Finalists Focus: B2B Franchisee of the Year
Developing a flourishing and profitable B2B operation is no easy task. Competition can be tough, so success requires the ability to build exceptional relationships alongside the highest levels of products and service.
The three finalists in this category have all demonstrated those skills (and many more) in abundance. All have pioneered new ideas and taken leading roles within their network; all have grown substantial businesses; and all are an inspiration to any B2B business owner looking at how they can succeed.
Kevin Preston, Drain Doctor North-West
Blackpool-based Kevin started out as an apprentice in his family’s plumbing business. Just over 20 years since starting his franchise, and having partnered up with neighbouring franchisees, he now owns a business covering much of the north-west with a turnover of over £1.5m.
Kevin, 55, operates seven franchise territories and employs 17 staff. Around 90% of his work now comes from B2B customers and the continual scaling up of his business, allowing investment in cutting edge technology, has given him opportunities that others could only dream of.
That pattern began early on in the life of his franchise, when Kevin acquired a rival business. That gave him new machinery and contacts and it became clear to him that a B2B focus was the way to go.
Since then, investing in specialist equipment has given Kevin the capability to take on the most complex and challenging commercial work. He’s gone from pioneering the use of CCTV to show customers (and insurers) the problems in drains and how he had fixed them, to a recent investment of £200,000 in a new tanker and the very latest equipment. No job is out of reach. That includes helping at the Open golf championship, with a local course calling Kevin with an emergency just a few days before hosting the tournament!
The franchise network is very important to Kevin. He mentors and supports smaller franchisees that wish to develop their commercial activity, including completing larger commercial projects directly to make sure the business stays within Drain Doctor rather than being sub-contracted elsewhere.
Kevin’s success has seen him win 18 Drain Doctor awards in 20 years. He’ll be hoping for another accolade to add to his collection on 1 October.
Lee Brimecombe & Paul Nebbett, in-toto kitchens Exeter
Lee and Paul head up a family-run kitchen design business that’s been operating for over 22 years and has installed demonstration kitchens for some of the region’s top celebrity chefs. Having worked in it for several years, the pair recently took on the business from Lee’s father-in-law, who still works with them (Lee also counts his wife and brother-in-law in the team). While ranking in the top 10 for B2C sales in the in-toto network, it’s impressive developments and relationship-building in a B2B context that really showcase their skills.
Collaborations with south-west house builders have been crucial, including one for whom they have installed 250 kitchens and counting. There have been huge benefits for the entire network: a local partnership with a retirement home company led to a large nationwide contract with in-toto head office, benefiting several other franchisees.
The B2B success has continued into the academic arena, with in-toto Exeter designing and installing kitchens at colleges and universities for the next generation of chefs.
And over the past 12 years, the business has also become an integral part of the Exeter Food Festival, providing the demonstration kitchens for attending chefs, working closely with well-known names including 2-star Michelin chefs, Michael Caines MBE and Nathan Outlaw, on several different occasions. That’s led to plenty of publicity too.
To capitalise on these business relationships, when it came to redesigning their own showroom recently a 50-seat area was put in place which could be used by others. That’s seen chefs showcase their skills onsite and a local media outlet host evening events, raising awareness and bringing new potential customers into the showroom.
It’s no surprise that other in-toto franchisees have been interested in emulating Lee and Paul’s B2B success. Characteristically for such good relationship-builders, they’re only too happy to help.
Lee Eaton, Signs Express Manchester
Lee has developed a thriving business built on exceptional service levels, leading to a very large client list which includes designing signs and graphics for Team Sky, Team Wiggins and Great British Cycling amongst others.
After setting up the business with his father in 1997, Lee took sole ownership in 2012. He has seen the business grow 25% year-on-year, impressive for any business after so many years in operation, thanks to investments in innovative technology, staff training and client relations. He’s picked up several new clients from referrals, added value to existing projects, and also pioneered a brand new market opportunity through large-scale, single-sheet wallpaper products.
Lee and his team have regularly travelled around Europe to carry out their work with Team Sky; following the 2014 and 2015 Tour De France wins, they rebranded support vehicles overnight with the winner’s yellow graphics for the last celebratory stage of the tour through Paris. Sir Dave Brailsford even nicknamed Lee ‘Sticker Boy’!
But that sort of dedication is not reserved for his high-profile clients; Lee insists on all customers receiving the same experience. “Customer service is in our blood,” he says. Longevity has played a big part in that: some of his managers have been with him more than 10 years, thanks to the importance Lee places on training, incentivising and empowering his team. There’s an open-door policy for staff to suggest improvements and ideas, and a joint bonus based on turnover and profit. His people are his business.
Passionate about his local community, Lee provides free support and signage services to customers for their work with local charities. His relentless focus on team and service has seen him drive his business to a seven-figure turnover and be named 2014 Signs Express Franchisee of the Year. He’s now looking to turn that into a UK-wide title.
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