Dream Doors’ Troy Tappenden is the kitchen king

A dodgy newspaper ad gave Troy Tappenden a stark introduction to the kitchen industry. But it's safe to say he learnt from the experience: Dream Doors, his kitchen makeover franchise, is now turning over £25m

Dream Doors' Troy Tappenden is the kitchen king

Some people become entrepreneurs by chance but that’s not true of Troy Tappenden. The founder and managing director of Dream Doors had his sights set on business ownership from his mid-20s. “I basically gave myself a deadline that by the age of 30, I wanted to have my own business,” he explains. “I figured that if I hadn’t found myself a business by then, I’d never do it.””

Everything came to a head while Tappenden was maintaining street lights for Hampshire County Council. “I worked there for eight years and in the last three years I was looking for my own business because I was fed up,” he says. “For two and a half years, I bought the local paper every Monday and the Daily Express. I used to look at the franchise opportunities in those papers, I had been to the NEC and I had a pack for every franchise going. But I never found anything I wanted to do.”

He finally found what he was looking for in another national newspaper. “One day, I was reading the News of the World and there was an advert that basically said, ‘Cash in on the kitchen boom with Made To Measure Doors. You can do a door swap in one day and earn a couple of thousand pounds per job’,” says Tappenden. “I thought that sounded too good to be true so, long story short, I took the phone number and I called the guy.”

However, things weren’t as clearcut as they first seemed. “I paid him £6,000 for his knowledge, his contacts, his door suppliers and I used to get a little bit of telephone support but it was a joke really,” Tappenden explains. “I was on my own from day one.””

The experience didn’t deter Tappenden: he’d still managed to secure a few jobs, which suggested there was a good level of demand for kitchen door swaps. Soon enough, he had come up with a new brand – Dream Doors – and opened a showroom in Gosport, Hampshire. As Tappenden explains, this gave the business the credibility it needed to succeed. “When I spoke to my customers, they said they absolutely loved the fact that I had a showroom because it meant they could come and see, touch and feel the product,” he says.”

An attractive price point also attracted customers in their droves. While Dream Doors does offer full kitchen refits, the majority of its business comes from kitchen ‘makeovers’, which can range from a simple swap of existing doors to the replacement of work surfaces and sinks. Fitters can be in and out in the space of two days – or one day for a door swap – meaning there’s a significant cost saving for customers, not to mention a lot less stress. ‘If you wanted to have a really nice kitchen, all singing all dancing, you could easily be looking at £10,000,” says Tappenden. “Our average order value is £4,000, which is less than 50% of that.”


Two years after opening the first Dream Doors showroom – and with some serious sales under his belt – Tappenden started to broaden his horizons. “I didn’t have a website back then, I didn’t have any brilliant marketing material but I was turning over £350,000,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘Christ, I’m just doing this on my own.'””

Despite initially launching Dream Doors to serve the people of Gosport – “I just wanted to do it locally and earn good money” – Tappenden realised he might have created something with national appeal. Keen to grow the company quickly but lacking the capital to do so organically, he decided to take a familiar route. “I had just studied franchising for two and a half years while trying to find a business,” Tappenden says. “I thought ‘there must be thousands of people looking for a business just like I was. I could easily franchise it across the country.'””

But before launching headlong into franchising, Tappenden needed some peace of mind that the Dream Doors model could be easily replicated by other business owners. He launched two pilot franchises in the same postcode area as Dream Doors HQ, which taught him a few things about the challenge of running a franchise network. “It taught me that you have got to really be on top of these people, you have got to be monitoring them and you have got to make sure the support is there,” says Tappenden. “Don’t just assume everyone can go out, smash the sales and be hungry for money.””

After a year of fine-tuning the model, Tappenden officially launched the Dream Doors franchise at Birmingham’s NEC in October 2002. Ultimately, he was looking for franchisees in his ilk, which meant they didn’t necessarily need any kitchen know-how. “Most of the time, we actually prefer it if they don’t have industry experience because, if they come from that mindset, they’ll say ‘We don’t do it that way’ or ‘We used to do it this way.’ You could end up arguing with them,” says Tappenden. “I’d say 95% of our network don’t have any prior kitchen experience.”

Instead, Tappenden looks for the traits that you’d expect from any would-be business owner. “I look at whether they’re really going to work hard, put a shift in and give it everything they have got,” he says. “I think to myself, ‘If the going gets tough, have they got resilience? Are they going to be able to take the knocks and keep going?’ To be brutally honest, that is more important to me than anyone’s CV.”

The Dream Doors franchise opportunity is certainly a compelling one: franchisees are offered a comprehensive support package from day one, which includes a two-week induction course at head office, exclusive training days with suppliers and a central marketing team that helps generate leads. The company also launched a brand new training and recruitment programme last month. Devised by recently-appointed director of franchising Bill Owen – who successfully grew Snack-in-the-Box into a 100-strong franchise network – the programme will help Dream Doors attract the cream of the crop going forward.


And, whilst the Dream Doors franchise fee has increased from £10,000 to £25,000 since 2002 – in part to attract a higher calibre of franchisee, admits Tappenden – it’s pretty much a drop in the ocean once franchisees are up and running. “People with no kitchen or business experience whatsoever have joined Dream Doors and, because the business model is that good, they are turning over £500,000 in their first year and making between £70,000 and £100,000 net profit,” says Tappenden.”

Not even a recession could dent Dream Doors’ growth. If anything, it accelerated it, with top-line sales up 30% during the downturn. “It definitely helped as people were battening down the hatches and not spending £10,000 – 15,000 on kitchens,” says Tappenden. “But not only that, quite a few of my franchise owners had been made redundant during the recession so it also helped me attract quality white-collar management franchisees.”

Dream Doors’ franchise network in the UK is currently 67-strong and the company has also opened a showroom in Belfast, its first in Ireland. Should it perform well in its first year, the master licence for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be awarded to franchise owner Jon O’Hara, with Tappenden targeting a total of ten franchises across the Emerald Isle.”

While a foray into Ireland might suggest Tappenden is starting to entertain the idea of exploring foreign climes, his priorities currently lie a little closer to home. “I need to focus on the UK instead of flying all over Europe trying to chase dreams and charging £250,000 for master licences,” he says. Back on these shores, he hopes to expand the network to 100 franchises. “We are at 67 now and I want to get it to 100,” says Tappenden. “I am not interested in having 150 or 200 franchisees with half the network making no revenue whatsoever. I find that pointless. I’d rather have 100 franchise owners with 80 or 90 of them doing exceptionally well.””

There’s more to Tappenden’s life than kitchens though. An avid traveller, he takes regular long-haul holidays with his wife, visiting the Caribbean and Zimbabwe among other far-flung places. And, two years ago, he bought a villa on the Greek island of Rhodes. “My wife has two children and four granddaughters so we take her granddaughters with us,” he says. “I love going there to chill out.”

With Dream Doors going from strength-to-strength, Tappenden could soon be adding to his overseas property portfolio. Like any shrewd businessman, he has his eyes set firmly on the prize. “They all say you have got to start with the end in mind,” he says. “We are turning over £25m a year now – the aim is to scale that to at least £50m and then sell it for millions.””

Emilie Sandy
Emilie Sandy