United Carpets

Offering an effective Business Format Franchise for the retail arena, United Carpets is pooling its resources to give franchisees competitive product pricing, good credit terms, central marketing, and administration support. Rachel Spaul reports

CENTRAL to the United Carpets franchise opportunity is a support system geared to the success of every one of its 58 franchisees. Dedicated to recruiting at least 15 franchisees per year, the company maintains a personal approach to franchisee training and support that has seen many achieve turnovers in excess of £600,000.

For instance, take Kevin Withey who is enjoying year on year sales growth with double digit percentage net profits. He joined United Carpets following redundancy from a major home furnishings company.

'The business is very competitive, aimed at the low to middle end of the market,' he explains. 'For example, we're currently running a 'free fitting' promotion that no other companies can match. This is a very hands-on business and United Carpets is very supportive - all problems are readily dealt with and a Brand Manager visits regularly. I couldn't be happier and definitely wouldn't go back.'

Through its five company-owned stores, United Carpets keeps abreast of changing market and product trends, sales tactics, and business systems enabling the support team to provide the most effective advice and back-up to franchisees. More importantly, the franchisor provides a central administration service removing the need for franchisees to spend valuable amounts of their time completing accounts, VAT, PAYE, etc.

Joanne Horgan from Doncaster cites the administration support as the most appealing part of the franchise. 'It takes away all the stresses of running a business leaving you to concentrate on sales,' she confirms. 'I wanted my own business but with the support of a franchise network, and United Carpets provides just that. Support is available for every aspect of the business.'

To support franchisees in the field, the company employs a dedicated Training Manager and five Brand Managers who visit franchisees regularly to assist with store presentations, choosing stock, employee management and business operation. 'We also provide a central marketing resource creating advertisements for regional television, national and local press and regional radio,' adds Business Development Manager Paul Cooper. 'We believe in providing ultimate support from the beginning onwards.'

The marketing support is one component that George Thompson, one of the first franchisees, has seen develop over the five years he has been with the company. 'I've witnessed the company get stronger each month,' he observes. 'With major competitors within a few miles of my store, the marketing has been really important and is what makes us stronger than the competition.'

Franchised in 1998 when the first company-owned store was sold to the store manager, United Carpets has had a constant stream of franchisees joining the network. 'We're currently focused on recruitment in the North West and the Midlands,' Paul reveals. 'Our franchise opportunity offers people with drive and determination the opportunity to succeed in the flooring industry, which is currently worth £1.7 billion a year and is continuing to grow.'

Although retail and business experience are not essential, some flooring industry, sales or management skills are beneficial. All franchisees receive two weeks' one-on-one practical training, after which their specific needs are identified and further training provided where needed. 'This is a hands-on role and we're searching for people who are passionate about retailing,' Paul details.

Thanks to its industry reputation and trading history, United Carpets has developed a good relationship with a high street bank. Paul explains: 'Franchisees need a minimum of £20,000 to invest in the franchise towards the £80,000 total, with the bank often lending the balance. The vast majority of people also qualify for the DTI loan guarantee scheme.'

Typical stores are around 7,500ft situated in secondary retail parks and run by a small team managed by the franchisee. 'For the first three years I was very hands-on,' adds George, who has found the business so rewarding that he's signed up for a further five years. 'Now I have a Store Manager, so I have more time to concentrate on sales and more time for myself.'

Although there is some flexibility on what franchisees can stock, experience has shown that a mix of roll stock (cut it and take it away), a sample area, carpet and vinyl area, laminate flooring, and a selection of beds, meets customer demand. 'We introduce franchisees to a supplier network to take advantage of competitively priced products and good credit terms,' furthers Paul. 'Our great reputation within the industry has allowed us to negotiate an exclusive range from exclusive suppliers. This not only gives our product offering a different look to everyone else's, it also provides a competitive edge and higher margins.'

Joanne agrees: 'We offer the largest roll stock in Doncaster and our prices are highly competitive. Independent companies don't have the buying power.' Exceeding financial projections year on year Joanne has never looked back: 'Five years on, every time I turn the key I get the same buzz as I did on day one.
I have no regrets.'

With only a few key areas remaining in Yorkshire and plans for 100 franchisees by 2007, United Carpets is pushing its recruitment programme towards ever-higher levels, which will further the brand's nationwide reputation and in turn benefit franchisees. 'We keep our finger firmly on the pulse,' concludes Paul. 'We're offering a unique opportunity to build a highly rewarding business with all the benefits being your own boss brings.'