Ex-teacher and active charity trustee Lesley Wallace opened her Dream Doors showroom in Thatcham, Berkshire at the beginning of the year. It took six months of toil, and a significant investment, to turn a run-down building into a state-of-the-art kitchen showroom. But with such doom and gloom on the high street, what made Lesley ditch her career in the relatively stable education sector and plough her life's savings into a franchised retail venture, and in a new industry to boot?
“I wanted a different challenge after spending years working with schools and charities,” she says. “And while my job was rewarding in lots of ways, it was also very restrictive.
“Well, I got what I wanted as it's been a challenging few months! But I believed in this business from the outset. It's such a fantastic idea that almost anyone who takes pride in their home would be interested in. Now we can invite the public into our showroom so that they can see for themselves just what is possible with a Dream Doors kitchen transformation.”
As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry – especially the practical side of the business – Lesley had a difficult transition to make. Like most Dream Doors franchisees, she left a comfort zone and had to quickly learn how to manage experienced tradesmen, and become versed in alien terminologies. But none of this was unexpected, and Lesley appreciated the candour of Dream Doors managing director Troy Tappenden in their early meetings.
“Everything has panned out exactly as we were told it would,” she says. “Troy has been honest from the start, painting a realistic picture with real figures. He identified areas of strength and weakness very quickly, and made sure we had more help in the areas we needed it most. I'm really enjoying being a business owner, despite the stress, and have absolutely no regrets at all.
“We were victims of our own success in the first few weeks. We found this showroom before training and used it as a base while it was being renovated. Because of that we had some big early orders, in fact we hold a Dream Doors record of more than £25,000 for our first three sales! And that was from a time when we really were still learning.”
But while saving money and convenience are important to customers, Lesley says it's the service they get from franchisees like her, whose livelihoods are at stake, that makes Dream Doors stand out. “You can sell the best products around, but if you don't deliver on your promises you won't be around for long,” she says. “We build relationships with our customers, and we respect their investment and their homes. After all, they're trusting us with one of the rooms they use the most.
“That personal approach is reflected in the feedback we get. Our first ever customers sent us an email just before Christmas. They went away while we completed the work, and said how delighted they were when they returned. They were particularly impressed with the attention to detail in the kitchen and said that they wouldn't hesitate before recommending us to anyone else. Comments like that make all our hard work – and the last six-months of stress – worthwhile!”