With a little help from franchise manager Sean Goldsmith, Shuttercraft is renovating its brand and business model
Shuttercraft – which installs premium, made-to-order shutters – was founded in the 2002 by Rob James and his sister and brother-in-law Fiona and Richard Vlasto. They spotted an opportunity to take advantage of the market for quality shutters, which was in its infancy at the time. After finding a partner in China to help manufacture the product to the right standard, its first franchisee came on board. And within five years the franchise network has steadily mushroomed to include 19 franchisees.
While pleased with the growth, Shuttercraft knew it was lacking in some key areas. Not only were consumers exhibiting a relatively low level of awareness of its brand but its executive team also wanted to emphasise its key points of difference: its people and services. “We needed to fine-tune it, make our branding a little bit better and provide a more inclusive programme,” explains Mark Stradling, the franchise’s business development manager.
For the past six months, Shuttercraft has frozen franchisee recruitment, instead focusing on upping the number of area managers in the network and making strategic new hires like Sean Goldsmith as franchise manager. With a leadership team that was keen to grow the business and willing to invest in it, Goldsmith was effectively given a blank slate to help the company evolve from being a man with a van business into a service-driven company with a more people-centric brand identity. “I relished the opportunity,” he recalls.
Goldsmith and his team have painstakingly mapped out the entire customer journey, working out where improvements were most needed. The first order of the day was making sure the level of service the franchisees offered was consistent, as well as investing more in the service element of the business. “We know our products are great,” he explains. “But we wanted to make it about the person and the experience.”
As well as implementing streamlined customer management and accounting software on an operational level, the team reimagined what the company should stand for. And trust is at the heart of the new brand they’ve crafted. “Our customers want to support a local business but they want the safety and security that comes with a larger brand,” explains Goldsmith.
And for Shuttercraft, that personal approach should be consistent throughout the country and across every touchpoint, from the moment a potential customer discovers the brand to when they’re sitting in an armchair in their living room admiring their new blinds. “As far as we can, we’re trying to personalise the experience and deliver a better service to go with our product,” says Goldsmith. “In this digital age, sometimes the old-school methods work best.” Being more conscientious towards customers can have a transformative effect, whether that’s through something simple like taking your shoes off when you arrive or a more thoughtful effort like leaving a handwritten note with flowers for customers. “Those moments are magical,” he says.
Part of the new approach is also about capitalising on organic word of mouth by enhancing the franchise’s digital presence. “We’re very lucky to have photogenic products that people notice in their neighbours’ windows,” Goldsmith says. Having such an attention-grabbing product means that Shuttercraft often finds itself gaining new clients through word of mouth alone. “Referrals are a huge source of new business for us,” he says. “One franchisee got six new customers off the back of one referral.”
To tap into that recommendation culture Shuttercraft is investing more in photography, platforms like Instagram, video and making its website mobile-friendly – especially given that 80% of its traffic comes from a mobile device.
But crafting a fresh brand identity and rolling out a shiny new website is only half the battle. Since the franchisees are often the ones with the most direct customer contact, they need to be roving brand ambassadors. And for the brand to resonate consistently, franchisees have to be on the same page. “There was no point in having two franchisees doing things in very different ways,” Goldsmith says.
To this end, Shuttercraft has invested in new online training software, which franchisees can access remotely. Twice a month, they log on to learn different aspects of the business and become immersed in the Shuttercraft way. The company has also upped the amount of mentoring support it gives franchisees – a shift from the past, when they were left to their own devices. Goldsmith notes that while there was some hesitation at first, after seeing the initial results the franchisees are showing signs of buying into the new positioning and are asking for more help. “When I first arrived, that would have been the last thing they would have done,” he says.
Franchisees will also play a more central role in communicating the new brand identity to the public. Shuttercraft aims to shine a light on the people behind the product, telling the story of its franchisees through its content. Part of the reason for this is that it believes increasing visibility of and public trust in its franchisees is especially important given they are being invited into people’s homes. “Customers will effectively get to know the person that’s going to show up on their doorstep before they arrive,” Goldsmith elaborates.
As well as connecting with its customers more deeply and driving consistency among franchisees, Shuttercraft is hoping its investment will help set it further apart from competitors, carve out a niche in the market and, importantly, future-proof the brand so it’s more resilient.
However, there is one area that Goldsmith admits he has his work cut out for him: having more female representation among franchisees – especially since so many of the company’s customers are women. “I believe that women would do amazingly well in this industry,” says Goldsmith. This is because Shuttercraft’s customers usually know what they want style-wise but need someone with good communication skills to help them understand what is possible within the space they have. “It just makes sense that a woman would excel in this role,” he adds. “If I could, at least 50% of all our franchisees would be women.”
So if being a franchisee is so suited to women, why aren’t they signing up in their droves? According to Goldsmith, franchising as an industry “has a problem” and isn’t doing a good enough job at marketing itself to women. He believes that there’s an overemphasis on facts and figures at the expense of highlighting other draws like finding fulfilling work, having fun, achieving a work-life balance and gaining access to support and training. “To appeal to women, we need to sell to the heart – not just the head,” he says.
Adding to his to-do list, the franchise manager is keen to turn Shuttercraft into the largest retailer of shutters in the UK and make it a model for the industry. But he isn’t in danger of losing sight of the purpose behind his role: to help people make a living and promote constant learning. “I got into franchising because it gave me the opportunity to teach people,” he says. “Franchisees aren’t born: they’re made.” With Shuttercraft, his aim is to help people build more sustainable businesses and get better at learning from each other. “The potential is huge,” he says.