December 19, 2019
Over 35 years since its launch, the UK’s first ever cleaning franchise – Poppies of Durham – is still going strong. Franchisee, Nicola Marinan, who took over operations of the flagship office in 2017, continues in the footsteps of its original owner, Elizabeth Richardson. Two years since taking the reins, Nicola reflects on her success and looks to the future for her historic business.
Poppies Durham opened its doors in 1982 as the brand’s pilot franchise. It was purchased by Elizabeth in 1984, who then worked tirelessly for more than 30 years to create a profitable and rewarding business. When the time came to retire, Elizabeth was determined that the next owner must share her passion and dedication. Things she recognised in family friend, Nicola. Initially in jest, Nicola suggested she’d buy the business. However, this light-hearted quip quickly turned into a serious conversation and, after careful consideration, Nicola decided that her future did indeed lay with Poppies.
“I have to admit that I wasn’t initially looking for a new challenge but after several discussions about what Poppies involved, I was hooked! I didn’t really know anything about franchising but the more I found out from Elizabeth, the more I liked the idea of having the backup and support behind you. It meant a big change for me, which was scary, but it made sense both financially and personally.”
Poppies was founded in 1980 and today, has a 22 strong network which boats an impressive £5million annual turnover. Franchisees manage a team of dedicated cleaners who visit clients’ homes and provide a range of top-quality services: from basic housekeeping and laundry to party clear-ups, spring cleans and home-move assistance.
Prior to taking over the franchise, Nicola spent over 19 years working in Durham Constabulary where she honed the organisation, communication and process skills that now serve her so well. “A Poppies business is all about building relationships,” says franchisor, Chris Wootton. “And that’s something that Nicola excels at.”
“As a people-person, I knew I would thrive in this business,” she explains. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the wonderful clients we work with and continuing Elizabeth’s legacy. That’s still my favourite part of the business to this day – the people you meet and the satisfaction you get from providing a great service.”
In January 2018, Nicola began an internal restructure, promoting staff into supervisory roles which would allow her to focus on business development and propel the business to new heights. She now employs a team of 33 and services over 250 clients in the area, providing more than 1,600 cleaning hours every month. “I’ve even got a member of staff who’s been with us for over 30 years,” says Nicola. “It’s so rewarding to have a business that supports my local community in the long term too.”
With its 40th anniversary on the horizon, the future looks bright for Poppies. Despite economic uncertainties, the franchise has shown resilience and has continued to grow, year on year. What’s more, the brand has just been named as one of the top three cleaning franchises in the UK, taking third place in the industry and 43rd in the UK overall in the prestigious ‘Elite Franchise Top 100’ awards.
With the support of her husband, Jonathan, Nicola is poised to take her franchise to new heights in 2020: “I don’t just want to carry on the legacy of Poppies Durham,” she explains. “I want to build on it! My goal is to increase our monthly cleaning hours to over 2,000 a month. It’s very ambitious but I think I can achieve it – I’m a very optimistic person and, although I’d have to recruit several more cleaners, that’s the direction I want to take the business – ensuring repeat business is just as important as generating new customers.”
“I’m also looking forward to moving away from a paper-based system to a more electronic integration. It will certainly help us to become more efficient in everything we do – from scheduling to invoicing and keeping track of clients’ satisfaction. My vision to take my business to the next level is fully supported by new developments in the franchise. It’s an exciting time.”