Family and community first for this franchising couple

Rebecca and John Willy are a team and family is very important to them. In fact, they support family businesses in their community to promote and grow their Granite Transformations (GT) franchise. They tell us about their journey to choosing a GT franchise and their route to growth.

“I met John when we were in our late teens as we both lived in Somerset. John went out to Australia to work whilst I went to Bournemouth University to qualify as a nurse. 5 Years later I followed John out to Australia and worked as a stroke nurse in Manly hospital and then became an Area Nurse Manager in Sydney specialising in Acute Care in the community for 7 years. 

“John worked as a carpenter building awnings. Due to the nature of this work being outdoors in the Australian sun, we felt it worthwhile looking for a job based indoors. John joined the North Rocks Granite Transformations Company in Sydney in 2005. He worked as a full-time fitter until 2011 and, during that time, John and I married and had two children. In 2011, John met Danny Hanlon, who is now the Chief Operating Officer for Europe & North America, when he worked in operational field support with GT’s Franchise Advisory & Support Team (FAST). Danny offered us the opportunity to take over the North Rocks franchise but we felt the pull home to the UK at the time more important.

Granite Transformations provides a unique franchise business opportunity in the fast-expanding home improvements market. We offer quality-minded homeowners an extensive choice of makeover solutions, without the demolition, debris and disruption associated with conventional kitchen and bathroom installations. Our exclusive ‘top that fits on top’ concept allows our beautiful, high grade work surfaces to be fitted directly over existing worktops, tiled walls and other finishes, eliminating the need for demolition, shortening the project timescale and reducing costs. 

“When our daughters Grace and Iris were 3 years old and 4 months, respectively, we came back to England. Danny spoke to John again and offered him the chance to start a franchise on a smaller scale – using a mini van and one display in a garden centre. This time John and I decided that we could make this work by both of us pulling together so in January 2012 we started our GT franchise covering the Taunton territory. Our mini van was kitted out as a mobile showroom and we opened a display in Sanders garden centre in Bridgwater, Somerset and shortly after that we acquired an existing garden centre display at Monkton Elm in Taunton from the Exeter GT franchise.

“John’s dad has farmland and, to keep costs down for our young family business, we used one of his barns as our fabrication unit. This gave us a really sensible opportunity to grow organically without starting with lots of debts. We lived near to the barn and this meant that I could run the back office side of the business from home and still look after the children.

“Before we launched the business, John completed an intense week of training at HQ in Tunbridge Wells. It was clear to the HQ team that he didn’t need the templating, fabrication and fitting training because of having done it in Australia so they focused his training on the sales side. I was pleasantly surprised that some of the support team from HQ came to our home to deliver the accounting training and over the past couple of years I have also gone to HQ for some sales training too. Receiving training that filled in our skills gaps seemed sensible and gave us confidence that our time was being focused in the right way. Having been an area manager for a virtual hospital, I knew that my organisational skills would be utilised in our new business and the training topped up what I needed to know. 

“Six months into the business we took on the Dorchester and Weymouth territory including Yeovil as that joined the two territories together. We had taken the decision early on to support family-run businesses and so we chose the Gould family garden centre in Dorchester and took a space in a homewares store in Dorchester high street.  

“During this time, John managed all the templating, fabricating and fitting for our customer orders as we were adamant that we wanted to keep costs down and that included staff costs. When our third baby, a boy called Jojo, came along I continued to work and even took him on an accountancy conference!

"During the floods in 2013, the barn that housed our fabricating unit was affected so we decided to look for a new fabricating warehouse. We found a great space on an industrial estate in Ilminster which sat right in the heart of our GT territories. It also had a mezzanine floor which gave us scope for future development. We moved in to the warehouse in January 2014 with an operational fabrication unit and then we decided to take the plunge and buy our first house. We decided that the time was right to put down solid roots and we were now in a good financial position with two and a half years of business accounts.

“Our GT business continued to grow and we continued to invest in displays in family-owned establishments. Our display in Palmers garden centre in Yeovil opened in July 2014 and Sherbourne Castle garden centre in Dec 2014 and we’ll be going into their other garden centres in Yeovil and Dorchester in the future. However, we knew that we wanted a bigger showroom that could be staffed at our warehouse location and after taking some breathing space after buying our home, our new Ilminster showroom opened in Christmas week of 2014. We really like having the displays in our garden centres as our potential customers never have to drive more than 20 minutes to see and touch our fantastic product but when they come to our showroom then they get the VIP treatment with fresh cake and coffee – another family touch! 

A Granite Transformations franchise gives you the chance to run a business enterprise from sales and design consultation, through measuring up and manufacturing, to installation and customer service. Few other franchises give you quite the same opportunity to handle complete projects from beginning to end, meet with customers in their own homes, and take such pride in the quality of each job and the genuine pleasure it brings. And none involve the distinctive makeover products you’ll find with Granite Transformations.

“Another important goal for us was to bring employment to our community once the time was right to bring in staff to the business. We recruited our first fitter in September 2014 to support John with the orders. Since then the team has grown and we now have two fitters, an apprentice, a part-time showroom host, a cleaner and a Saturday host. 

“We’re really proud of our growth. I manage the finances for the business and took the decision to run our first financial year to 15 months to bring us in line with HQ timings. Our turnover from January 2012 to April 2013 was £215k, then for the 12 months to April 2014 it was £207k, to April 2015 we hit £337k and we expect to reach £470k in April 2016 with 20% net profit. Another of our main goals was to maintain a really high quality of workmanship as it brings in referrals from happy customers and this, along with our support of local community groups, such as The Rotary Club, have really supported growth.

“John and I continue to run our GT franchise as a team and that includes our setting our plans for the next two years. We’ll be expanding our display at Sanders garden centre in Bridgwater into a showroom and will need a full-time showroom host that we are currently interviewing for. We’d like to consolidate our Dorchester locations into one larger showroom but will still use one of our family-run locations. 

“We’ve succeeded in our efforts to grow at a steady rate and we’ve achieved a lot in four years. We’re looking forward to having more staff support so that we can work on the business rather than being directly involved in day-to-day operations so heavily.”