Franchise Case Study: California Dreamin’

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Still in her twenties, Cynthia started her own shopping service, and then took a job in medical sales, exploiting her sunny personality and obvious drive. It was not until she was looking to renovate the kitchen countertops at her home in Santa Rosa, that she first crossed paths with Granite Transformations.

“I saw this new granite product on HGTV and I thought, there’s no way that product could go over tiles,” recalls Cynthia. “But it could and I was cooking by 6 pm on the second day of the install. The sink, stove and plumbing were hooked up and ready to go. No mess, no fuss, it was done!”

She could have written the brand’s advertising slogans perhaps, but instead she called the Bay Area franchise and asked if they needed a sales representative in Sonoma County. They did and, with her enthusiasm and belief in the product, she immediately sold eighteen makeovers in her neighborhood alone.

Almost inevitably, this led her to open her own franchise in Sonoma County, GT area 79, located on Airway Drive, Santa Rosa. Cynthia bought 50% of the operation and three minor partners own the other half of the enterprise, which comprises a large 3,000 sq. ft. showroom and, at that time, an adjacent fabrication workshop.

Sonoma County is in San Francisco’s North Bay area and is the largest wine processing region of California, with its county seat in Santa Rosa. The region is pretty affluent and a good match for prospective makeover customers. Cynthia soon extended her presence in the area, and in 2011, she took over a struggling franchise in Solana County (GT 47), consolidating all nearby fabrication to be centrally located. Most recently, she purchased a new territory, GT 120, in Contra Costa, edging into the inner East Bay area and taking her total households to around 1,000,000.

Meanwhile, Cynthia had also acquired a husband, having married Dan Schroeder a couple of years back. They met on Match.com, the popular online dating site, brought together by a mutual interest in home improvements. How’s that for mixing business with pleasure? They now work together in the business, heading up a team of up to 20 full-time employees and three commissioned sales representatives.

“We joke that I’m the headquarters and he’s the hindquarters” laughs Cynthia. “Because I work in the front office, in the shop and out on the road, while he looks after the fabrication and installation side.”

There’s another secret to Cynthia and Dan’s success, their Operations Manager, Debbie Sweet, who has been with Cynthia since Day 1 and attends GT conventions and workshops with her. Also, let’s not forget their administrative assistant, Crystal, and her dog, Roxy, the Sonoma office mascot, who are the first point of customer contact.

“They all do a wonderful job” says Cynthia. “Debbie looks after installation scheduling, purchasing and the whole operations process, while Crystal and Roxy are the friendly faces you see when entering the showroom. It gives us a distinctive character and goes down well with first-time callers. My team is important, because I’m out in the field a lot, this year selling over a million dollars myself.”

Cynthia, Dan, Debbie and the team are brand pioneers in California, in that they install 50/50 kitchen and bathroom makeovers. Cynthia is enthusiastic about the revenue potential of the bathroom sector and feels that fellow GT franchise owners should not be afraid of venturing into these less familiar installs.

“Bathrooms are double the cost of kitchens, but really not any more difficult to fit and very profitable” she explains. “We use subcontractors to carry out the plumbing work and install the slab, mosaic tiles and hard flooring ourselves. Most of our bathrooms are large, with separate soaking tubs and walk-in showers, and we also fit patio hot tub surrounds:’

California kitchens are big too, typically with island units, range cookers and acres of countertop, up to 150 sq. ft., although Cynthia’s franchise doesn’t get involved in fitting appliances, leaving that to white goods specialists. They also re-fit RV kitchens, taking advantage of the lightweight Granite Transformations material. They also upgraded a local resort and spa, with countertops for the concierge desks, tabletops for the restaurant and bar, and shower pans in all 120 guest rooms. Cabinet refacing is also a growing part of the business.

Cynthia’s best-selling slab color is Royal Ivory, which has been wildly successful across the franchise network because of its broad appeal and ability to go with almost anything. Perla di Modena granite is also popular, as the mottled earthen look produces a pleasing aesthetic in bathrooms and kitchens.

Custom mosaic blends, in ¾” square tiles, are mostly favored by North and East Bay customers, as are mini-Subway tesserae and fashionable Hexagonal tiles for shower floors. Cynthia features a distinctive Trend Wallpaper decorative panel in a showroom bathroom display and recently commissioned a custom glass mosaic of her dog, Stuart.

Most of the franchise’s leads come from customer referrals, reflecting the quality of the finished work, and other reliable inquiry sources are the internet and the annual round of home shows. Cynthia also has an informal connection with a local celebrity, broadcaster and presenter, Ross McGowan, who hosted the Bay Area TV show, ‘People Are Talking.’ Ross, a good friend of Cynthia’s who has Granite Transformations’ products installed in his home, is working on an infomercial with her and visits the showroom for promotional events.

As for the immediate future, Cynthia plans to double the size of her fabrication facility and explore the commercial possibilities offered by centralized manufacturing. “I feel so positive about the future,” she says. “I’ve got a great team and everyone is working to their strengths. Customers are happy with our products and our work. It’s a good life.”

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