Gavin’s havin’ a profitable time

Gavin Whittaker was Granite Transformations’ first millionaire and still tops the revenue charts

Previous experience and product knowledge are often regarded as essential for embarking on a successful new career as a franchise owner. Yet Gavin Whittaker is proof that a complete lack of market experience needn’t hold back a would-be entrepreneur.

A Granite Transformations franchise owner – the very first in fact – he had no knowledge of the home improvements sector, in which the brand competes, nor any experience of selling to the public, despite which he became the network’s first millionaire , achieving a seven-figure annual turnover, and continues to chalk up stellar sales figures, starting this year with an 18 per cent like-for-like revenue increase.

Although the franchise really only took off over here in 2004, the Granite Transformations brand was first established on the other side of the world in Australia, in 1996. Since that time the global network has grown to 160 showrooms across four continents, with annual kitchen and bathroom installations edging the 100,000 mark. Its reputation has been built on a tough, hardwearing and luxurious agglomerate material, which can be installed over existing worktops and is promoted as ‘the top that fits on top’. Bathroom interiors, outdoor living spaces and commercial finishing are part of the product mix, to which have now been added kitchen unit doors and drawer fronts, creating one of the world’s major home improvements brands.

As a Granite Transformations franchise pioneer in this country, Gavin has been quick to latch on to the profit potential of replacement timber doors, regarding them as the natural complement to kitchen worktops, potentially turning one makeover job into two. On his own initiative, he had previously resprayed cabinet doors on custom-made kitchens, to match newly-installed worktops, but now his team can offer first-class products for both refacing tasks. What’s more, Gavin has a database of 4,000 existing customers and is busily mailing them with details of the new replacement door programme, with the result that this component of his business is already contributing more than 10 per cent of his monthly turnover.

Gavin first came into the kitchen makeover business from computer hardware distribution, having become somewhat disillusioned with his role in IT. Although the then Granite Transformations Master Franchise Owner had earlier transformed the Whittaker family kitchen with sparkling new worktops, Gavin had no other experience of the home improvement sector, no fabrication and installation skills to call upon, and a track record of dealing strictly business-to-business. Nevertheless, he knew a great product when he saw one and recognised that, with its claims of no mess, no disruption and no hassle, it occupied a unique niche market. One that he could only access through the franchise route.

Having signed up to a franchise agreement, one of Gavin’s first moves was to set up a display stand and distribute leaflets at a shopping centre quite close to his first Granite Transformations store in Tunbridge Wells. The exercise generated 16 home appointments that very weekend, which were subsequently converted into 10 firm orders, and his business has never really looked back since, growing consistently year on year, always with a cushion of up to 40 installations in the pipeline. It produces good cashflow, has registered consistent growth, even during the recession, and has greatly enhanced Gavin’s lifestyle, enabling him to mostly work the hours he wants.

Gavin hasn’t achieved this alone, of course. His wife, Sally, is the Office Manager, looking after the accounts and administration, and his very first employee and now shareholder, Alex Coombs, is the Operations Manager, responsible for co-ordinating the workshop and installation team. Between them, they have built a tight-knit group of employees, most of who have been there over five years and all of who are prepared to go the extra mile. Because Gavin appreciates that everyone deals directly with customers at some time, all of his staff are highly sales focused and receive regular training to hone their selling technique. That approach has contributed to very impressive levels of customer satisfaction and, in turn, to word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers, which generate up to a quarter of all sales leads.

A high street showroom in Sidcup was later added to the original Tunbridge Wells industrial unit, which combines retail and workshop facilities, increasing Gavin’s franchise territory to half a million households in a bustling and comparatively affluent commuter belt to the south east of London. He is now considering taking on additional postcode areas and a third showroom, under the franchisor’s Partnership For Profit scheme that rewards loyal and successful franchise owners, in effect all of them.

To provide a retail presence beyond his showrooms’ immediate catchment areas, Gavin also operates satellite merchandising display units at three different garden centres, including one that is staffed three days a week. This initiative, together with local press and TV advertising and award-winning marketing support from the franchisor, ensures a steady influx of customer enquiries. According to Gavin, the product virtually sells itself, so his team focuses on pre-qualifying prospects, giving them clear expectations of what a makeover will cost, resulting in the network’s highest sales conversion rate, consistently running at six sales in every 10 enquiries.

Having built up a successful and profitable business, it might be expected that Gavin would keep the secrets of his commercial success close to his chest. But no, he regularly meets with fellow franchise owners to exchange ideas on how to fine tune their operations, spends time with fitters and fabricators swapping tips on best practice, and is always happy to open his doors to franchise owners who are looking to improve their businesses. Being nearby the Granite Transformations’ UK head office, he often receives overseas visitors, acting as something of a model franchise operation. So if you choose to become a Granite Transformations franchise owner and jump on what has become quite a profit-oriented bandwagon, then Gavin Whittaker’s door might be one of the first places to call.

Reported by Sam Gent