Bathroom-design franchise Ripples is making waves in the home-fittings market
As is often the case with a business, the Ripples’ story starts long before the writing of a business plan or registering of a company name. Prior to co-founding Ripples with his spouse Sandra, Roger Kyme earned his stripes working as regional director for building material supplier Travis Perkins. After a two-year stint in Canada, where Roger headed up the shower-door manufacturer Showerlux, the couple returned to the UK with a desire to start their own enterprise. “They wanted a high-end business that was focused on service and quality,” explains Paul Crow, franchise manager at Ripples.
Bathrooms were a logical choice – obviously Showerlux had given Kyme a great deal of experience in the field and bathrooms had gradually become a significant part of Travis Perkins’ business. “It seemed the natural way to go as it was genuinely interesting and innovative,” says Crow. Additionally, while, at the time, bathrooms weren’t receiving the same amount of attention as kitchens in the UK, the entrepreneurs felt it was inevitable that fashions already being felt further afield would catch on here. “It would not be long before some of the trends being experienced across Europe and North America extended their way into the UK,” he says.
The pair were also far from lacking in appropriate experience. Sandra was a qualified and experienced bookkeeper and Roger had developed plenty of sales skills while working in the builders-merchant sector. “Ultimately, Roger trusted his ability to sell and had a very clear vision in mind of who he was going to sell to and how,” explains Crow. And this easily shaped the brand direction for the proto-enterprise.
“Roger is a sales and marketing person at heart and it was therefore imperative that the business became known for its experience,” comments Crow. The couple were set on delivering high-end bathrooms with an equally high-quality service and this made a lot of their brand decisions comparatively straightforward. But finding the right name to represent everything the retailer was going to offer was much tougher. “After weeks of agonising, it eventually came to Roger when his favourite band Genesis were played on the radio with their song Ripples, at the same time he watched ripples forming in a puddle.”
Starting a business is always a gamble but the Kymes weren’t afraid to stare Lady Luck in the face. Showing remarkable guts, the husband and wife team sold their house – they opted for growing a business they believed in over hanging on to property. So they just had to find a location. “The showroom had to be of a good size, visible, but affordable,” Crow says. “This rather limited the options available.” Fortunately, they found an excellent location on the London Road in Bath; as one of the main routes into the city, the site ensured high brand visibility and offered room for the showroom’s eventual expansion.
At the time, the business’s approach was unique. “In 1995, over 50% of bathroom purchasing decisions were undertaken by the plumber and not the householder,” explains Crow. This meant that there was still a real lack of consumer choice and few showrooms were targeted toward helping consumers easily make aesthetic decisions. “Ripples chose to appoint interior designers to work in the showroom so that the consumer could understand more about what they were buying; colour schemes, textures, storage space and other important considerations not thought about by the average plumber.”
And it wasn’t too long before Ripples began to spread. “As the business started to grow, Ripples identified that the clients coming into the showroom were living further and further away, with clients from London [arriving on] an almost weekly [basis],” says Crow. The opportunity for expansion was ripe and the entrepreneurs began to consider nearby cities such as Bristol for new showrooms. Unfortunately, trying to extract such a high amount of capital from the Bath profits would have put the store under a great deal of pressure so the company began to look to other methods of expansion.
Fortunately, the franchise model has proved a particularly good fit for Ripples. “Our business translates very well into franchising because it operates as an ‘owner-occupier’ style company,” Crow comments. Managing a Ripples showroom takes ownership and engagement, something that comes naturally to an individual with a stake in its success. A degree of autonomy also helps in managing the supply chain and allows franchisees flexibility in the way they work with approved suppliers.
And this has helped to build a well-respected bathroom retailer, something reflected in the fact it has won a good 50 industry awards – not to mention the 2010 Customer Service Award – for its approach. “By employing people for their design skills, we expect them to provide a solution for the customer that inspires them and provides them with a bathroom that is greater than the sum of its products,” says Crow. However, the recognition the company has received is really just a by-product of the relationships it likes to establish with its customers. “If you combine the right customer with the right products and a talented designer, you get great bathrooms.”
Ripples isn’t prepared to rest on its laurels though. As Crow comments: “[We want] to continue enjoying what we do, to develop our partnerships with existing franchise partners, to share our story with more and more home owners and to find other like-minded people who will invest in a Ripples franchise partnership.” All told, it seems there’s still plenty more to expect from the bathroom retailer.
As they say, every act creates a ripple...