A window opportunity at Apollo Blinds

Apollo Blinds has spent much of 2005 putting plans in place to double its franchisee network over the next five years. General Manager Patrick Harrison talks to Paul Kirby about Apollo Blinds' achievements and what's in store for 2006

Being the biggest chain of window blinds stores in the UK (with 80 retail locations established nationwide) isn't enough for Apollo Blinds. The company now aims to expand its network of franchisees and increase its market-share in a sector that has consistently delivered healthy year-on-year growth.

The final parts of the company's ambitious plans are now falling into place and 2006 will be a year of expansion and development that will take the company into new areas. The last year has seen intense activity by the management team led by Patrick Harrison who, as General Manager, has been the architect of a vision that will see the company reinvent itself for the benefit of the customers, franchisees and its balance sheet.

'Achieving the status of market leader through our high street presence across the UK and Ireland could have meant that the company could then relax and enjoy its position, but that's not enough,' says Patrick. 'We are building from a position of strength and want to maximise every opportunity to take this company forward and create even more momentum.

'Apollo Blinds is already an attractive proposition for any potential franchisee because we are the market leader but as we consolidate our position and carve out more market share, we will then attract more people to join our network and this becomes a cycle that keeps building success.'

Patrick's vision for the future of Apollo Blinds has the full backing of its parent company Hunter Douglas - the world's largest manufacturer of window and conservatory blinds. It has invested a significant sum to assist the company in preparing for growth.

The majority of the investment has been made in expanding the infrastructure that supports franchisees. Investing in systems and procedures has been necessary but the most visible and readily identifiable change has been the expansion of the new regional management team that supports franchisees. 'As with all other franchise companies, we enable people to run their own business as part of our network and it is up to us to help and support them so they get the very best from their franchise, both for themselves but also for Apollo Blinds,' says Patrick. 'While all our franchisees have the entrepreneurial spirit, they come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide variety of skills and experiences - so our regional management team are helping them play to their strengths while imparting their expertise to improve in other aspects of their business.

'This hands-on help is already showing a marked increase in the efficiency of our franchisees, and they in turn, are seeing their efforts result in greater returns. That is what underpins Apollo Blinds' proposition: high gross margins and high net returns that generate healthy profits for franchisees so as to deliver a substantial return on investment.'

So with its plan in place, what does 2006 have in store for Apollo Blinds? All the early indications are proving very positive for Apollo Blinds according to Patrick: 'The recent National Franchise Exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham was an important landmark for us because we were able to start outlining our vision of how the company will be going forward, and the response to it was phenomenal. We weren't in a position to reveal the full extent of our ambitions because there are components of the five year plan that we are not due to reveal until the start of 2006, but the reaction to what we want to do with the business was very well received by people that came to talk to us.

'There was no hard sell because it wasn't about that, it was more a case of demonstrating where we are going as a company and those who identified with it are the people we want as future Apollo Blinds franchisees.'

The focus for 2006, Patrick explains, is to bring the new franchisees on board and then pick off some of the territories it has identified as key to building the network. Although the company has a stronghold on Scotland and the North of England and will continue to recruit in those areas, it is now actively targeting Ireland, the Midlands and the South of England. 'We are in a position as never before because we can virtually take our pick of the areas we want to go into,' reflects Patrick.

'This is because we know the strength of the brand, combined with our new robust infrastructure and the resources at our disposal, make us an irresistible proposition for anyone who is serious about building their own Apollo Blinds business. In many ways the best is yet to come and we can soon reveal something that we can virtually guarantee will encourage people to look at Apollo Blinds in a whole new light, so watch this space in 2006.'