2007 - the year window blinds became big franchise business

Britain's biggest blinds store chain will look back at 2007 as the year in which the industry was catapulted into the limelight after a heavyweight independent report highlighted the prosperity the window blinds sector is experiencing. Paul Kirby reports

There is no doubt that the publication of Mintel's Window Furnishings and Accessories report had a significant impact on Apollo Blinds this year. The independent report by the leading global supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence showed just how well the window blinds industry has performed in recent years.

Mintel's research found that sales of window blinds over the last five years had grown by 62 per cent and that figures hit an all-time high of £445 million in 2006. Apollo Blinds has found that these figures sent out a very powerful and persuasive message because it is an independent validation of the prosperity of the window blinds industry and its performance over a number of years. Mintel's report went a long way to confirming that the window blinds industry represented an excellent return on investment for people who wanted to start their own franchise business in the sector. And from Apollo Blinds' perspective, there is no better opportunity to start a business selling window blinds than to become part of Britain's biggest blinds store chain. This is because the strength of the company is in its network as it is by far and away the largest chain of retail blinds stores in the UK.

The company has created an excellent franchise business model, based on 35 years' experience as a franchisor, which has enabled investors to become part of its network and enjoy the benefits of being part of such an established national brand. This is a key reason why Shaun Mescall (see interview, left) has built a prosperous business.

And behind all of this is the fact that Apollo Blinds is owned by Hunter Douglas, which is the world's largest manufacturer of window blinds. Franchisees get unrivalled access to the widest range of window blinds at very competitive trade prices which enable them to make healthy profit margins.

Given that Apollo Blinds has the backing of the global leader in the manufacture of blinds, has the largest national chain of UK franchise showrooms and is at the heart of an industry which has experienced consistent growth, no wonder it is an appealing option for potential franchisees. And thanks to the Mintel report, an Apollo Blinds franchise now seems an even better return on investment.

Franchising gives Shaun the best of both worlds

Shaun Mescall has been a franchisee with Apollo Blinds for eight years and believes it offers him something unique which helps him stay well ahead of his local competitors. 'We are a local business which provides a local service,' he says. 'But we are also part of a national company which has a strong brand and an excellent reputation for the quality and range of window blind products. This gives us the best of both worlds when it comes to selling window blinds in Peterborough.

'We promote the local service aspect of what we do to reassure customers that we are always on hand should they require us. But there's also the fact that we are part of Britain's biggest blinds store chain and customers know they are buying from a reputable company that is an industry leader. This is a very powerful message to consumers because they know they are buying into a brand and all the trappings that go with it.'

Shaun says that the while local company/national brand approach is paying dividends in terms of sales, being part of a national network also means he can draw on as little or as much support as necessary. 'The Apollo Blinds support infrastructure means my regional manager is always available to offer advice and support whenever I need it,' he says. 'This is so useful, particularly in helping me grow the business and looking at ways to keep increasing trade. But the management team, along with fellow franchisees, are also on hand to help find solutions to unique customer requirements.'

He cites the example of a commercial customer who needed a higher specification of blackout blinds than were available in Apollo Blinds' existing domestic range. Shaun spoke to other people in the Apollo Blinds network and was able to source a solution which met the company's exact requirements.

'That's the beauty of being a franchisee with Apollo Blinds,' he adds. 'I didn't know what the solution was but other people were able to point me in the right direction so that I fulfilled the customer's order. I'll wager that none of my local competitors could have sourced that kind of high specification blackout blind, but then they're not part of such a strong national network like Apollo Blinds. I joined Apollo Blinds eight years ago because I wanted to build a strong and successful business in Peterborough and I'm doing just that by being part of a national company in my local area.'