Whether it’s moving to the other side of the world or giving the franchise a facelift, Danny Hanlon is doing whatever it takes to help Trend Transformations reach its full potential
Building an innovative global franchise is a process of perpetual reinvention. Whether it’s expanding your product line or refreshing your brand, the best franchises are the ones that can move with the times. Having helped Trend Transformations conquer continents and find a whole new identity, there are few better placed than Danny Hanlon, the franchise’s chief operating officer, to understand why the most successful franchises are those that embrace change.
Having come from a military family, Hanlon is certainly no stranger to life on the move: when he was a child, his father’s position as a captain in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers saw him moving every two years and changing schools nine times. “It was always a challenge,” he admits. “Just when you’ve made a new group of friends, you move and you’ve got to find a new one.” By the time Hanlon reached his teenage years, his father had left the army so the family settled in Perth in Western Australia. And this gave Hanlon some time to think about his future career. “I always wanted to be a carpenter,” he says. “My grandfather had done it years before and I had a passion for it.”
By the time Hanlon graduated, he had already started to look at apprenticeships that would allow him to work with wood. “I got a position as a cabinet maker with Associated Shopfitters, the largest shopfitting firm in Perth,” he says. During his second year on the apprenticeship he was brought into an office role, something that saw him measuring sites, liaising with architects and working side-by-side with the site foreman. It was while doing this that he began to see there was a big disconnect between those on the floor and management. “It was quite an easy thing to fix: you just had to get people together, get them communicating and build a team,” he says. “But while I tried my best to change things, it just didn’t come together.”
In light of this, Hanlon began to look for opportunities elsewhere and came across a job ad for a fledgling kitchen resurfacing business founded by childhood friends Colin Mackenzie and Bob Smith, which at the time was called Granite Transformations. “They had wanted to start a business together and the home-remodelling industry was really taking off in the Australian market,” Hanlon says. Coming across an agglomerate floor tile, the duo realised that if they could get the material produced in large enough sizes, it would offer them a fast and attractive way to renovate customers’ kitchen surfaces without doing a full refit. “They could apply an engineered stone made up of either granite, quartz or porcelain directly over existing kitchen counters,” Hanlon explains. “Rather than customers having to go through the hassle of a complete tear out, they could come in and renovate the worktop in one day.”
When Hanlon turned up for an interview in a premises that was “less like a showroom and more like a shed”, Mackenzie and Smith explained that they wanted him to handle the installation process but they could only afford to take him on as a subcontractor. Whilst this meant he would have to front A$10,000 to buy the tools and van he needed, the pair’s ambition won him over. “They said: ‘Once we’ve proved the model works here, we’re going to franchise it and take it to America and Europe’,” Hanlon recalls. “‘If you join us right now, you’ll have the opportunity to grow with the business.’”
There was only one thing that gave Hanlon pause. “Behind them they had the very first operation board, which is where we schedule all of our work, and they only had two jobs on it,” he says. After he expressed his scepticism about how the founders planned to bring in business, they showed him a cabinet they wanted him to resurface with the material, which they planned to use for a before-and-after display at a local shopping mall to drum up customers. Hanlon needn’t have worried. “We were three or four people deep the whole two days and got over 100 enquiries after that first display,” he says. “From that point on, we knew we were onto something very good.”
Once the leads began rolling in, the next step was getting to work on the first Trend Transformations showroom. “We made a lot of mistakes, as you do when you’re starting out, but we also learnt an awful lot,” Hanlon says. Not only did the 12 months they worked on the pilot store help the founders document their processes and put together a franchise manual but Hanlon feels that running their own store gave the trio valuable insight into the needs and concerns of their franchisees. “It meant we had walked in their shoes and knew what they were going through,” he says. “If you can see things from a franchisee’s perspective, it always makes you a better franchisor.”
Before long, Trend Transformations was on the hunt for franchisees, something that didn’t take long given the buzz surrounding the brand. “We started to get a lot of interest from people that had a kitchen done and then thought ‘hang on: this is a good business concept’,” Hanlon says. But while harnessing this word of mouth helped Trend Transformations to quickly begin to sign franchisees, it was when it featured on Our House, an Australian home-remodelling TV show, that the franchise really began to take off across the country. “That gave our concept nationwide coverage,” he says. “From that point on, our growth reached another level.”
Given that much of Australia’s population is concentrated on the east coast, by this stage Smith had made the move to Sydney and Mackenzie soon followed. “As soon as that TV programme aired, they both needed to be there to manage things because the growth was unreal,” Hanlon says. For a time, Hanlon acted as general manager for the Perth store, helping it to grow to A$1.8m in revenue, before joining Trend Transformations’ founders in Sydney as national technical operating manager. “I acted in a training and support capacity, helping the new franchisees that we were starting to recruit and setting all of the new locations up,” he says.
