Christmas is coming

The Christmas Decorators franchise has gone from strength to strength in an economic climate where others have failed, and as the market picks up, offers an even more financially and emotionally rewarding festive opportunity.



The ‘most wonderful time of the year’ could become even more rewarding, with the potential to see your bank balance heading in the right direction for a change while getting into the festive spirit.

Many businesses have styled themselves as ‘recession-proof’, but nowhere can this be more justified than in the Christmas market, one in which family-run business The Christmas Decorators – which supplies and installs spectacular indoor and outdoor Christmas decorations and lights to both homes and businesses – can safely be called a true pioneer with a truly unique franchise opportunity.

Nick Bolton, who owns the company with wife Sarah, says: “We didn’t feel the impact of the recession at all. Instead we saw growth upon growth. We have clients that are recession-proof: rich clients that even if they make less during these times, still have disposable income available for our service. Too many businesses use the term recession-proof too freely, but we truly were. Our figures and growth prove it.” The growth has been immense, with the business now generating multi-million pound revenues. The journey to this success began in 2000, when Nick and Sarah began trading in Aspen, Colorado.

The couple owned and operated a snowboarding lodge in the town and began decorating residential and commercial premises after receiving positive comments on the decorations installed at their own lodge. The market was already well established in the US, with several franchise companies operating, and many running their businesses as a ‘bolt-on’ to other ventures, such as lawn care services, which were quiet during the winter months.

Following the success of the US business, Nick and Sarah decided to test the UK market in 2005, and started marketing their service in November through an advert and accompanying editorial in Cheshire Life magazine and leaflet drops in selected areas in the North West.

Despite their belief that the UK market was quieter than that in the US, they were delighted to find themselves extremely busy throughout the festive period, undertaking £37,500 worth of business in just three weeks during December, proving the potential for the service in the UK.

The company attracted clients from the general public, as well as sports and entertainment celebrities, and requests for installations were received from across the country, despite marketing efforts being centred on the North West.

Early in 2006, they decided to franchise their business, and have since continued to spread Christmas cheer throughout the land (and now beyond). The Christmas Decorators currently has 21 franchises across 48 territories, but Nick considers the business to be half way through its transformation, the latest development being further expansion abroad.

Success stories and developments

Nick explains: “We have taken on four new overseas franchises this year: three of which are in North America, in Hampton, New York; Palm Beach, Florida; and Aspen, Colorado; and a further one in Dubai, all of which are busy and performing strongly.”

New clients added this year have been equally high-profile. Nick was delighted to secure the business of the Ritz Hotel; the Fermont Hotel and the British Embassy in Dubai; a contract in Aspen, Colarado for the most expensive residential property on the US market; the five-star St David’s Hotel in Wales; and Camden Market in London.

In addition to this, The Christmas Decorators are travelling to Manger Square in Bethlehem for a second year to put together a display that is truly at the heart of Christmas.

Nick says: “As a Christmas company, to have Bethlehem on your C.V., it doesn’t get much better than that!”

The stories for The Christmas Decorators’ individual franchise owners have been similarly positive. Nicola, a new owner in Chorley, secured contracts worth £60,000 in the first weeks of her operation, including a £45,000 job from Bolton Marketplace Shopping Centre and another from Chorley Council, which is investing a substantial amount in an interactive festive nutcracker trail.

When you consider that new owners are quoted £40,000 in expected first year turnover, this is an outstanding achievement, and testament to the strength of the brand.

Elsewhere, Paul, a fifth-year franchise owner, hit £500,000 this Christmas, aided by a five-year contract with a local authority, a fine example of the long-term financial security enjoyed by The Christmas Decorators’ franchise owners. “That is the beauty of the business,” comments Nick. “A large amount of our work comes from these long-term contracts. Each client is signed up on a three to five year contract, guaranteeing a basic customer-base for subsequent years and ongoing financial security for our franchise owners.”

In the early years, The Christmas Decorators followed a policy of thoughtful, sustainable business growth, not wishing to overextend too quickly at the expense of its owners. “We didn’t rush to establish hundreds of franchises,” Nick explains. “We knew it was imperative that we were able to look after our franchise owners, and having a smaller number enabled us to give them the support and attention they deserve.”

Now established, the company is confident that the infrastructure is in place for it to continue providing the same quality of support to a larger number of franchise owners, and is looking to build further on the significant achievements to date by targeting 10 new franchises in 2015.

Support

The new franchise owners can expect robust support, both in getting set up and after they are established. According to Nick, the first year with The Christmas Decorators is about learning the business and its processes, and the second year onward becomes more focused on earning, once the franchise owners are confident in their knowledge.

The seven new franchise owners for 2014 were provided with invaluable hands-on exterior training at a shopping centre in August, giving them a good idea of what to expect. Nick says: “Even though the weather conditions were somewhat different to what they might experience during the Christmas period, it was great for the franchise owners to have a chance to learn on the job. They assembled the decorations and took them down in the same day.”

This typifies the approach and dedication taken by The Christmas Decorators, as franchisor, to give their franchise owners the best possible chance of a successful set-up and first year in business. For example, Nick and the head office team accompany them to their first sales to guide and assist, ensuring a smooth process.

Nick continues: “It’s not a case of us taking the £15,000 investment, saying ‘thank you very much’ and sending the owners on their way with a brochure; we do all we can to ensure their ongoing success. For all their hard work and effort, our owners deserve excellent support from us."

The initial training is a nine days both in the classroom and practical, where owners are taught product-knowledge, sales and marketing skills as well as how to operate the company’s quality management systems. They also receive access to The Christmas Decorators’ superb promotional material, including the 80-page leather hardback decorations catalogue and commercial DVD, which showcases products as they will appear when assembled. Both are fantastic and unique selling tools that always attract an immediate response from clients.

Nowhere was this proven more successfully than at the Ritz Hotel, where Nick and Sarah delivered a brochure and received an enquiry almost immediately.

Additionally, owners are provided with their own local SEO-optimised website, and enjoy access to professional PR services, via Kenyon-Fraser, who works with them to secure positive coverage in the local press.

Nick adds: “As our franchise owners are usually very busy, we also give them a dedicated and well-trained call-centre person who will deal with enquiries if they are not available to answer their calls. We are hands-on both with IT and sales support.”

Continue to part 2 of The Christmas Decorators