The name above the door speaks volumes

Apollo Blinds is Britain's biggest blind store chain for good reason. It has the largest network of franchise showrooms in the UK and growth is set to continue in 2007. General Manager Patrick Harrison explains why the company is standing out from the crowd in the marketplace

The reason for Apollo Blinds' continued success is simple. It's all because of the name above the door. Well, actually, it's also due to the fact we have a network of 'doors' right across the UK to hang the name above.

The prevailing business model in our industry is what is commonly known as 'a man in a van', and that is why having a chain of retail showrooms stands out like a sore thumb. But by going against the grain, we offer something different and that is why we are expanding and capitalising on our already market-leading position.

Our retail showroom business model sends out three very clear messages. The first is our branding, or the 'name above the door' as I call it. It speaks volumes about who we are. We have invested heavily to develop a brand identity which demonstrates the quality of our proposition and reflects our position in the marketplace. We know we have a look which is on a par with retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Next and Habitat. This level of quality also suggests size, and all of our test research has come back with consumer comments which said they all saw us as a nationwide chain.

The second is our expertise. The brand draws customers in to our showrooms because they have a certain expectation of Apollo Blinds. This is where our franchisees deliver by demonstrating their ability to provide consultancy, which helps customers find just the right blinds solution for any window.

The third - and most subliminal - is that by having a showroom, we offer peace of mind to consumers. Purchasing window blinds is not always a snap decision and we have found that a lot of our customers like to come into our showrooms to get some initial advice. This is something that simply isn't possible with 'man in a van' style selling because the only way a customer can find out what products the salesperson has is to invite them into their home. And this is not always something people are comfortable with, especially when they are at the browsing stage and still trying to decide what they want.

A showroom on a high street also tackles the 'what if something goes wrong' factor which is always part of any consumer purchasing decision. There's nothing more reassuring than knowing you can go back to the shop and talk to someone if there is a problem. For us, this is the power of the brand. And with the opening of more showrooms each year, Apollo Blinds is becoming even more of a force on the high streets of towns and cities across the UK.

But the brand doesn't work in isolation. The momentum of our business is largely due to the buy-in of our franchisees. They recognise they are part of something and they are benefiting as a direct result. They are not just selling Apollo Blinds, they are Apollo Blinds.

They are not agents. They do not sell Apollo Blinds as a concession. They are not salespeople who formed alliances with manufacturers. Our franchisees own their own business as part of Britain's biggest blind store chain. They can sell with confidence knowing they have the widest choice of window blinds in the UK - especially as Apollo Blinds is part of Hunter Douglas, the world's largest manufacturer of window blinds.

I think this is a compelling reason to become an Apollo Blinds, but of course I would - I'm biased. But looking at it the other way around, would I want to be an independent operator trying to compete against an Apollo Blinds store in my area? The answer's got to be no.

And that's even before what we consider to be the main reason why people want to be an Apollo Blinds franchisee - the profits that can be made. Being part of Hunter Douglas means we can manufacture window blinds at the lowest possible prices so our franchisees can achieve the highest gross margins and highest net returns, generating healthy profits.

So, what can we offer? The potential to make a healthy return on investment, benefiting from the power of the brand, having access to high quality products and having a support infrastructure which looks after its own franchisees. It all adds up to a simple sign that can hang above the door of any potential franchisee.

It speaks volumes about us, what will it say about you?