Eventually the time was right for the franchise to expand overseas, meaning Hanlon spent most of 2001 jetting between Sydney and LA, helping to open new Trend Transformations showrooms Stateside. “That was a fairly frustrating year,” he says. “What would happen is you’d be there for a month, implement the processes, hire the people, it would just start working well andq by the time you next visited things would be off track.” Because of this, Hanlon urged Smith and Mackenzie to adopt a new approach when they entered their next market. “I told them the way to do it would be for one of us to relocate permanently,” he says. “And that’s how I ended up coming to the UK in 2004.”
Most would find uprooting their whole life and moving to the other side of the world intimidating but Hanlon relished the opportunity, something he attributes to his military upbringing. “Naturally I quite enjoy upheaval, moving and the challenge of a new place,” says Hanlon. “So for me it was a very easy decision to just pack up and go.”
And there was plenty for Hanlon to get his teeth into when he landed in Blighty. After a successful pilot down in Tunbridge Wells, it wasn’t long before prospective franchisees were beating a path to Trend Transformations’ door. “The first ten franchisees that joined us, at least half had purchased worktops from us,” Hanlon says. “They’d been customers, loved the experience and then decided to buy the business.” But even though the franchise was spoiled for choice in terms of candidates, it still had very specific criteria for the kind of franchisees it actually wanted to take on. “We were looking for people who were open to change,” he says. “Because over the 20 years of operating in this business, we have gone through a significant transformation.”
An ability to embrace change certainly stood Hanlon in good stead when translating Trend Transformations’ offering for the British public. “That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about coming to the UK,” he says. “It was all about being curious, learning and understanding how to adapt our franchise model to make it work in a different environment.” While getting to grips with a new market is always tricky, Hanlon knew there were people he could turn to for help: the franchisees on the ground. “Those guys at the coalface understand what it takes to make a business successful,” he says. “They’re in customers’ homes every day and understand what marketing works best.”
But Trend Transformations’ model isn’t the only thing that has changed with time: its range of services has also evolved. With time it has expanded into both cabinet refacing and bathroom refits, something that has been inspired its customers. “This has all been consumer-led,” says Hanlon. “They say ‘you’ve done a great job of our kitchen: can we just apply this material directly over our tiles and renovate our bathrooms?’” On top of this, the franchise has also been steadily expanding its product lines and pioneering new techniques to produce eye-catching finishes for its customers. “Our latest range uses a process called sublimation to imprint patterns into the material, which is something else all together,” Hanlon says. “That opens up a whole new avenue.”
And as a result of this innovative new product line, it’s not just the man in the street who is sitting up and taking notice. Increasing numbers of high-profile designers and celebrities have been drawn to Trend Transformations’ services, whether that’s Linda Barker, Sarah Beeny or Sir Sterling Moss. Additionally, as with its appearance on Our House in Australia, featuring on UK TV shows like Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare and Double Your House For Half The Money has helped Trend Transformations reach new audiences across the country. “These projects bring a great deal of national exposure and a lot of credibility,” Hanlon says. “Doing those shows has been a key strategic ingredient in our marketing mix.”
However, there was one thing that was holding the flourishing franchise back. “Granite Transformations as a name was somewhat pigeonholing us,” says Hanlon. “When people think of granite, they only think of worktops and our business is so much more than that.” In light of this, the franchise hired the services of Future Brand, the brand strategy and design consultancy firm owned by global ad agency McCann Erickson. With the team’s help, the company has spent the last two years rebranding as Trend Transformations and redesigning its showrooms, with the first UK location having opened to the public in Peterborough this September. “The new look and feel of the showrooms is very fresh and it’s opening up a whole other demographic for us,” he says. “With us having a hipper, funkier look, we’re starting to see a younger customer coming into our stores.”
Without a doubt this rebrand has paid off for Trend Transformations, helping it to kickstart a new phase of its growth. Currently the franchise has 200 locations worldwide and 28 in the UK but Hanlon emphasises this it just the beginning. “We’ll add another 25 franchise units this year and probably close to 30 to 40 next year,” he says. “So it’s growing very quickly.” Longer term he is focused on the franchise’s Unite 2020 plan, which aims to make franchisees 50% more profitable, up each store’s revenue to £1.5m, increase franchisee satisfaction and build brand value by 2020, with an eye to securing 500 franchisees by 2025. “It takes the things that are the most important to our franchisees and combines them with the enduring vision we have for the business,” he says.
Whilst these may sound like daunting targets, Hanlon is no stranger to taking on challenges. A keen open-water swimmer, he recently attempted to swim the Cook Strait between the north and south isles of New Zealand. “We were out there nine hours attempting this,” he says. “We got within probably about four kilometres of the other end when the weather turned.” Not one to be dissuaded, he immediately set his next objective: swimming the Gibraltar Strait. “My aim is to continue to do one of these mad open-water challenges every year,” he says.
As you can probably tell, Hanlon is incredibly goal-orientated. “I’m a big believer in setting goals: I promote this with all of our staff and franchisees,” he says. And whilst his role has changed insurmountably since he first joined the brand as a contractor two decades ago, this characteristic means there could be no one better to point the way for the next two. “My role is to motivate, inspire and set the direction,” he says. “I’m here to see us get those 500 franchisees.”