Granite Transformations applies The Peter Principle

Peter Morrison's merchandising idea has now been applied across the Granite Transformations franchise network.

When Granite Transformations franchise owner Peter Morrison identified a local marketing opportunity, he put on his thinking cap. A popular nearby garden centre generated hundreds of visitors, particularly at weekends and bank holidays, and the customer base appeared to match his own target audience, with a strong correlation between gardening enthusiasts and the home improvement sector he was addressing. So he contacted the owner, then sat down, conceived and built a merchandising tool that was to prove so successful, it has now been adopted across the Granite Transformations network.

Peter, his wife Helen and brother Henry first entered franchising as a family business in 2003 and they now run two showrooms - the original location in Trumpington, outside Cambridge, and a relatively new site in Brentwood, Essex. They retail Granite Transformations worktops, unique surfaces that fit over existing kitchen counters, although replacement doors and drawers have now been added to the product offering. Both showrooms' catchment areas pretty well match the demographics of the brand's target customers, namely older, more upmarket homeowners.

"I'd been in IT recruitment before, selling mainly business-to-business, but a colleague went into estate agency and I rather fancied the idea of dealing with the public on a daily basis too," says Peter. "Then a good friend, Gavin Whittaker, the original UK Granite Transformations franchise owner, told me about the unique 'top that fits on top' concept and I realised the only way we could get into this brand was through the franchising route, because there really wasn't another product on the market like it. In the early days, before the current franchisor took over, there wasn't a strong business model and we tended to work fairly autonomously, without the professional marketing and technical support there is now, so now I'm always happy to help new franchise owners and share best practice with them."

This willingness to exchange ideas with fellow franchise owners and a enterprise-wide focus on managing costs have enabled the Morrisons to be among the most successful and profitable Granite Transformations UK franchises. They have demonstrated consistent year-on-year growth and recorded a particularly high rate of first-time closures, when their sales people visit customers' homes. Thanks to close attention to detail, their customer call-back ratio, for snagging and dealing with minor complaints, is also one of the lowest in the network. But it is the bottom line that gives Peter most cause for commercial satisfaction.

"One thing that distinguishes our operation, I believe, is a clear focus on maximising net profit and managing every aspect of cost," he says. "Our Granite Transformations business involves fabrication of worktops, templating and fitting the pre-assembled surfaces, marketing the brand within all postcode territories and direct home selling - and we try to cut costs and improve efficiency in every one of those areas.

"Take our workshop, for example," he continues, "where my brother Henry and his team are always looking to improve productivity, maximise the efficiency of material usage and reduce the level of offcuts and waste. It all adds up. We also have a relatively small, but highly dedicated team of installers and we optimise their duties to extract the most from their combined working days each week."

Although nowadays the UK franchisor provides award-winning marketing support and sophisticated merchandising material, the pioneering Granite Transformations franchise owners in this country tended to develop their own ideas. One marketing tool that Peter did originate was the Silent Salesman merchandising stand, which has now been adopted across the network and contributes about 15 per cent of customer enquiries.

"Our worktop material, which fits over existing surfaces without mess or demolition, is a very 'touchy, feely' product, because it really has to be seen to be believed," explains Peter. "So I had the idea of building a display stand, with a cutaway worktop to show how the system works, together with a leaflet dispenser and colour samples, which I could install at the nearby garden centre and hopefully attract some of their customers. I negotiated with the owner, who agreed to a trial period, and we got a great response over the first weekend alone. Although we subsequently had planning issues at that site, this relatively simple idea brought in loads of enquiries and we have now installed identical units in seven other garden centres across our catchment areas. Apart from word-of-mouth customer referrals, they are by far our most effective marketing tools.

"The franchisor really liked our idea and asked if it would be OK to produce ready-made units for the whole network," he adds. "So now there are three or four Silent Salesman units working simultaneously in each franchise territory, usually in areas that are located some distance from the nearest showroom. Actually, we do get some reciprocal benefit, because people often see these displays when visiting garden centres while on holiday, then call in on us once they get home."

Peter applies similar creative thinking to showroom window displays, which feature before and after kitchen sets to illustrate the total transformation that replacement worktops and doors can create. That is why he searched long and hard for the second showroom site in Brentwood, which has quite a prominent high street location, alongside a busy set of traffic lights and definitely has a 'drip drip' marketing effect on passing motorists. The Trumpington showroom is also on a high density route into Cambridge and, partly as a result, has attracted commercial contracts from nearby university colleges.

When it comes to fellow Granite Transformations franchise owners, Peter and his team are always happy to pass on new ideas and market intelligence, even pioneering an open day for technical staff across the franchise network to discuss best practice. This approach also extends to the international network, in the interests of learning from other franchise owners with virtually identical commercial interests.

"Three of us went to the USA last year, to a Granite Transformations conference, and we spent some time visiting local franchise operations and their workshops. The approach is quite different over there, with not so many high street locations and consumers generally more willing to welcome sales people into their homes without any preliminaries but we picked up some very useful tips anyway. That's the beauty of being part of a franchise network: we're in the same business, but we don't compete directly against each other, since everyone has their own exclusive sales territory."

This collaborative outlook and a healthy team spirit, combined with Peter's innovative approach to marketing, have built a highly successful franchise operation, which those new to franchising might do well to emulate.

Exclusive Granite Transformations franchise territories are available in selected UK regions.

Reported by Margaret Gent reports