Troy Tappenden set up Dream Doors with £500 and the lofty idea of creating a high-end kitchen makeover business that didn’t break the bank for customers. It’s fair to say his dream has been achieved in more ways than one.
As the UK’s largest kitchen makeover firm, Dream Doors offers replacement doors, worktops and drawer fronts to transform a kitchen for a fraction of the cost of a full re-fit. With more than 70 franchisees in showrooms across the UK, the company enjoyed its best-ever year in 2015 and looks set for more record-breaking in 2016.
Q&A subject: Dream Doors managing director, Troy Tappenden
- Franchised since: 1999
- of franchisees: 70+
- Network turnover: £33m in 2015, including HQ
- Typical start-up cost: Total cost is £75,000, with £25,000 invested by the franchisee
(1) What’s the start-up story behind Dream Doors, where did the business begin?
I’d always wanted to work for myself and had set myself a deadline of starting my own company by the time I turned 30 – I figured if I hadn’t done it by then, I never would. I was working for Hampshire County Council, but not enjoying it, and so I began looking at franchise opportunities.
I finally found something that appealed, working as a franchisee for Made to Measure Doors. That didn’t work out, but I could see the consumer appetite for kitchen makeovers and replacement door services, which gave me the inspiration for Dream Doors and I launched the company in 1999.
(2) What led you to franchise it?
It was when I first opened a showroom, in my home town of Gosport. It instantly gave the business much more credibility and my customers loved that they could come in and see and touch the product. I realised that the model could probably work anywhere, but wanted to try a couple of pilot franchises to test the theory.
Doing so taught me that franchisees need a lot of support and you can’t just expect them to go out and deliver fantastic sales from day one. The support element is a major part of our proposition to this day and we aim to give franchisees every last thing they need to succeed. I officially launched Dream Doors as a franchise business in 2002, at Birmingham’s NEC.
(3) High street retailers have faced difficult times in recent years. Has that been your experience?
In 2008 and 2009 I was certainly worried that the global economic outlook would have an impact on Dream Doors. But in actual fact, we grew during that period. People were reluctant to spend £10,000 or more on a full re-fit, but were happy to spend significantly less on a kitchen makeover.
Having a physical showroom is an important part of how our franchise works. Everyone starts off running a Dream Doors franchise from a home office and we then look to help secure premises within six months. Without fail, there is always a significant increase in sales when the showroom opens. Ours is a physical product and people just like to see it, so Dream Doors showrooms will always be a part of what we do.
(4) Who are your typical customers and how does that impact on your franchisees and the skills they need?
While the benefits of a kitchen makeover can be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds, it’s true to say that much of our business is with the over 50s. People of that age aren’t generally worried about job cuts or redundancies, and don’t usually want to embark on a major DIY project, with the cost and disruptions that come with that. So our model works really well for that demographic – they are happy to spend a few thousand pounds on improving their kitchen and we are more than happy to help them do so!
We conducted a customer survey last year and it showed that 87 per cent of our customers said that trust was the most important factor when buying from Dream Doors. Customers want to feel reassured, especially since many are elderly and invite our franchisees into their homes, so all our franchisees are given the people skills training to be able to do that.
(5) Have you won any awards for your franchisee recruitment processes?
I am delighted to say that Dream Doors is a serial award winner! In 2015 we won a prestigious 2015 BFA HSBC Franchisor of the Year Award, in the franchisee recruiter of the year category.
The judges said that we have a “commanding grasp” of how to attract and assess the right individuals for the network, and that we have a “highly impressive approach” to taking on new franchisees. We are open, honest and transparent at all stages of the process and it was great to see that recognised. We can’t be successful unless our franchisees are, and that’s why we’re so selective about who we let into the network.
(6) What sort of training do you offer? Any recent developments in this area?
In Q4 2015 we launched a new recruitment and training programme for our franchisees, ensuring we recruit the right people and that they get the right support and training once they have been selected.
Our training programme is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the UK and begins with a four-week period that will cover business set-up, supplier visits, IT training and the company van options. Franchisees will then spend two weeks at Dream Doors HQ, including a thorough introduction to kitchen industry suppliers, product training, CRM, bookkeeping, advertising and marketing, before undergoing a comprehensive sales training programme. The final phase will focus on everything else, including design skills, and accessories training in build up to a successful showroom launch.
When we launched our new training programme, we also opened a new bespoke training centre that replicates a Dream Doors showroom, to really give our franchisees a true feel of their future working environment.
(7) What’s the scale of your franchisees’ businesses, is there room to grow?
There is always room to grow. In fact, helping our franchisees do better is a key part of our overall growth strategy. I don’t see the benefit in having hundreds and hundreds of Dream Doors franchisees – a network that size takes a lot of management and you inevitably get a number of poor performers. I’d say the maximum would be around 100 for Dream Doors and I’d want at least 90 or so of those to be doing really well.
The average turnover per franchise increased to £500,000 in 2015, a great figure. But some of our franchisees turnover more than £1m, so the opportunity for growth is enormous.
(8) You’ve been highly praised by Checkatrade – why?
Delivering a first-class service to our customers is the cornerstone of our business, and many of those customers use Checkatrade as an indicator of what we are like to do business with. We achieved an average customer rating of 9.7 out of ten during 2015 and of all the feedback left on Dream Doors via Checkatrade, only one in every 187 jobs showed reasons for concern. The national average is one in four, which is why Checkatrade’s Kevin Byrne said our results were “nothing short of remarkable”.
(9) Name three attributes you look for in your franchisees?
The main ones are a willingness to get stuck in and to not be afraid of hard work. Running your own business is very rewarding but is challenging too, and anyone expecting an easy ride is not right for Dream Doors. Beyond that we look for resilience – how people adapt to problems along the way. We want our franchisees to embrace the opportunity and utilise the support and guidance we provide.
Traditionally we have recruited our franchisees from a variety of backgrounds – attitude was always more important than the CV. But recently we’ve adapted that strategy, choosing to now also recruit those with existing kitchen skills and expertise.
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