As with the hit film Crocodile Dundee, this story begins in Australia, where three of the protagonists met at a Granite Transformations franchise conference in Sydney – co-founder and Australian Chief Operating Officer Colin McKenzie, the franchisor’s UK Chief Operating Officer Danny Hanlon and Sydney-based fitter, John Willy.

John was planning a move to Britain and got talking to Danny, when he asked about the prospects of a job at its UK headquarters. As a carpenter by trade and an experienced kitchen and worktops installer working in the Australian Granite Transformations network, John had great credentials. As a former apprentice carpenter himself and the first man to run pilot Granite Transformations franchises in Australia and the USA, Danny also knew a good man when he saw one.

So when John Willy and wife Rebecca landed in England, Danny didn’t offer him a head office job, but instead talked to them about buying a franchise, as a viable career option. Not a regular retail or workshop franchise, mind you, but a new concession-style package based around a three-metre mini-showroom, in a garden centre. Without the fixed and staffing overheads of high street premises, it cuts the franchise investment back to manageable proportions, yet still comes with an exclusive sales territory of around 100,000 households.

A different proposition

“Back in Australia, they wanted me to take over a Sydney franchise, but I’d seen the scale of set-up that the big franchise owners operate and the thought of investing in a showroom, workshop and two or three staff, was really too much,” says John.

“However, over here in England the garden centre model was an entirely different proposition. There was less to invest up-front and the chance to generate instant cash flow – if it hadn’t been for that lower cost option, I wouldn’t have gone through with it.”

Now John is the Crocodile Dundee of central Somerset, carving his way through sleepy rural villages, checking out the faded kitchens in 200 year old cottages and declaring: “that’s not a worktop, this is a worktop”, as he propounds the merits of Granite Transformations’ granite, quartz and recycled glass work surfaces.

He started off earlier this year with an unmanned concession site at Sanders Garden World near Burnham-on-Sea, one of the largest garden centres in the South West. John later added another postcode territory and secured a second mini-showroom site at Monkton Elm Garden and Pet Centre near Taunton, this time near the checkouts.

Teamwork

John is not alone in this venture, his wife Rebecca looks after the accounts, administration and the sales and marketing side, while he is responsible for quotations, templating, fabricating and installation.

A registered nurse, Rebecca was formerly an Area Manager co-ordinating nurses’ home visits, so she knows her way around a computer and now gets plenty of back-up from the franchisor’s FAST technical support team. She originates from this country and lived near Yeovil, which is one of the reasons they chose to locate their franchise business in the South West.

Truth to tell, John is not quite the dyed-in-the-wool Aussie we’ve portrayed. As his parents are British, he spent some time in Taunton attending school and taking his carpentry apprenticeship, and his father also lives in a nearby village, even providing a converted barn on his land for John’s fabrication workshop. Throw in a liveried VW van, fitted out with all the necessary installation tools, and that’s about it. From this modest franchise base, John averages three worktop installations every week, with replacement cabinet doors every three or four jobs, and undertakes all the work himself, although he is considering taking on a young apprentice if things continue going well.

On target

There is a steady stream of customer enquiries coming from the two garden centre displays. They attract the 55 years and over age group that Granite Transformations targets as a brand, and John reckons that people place a good deal of trust in garden centres, so some of that goodwill rubs off on his enterprise. Otherwise he and Rebecca delve into the franchisor’s marketing and advertising manual for tips on generating local business leads. He uses the ‘10 up, 10 down’ method for neighbourhood door drops around each new installation, puts up branded posters in village shops, runs advertisements in parish magazines and county journals, and arranges leaflet inserts with local newsagents. He also benefits from a customisable Granite Transformations website domain and national advertising and PR support provided by head office.

“I didn’t need to go through the installation and fabrication training programmes, obviously, but Granite Transformations provides all the other technical and operational support we need and the head office FAST team is always available at a moment’s notice, to discuss any specific issues and queries,” declares John. “They help us to avoid a lot of common business mistakes, which is really what the franchise model is all about.”

Top of the world

Having worked for the franchise down under, does John notice any differences between operations here and in Oz? Well yes, he says the kitchens are bigger in Australia, the properties tend to be newer and popular worktop colours are white and cream, to suit the sunshine and outdoor lifestyle, instead of the blacks and earthier tones favoured here.

Installations are more straightforward in the UK, since the worktops are fabricated off-site; whereas everything is made on-site in Australia, taking advantage of the favourable weather and wide-open spaces, and many of the kitchens are new-builds. In Britain, people value the idea that fitting is carried out in a single day, with no demolition, mess or disruption, and customers like to hang on to their existing cabinets and familiar oven-sink-fridge layout.

John and Rebecca have ventured back home, set up a franchised business and are already making it on their own, with more than a little help from the Granite Transformations team, and you could do much the same.

True, John had the right skill sets for fabricating and fitting, but there are concentrated training courses for that and you could emulate their story if you have the drive to succeed, access to relatively modest start-up capital, a strong work ethic and, yes, a touch of that feisty Crocodile Dundee spirit.

Written by David Gent

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