Granite transforms family’s fortunes

The enterprising Whitwood family have adopted a cautious, but ultimately rewarding approach to their Granite Transformations franchise business

The franchise model offers scope for people with quite diverse outlooks and business styles. Some adopt a fast-track approach, investing boldly, taking calculated risks and growing rapidly. Others prefer a more cautious route, steadily building their businesses without unnecessary exposure to risk. That both types can be equally successful in the long run is a testament to a business model that has flourished on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Whitwood family, father Malcolm and sons Oliver and Tom, would certainly place themselves in the latter camp, the slow and steady philosophy. Coupled with the fact that they had only limited funds to invest initially, the Whitwoods adopted quite a cautious approach, building up their franchise business gradually and reinvesting profits in carefully phased growth.

Since they have just opened a second retail showroom in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, which together with an existing site in Norwich spans a sizeable East Anglian franchise sales territory, their more circumspect policy is clearly working.

The Whitwood family members are Granite Transformations’ franchise owners – among the early adopters in fact – and they fabricate, fit and market replacement kitchen worktops and doors. Advertised under the slogan ‘the top that fits on top’, Granite Transformations’ hard-wearing, diamond-polished work surfaces fit neatly and unobtrusively over existing worktops, creating virtually instant style makeovers. When the franchisor added replacement cabinet doors to the product mix last year, it extended the scope to complete kitchen refinishing, maximising revenue-earning opportunities for franchise owners and striking a chord with householders looking to ‘reface not replace’.

Oliver recalls: “When we first saw the Granite Transformations concept at a trade show, we were quite sceptical. Does it really do what it says it does? We didn’t take any leaflets and might have missed the opportunity, but later we saw it at another show and got hold of the franchise information. By 2004, we’d opened our first showroom in Norwich.”

Although all three are skilled joiners, they came to their franchise business from different directions. Malcolm had his own woodworking firm, working with his sons’ grandfather, where they often helped out on site. Oliver was destined for the Forces, until a sporting injury dashed his hopes, then became a patisserie chef. Younger brother Tom worked with an outdoor pursuits company in Wales and France, but felt like a change.

“Dad and I had already decided to invest in a Granite Transformations franchise, but we thought it would be great if we could all work together, so we enlisted Tom as Workshop Manager,” says Oliver. “We attended the initial training programme and found the technical side quite straightforward, as you might expect, but we appreciated the franchisor’s input on business operations and sales and marketing. We didn’t have the finances to invest in a major advertising campaign, so we built the business through leaflet drops, exhibiting at county shows and word-of-mouth recommendations, as well as passing trade.”

This approach has seen a steady increase in business year on year, with an impressive 12 per cent rise in turnover during 2010 bringing annual revenue to close on £450,000. They average five worktop installations per week, with every other job also involving replacement kitchen doors, and because the houses are generally bigger in Norfolk, the typical spend is somewhat larger. Despite the natural reticence of local people, they reportedly love the Granite Transformations product, especially as they like things to last, and appreciate the polite, helpful and extremely proficient customer service provided by the Whitwoods, with feedback averaging eight out of 10 on the satisfaction scale.

Nor is this franchise family content with just residential installations. They were responsible for fulfilling one of Granite Transformations’ largest commercial contracts, at the stylish OPEN Youth venue in Norwich, and are eyeing up sales opportunities presented by local factory conversions and a nearby pioneering eco-town.

Meantime, they have expanded out from a smaller industrial unit in Norwich, to larger premises with double the showroom space and three times the workshop size, and opened new retail premises in the bustling market town of St Ives. To finance this, they traded off some of their existing franchise territory around Peterborough, in order to achieve consolidated sales coverage across a more cohesive geographical area, with showrooms strategically located at the edges.

“We are not afraid to get our hands dirty and pitch in with the installations, so for now we are managing with just four full-time employees, but our growth target is to double turnover in the near future, by which time we shall be recruiting new staff,” predicts Oliver. “But don’t expect any fanfare and fireworks, we have always adopted a cautious attitude, building up our business gradually, and we shall be sticking to that formula.”

Type of franchise: Retail management/home installation
Industry sector: Home improvement
Retail products: Kitchen worktops and doors, interior finishes
Ideal franchise owner: Self-motivated, management and sales experience, team leader
Company history: Established 1996, first UK franchise 2004
Investment required: From £31,000 + VAT, including additional capital
Recruitment locations: Selected postcode territories nationwide

Reported by David Gent