to turn people’s dreams into reality. From discussing the project with the customer to exceeding their expectations, it’s a huge thrill. As we’ve gained experience and our business has become more established, we’ve become more confident in our ability to deliver for our customers.
Renee and I are proud to say that we’ve achieved 100 per cent customer satisfaction with every one of the 400-plus kitchens we’ve designed, supplied and fitted. What is also satisfying is the inviting atmosphere we’ve created in our showroom and the bond that’s been built within our team.
Advice for would-be franchisees
Be a hands-on franchisee, especially in the early days, before taking a step back and allowing a manager to run the business. Also, be prepared to work hard, meet customer expectations, ensure you have a good balance between work and home life and establish a reputation for delivering on your promises, as this is the best way to attract more customers.
Plans for the future
Our next objective is to expand our sales team to meet market demands, grow the Dorking business and open more showrooms.
At a glance Schmidt Kitchens
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Rosalyn Hastings, UK expansion manager. Rosalyn.Hastings@Groupe.Schmidt 07432 553713 openaschmidtshowroom.com