Case Study - Barry Kent
"Giving myself more leisure time will be one of the greatest measures of the success of this business, and is one of the main reasons I chose a Dream Doors management franchise."
At 58, Barry Kent has had a rich working life. He has worked in management roles with leading international airlines, and is already a seasoned franchisee. After living in Australia for ten years, working in a management role with what is, today, Qantas airlines, he returned to the UK to start a family. He became a Signs Express franchisee, and ran a highly successful operation for 12 years. When the time was right, he sold his Signs Express business. Now, just four months into his new role as York's first Dream Doors franchisee, he talks about his experiences with the UK's leading kitchen facelift franchise.
There are hundreds of franchise opportunities out there. Why did you choose Dream Doors?
After I sold my Signs Express business, I played golf for about a year, and did the odd bit of franchise consulting. It was good for a while, but I soon learnt two things: I wasn't ready to hang up my hat and sit by the fire, and I didn't like working from home. I looked around at a number of franchise opportunities, and came across Dream Doors. It struck me as a really good proposition, but I didn't jump straight in. First, I got a job with a major kitchen company, and worked for about a year on the design and sales side of the business to see if the sector was right for me. It was during that time I made my mind up there was a big market for kitchen makeovers. Because of my Signs Express experience, I knew what to look for in a franchised business, and Dream Doors met all of my requirements.
What are your intentions for the growth of the new business?
Firstly, I view Dream Doors as a management franchise. It was never my intention to do the actual fitting. Now my hope is to grow the business by taking on staff and fitters, while I oversee business operations, which is what I'm best at.
You've been running your business for four months. Were you worried about the state of the economy before you signed the franchise agreement?
Not really. Dream Doors' products are right for the current market and will continue to be right. This is the type of business that works well regardless of the economic climate. During a recession, a lot of people don't move house because it's too costly and too risky. Instead they do various things to their current homes to upgrade them. The good thing about kitchens is that, although they get old and tired, structurally they are usually pretty much laid out the way people want. The carcasses are intact, and all that's needed is a bit of sprucing up, and that's precisely what we do.
What are the main selling points for customers, in addition to those you've just mentioned?
Kitchen facelifts are great for customers for a number or reasons. They're environmentally sound because you're not ripping anything out and throwing it away, they're much quicker than a full renovation, they're far more cost-effective, and the end result is a kitchen that looks fresh and new. It's important to remember that most of our customers are mature and don't want the upheaval of a complete renovation, which will often take more than a week. With Dream Doors, we are in and out in one or two days. The kitchen facelifts are also of a high quality, but they're still less than half the price of a new kitchen.
Why did you buy a franchise, rather than set up your own business?
I'm a firm believer that you buy a business and stick with the plan. If you look at a business and think you could do it better, I would say: "don't buy it!" A lot of potential franchisees buy a business and then want to change it. What's the point in that? You're paying for the formula, and the formula will give you success if you work at it. I think that franchisees who fail with a good franchisor are the ones who pay their money and think they've done the hard bit. The work starts after you've paid for the business. It's your business and you have to make it into something valuable. The franchisor won't do that for you. If the business model is right and the franchisee works hard at the business, it will be successful.
In that case, would you say that the Dream Doors business model right?
Absolutely. I know that Dream Doors has evolved over the last ten years, and is now a mature company. All of the right systems are in place and the support is well balanced. Of course, running my new franchise is not without its hiccups, but so far, any problems I've had haven't been related to the franchise model – they're the kind of teething troubles you get starting out in any business. The real difference is that, when I do run into problems, Troy and the Dream Doors team are always there to help. I really like that – having people on the end of the phone and feeling part of a team, while at the same time feeling as though I have a great deal of independence.
Did you get any training before you began operating?
Yes. I had two week's of training in Gosport, which is where Dream Doors head office is based. After that I had training on the job from regional franchise support managers. It's a staged learning process that gives you enough knowledge to begin trading with confidence.
Since you began trading, what has the sales activity been like?
It's been a challenge, but for all of the right reasons. The business took off so well that my fitter has been flat out fitting when he could have been helping me get the showroom sorted out! I needed help there too. It's a nice problem to have, though. Overall, my lead-to-sale conversion has been much better than I expected.
How did you market the business to get the leads?
Dream Doors supplied all of the necessary marketing material. All of the advertisements I used, I picked from a small catalogue of templates supplied by Dream Doors. Head office gave me exactly the right advice about where to place my ads to reach the right audience. This eliminated all of the trial and error scenarios associated with marketing a non-franchised start-up. If you start on your own, you've got to dream up new ads and you've got to think about where to place them. To be honest, I'd rather be thinking about how to get my kitchens fitted than worrying about whether my marketing is working or not. The comprehensive package laid on by Dream Doors has saved time, helped me to generate really good leads and subsequently boosted my conversion rate.
It's sounds as though, overall, you're happy with the decision you made to team up with the Dream Doors brand?
Definitely. It's done more than live up to my expectations – it's exceeded them. Things are going much better than I could have hoped. Of course, I'm only four months in, but I've been around long enough to know what starting a business is like, and this has been a lot less stress than I imagined. With Dream Doors, It's all there. The plan works. It really is a business in a box.
In addition to the telephone and field support, do you have a manual to help you if you get stuck with something?
I do have an operations manual, which is comprehensive and thoroughly written. Everything is covered in the manual from finding fitters, advertising for staff, and interviewing techniques to contracts of employment, dealing with customers, carrying out quotes and completing orders plus lots more. You name it; it's in the ops manual.
What happens when you reach a point of confidence and don't need as much support?
Really, that's a great place for both the franchisors and franchisee to be. A smart franchisor will quickly sum up the strengths and weaknesses of all of his or her franchisees. If you don't need support they should let your run your business without interference – as long as your hitting your agreed targets of course. I know that when I want the help from Dream Doors, they are there for me, but they also give me space to run my own business. It's a balancing act that Dream Doors has got right.
Did being represented by a recognised franchise brand help with funding?
Definitely. There's no doubt in my mind that if I'd gone to the bank to ask for a loan to start a kitchen showroom, I wouldn't have got it. But with an established franchise name behind you, one that's been successfully operating and expanding for more than ten years, doors tend to open more freely.
What do you enjoy most about what you're doing now?
I get a big kick from starting a business up. Both times I've been a franchisee, I've started in a virgin territory. I've found the showroom, found the clients, and got a great deal of satisfaction building something from nothing. It also gives me a good feeling to know that there will be at least three or four more people with jobs in York because of me.
The other thing I like is the sense that I'm responsible for my own destiny. At 58, I'm not ready to throw the towel in, and I don't think I could ever work for anybody again, so I'm really pleased I've started something new. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a workaholic, and I do want to get a lifestyle out of this business, such as nice holidays, and a few more rounds of golf, but it takes a while to get to that point. Giving myself more leisure time will be one of the greatest measures of the success of this business, and is one of the main reasons I chose a Dream Doors management franchise. My approach is: get the right staff, get the business geared in the right way, and in a year or two the business should tick over nicely whether I'm there or on holiday.