Getting the perfect fit

Shuttercraft Franchise distributes own brand shutters through a network of trade and franchise partners across the UK. CEO, Mark Stradling, tells Elite Franchise the key to the company's success.

Getting the perfect fit

Shuttercraft Franchise
distributes own brand shutters through a network of trade and franchise
partners across the UK. CEO, Mark Stradling, tells Elite Franchise the key to
the company’s success.

Franchising is the perfect mix of nimble and strong, and that’s what Shuttercraft harnesses so well, and why CEO Mark Stradling is so passionate about the business, after an interesting and varied career around the globe.

“It’s the most adaptable businesses which thrive, and I’ve loved coming into a set-up which is buzzing with the drive and acumen of many business owners cooperating and striving for the same goal – it’s almost literally a hive mind” enthuses Mark.

An attitude of can do and getting stuck in is in Mark’s DNA. Having left Alton College at 17 for an office supplies company, later moving into technology, working first on mobile phones, then printers and then IT sales for a distributor, he felt in need of even greater challenges.

“With my experience of these businesses and expertise I’d built up I was approached to join an exciting start-up business which is now the highly successful Citrix – an American multinational software company – as their first employee covering Northern Europe.

“This gave me my first taste for general management and managing teams, as I built their distribution channels and expanded the business.” says Stradling. With such a large geographic range to cover, I loved learning to swiftly adapt to different markets and cultures – it’s similar to what we do with our franchise model setting up in new territories.

Later joining VMware, another new software business venture with huge potential, Mark set about applying the successful strategies he had developed and was a key part of the team that helped the company grow to $2bn in turnover, with 1000 employees and offices in 20 locations across the Europe, Middle East, Asia (EMEA) region.

At that time, Mark was ready to spend more time with his family and to be in one location as opposed to travelling all over the world and decided the time was right to look for a new challenge. He spent some time working as a management consultant when he came across theShuttercraft business and culture that Justin Allen had already developed and decided that this was a business model that had an exciting future.

Shuttercraft is a great business which combines the market leading quality of the products which  sources and sells to selected trade partners around the country, and the Shuttercraft franchise business ensuring that those products are widely available with excellent levels of service.

He had been involved in the Shuttercraft business for a number of years when, in January 2019, the founders and shareholders presented an opportunity for a management buy-out. Mark, together with other senior management team members Anna Vallis and Justin Allen funded the MBO via Beechbrook Capital – allowing legacy shareholders to retain an interest but enabling the senior management team to take partial ownership of the business through a capital reorganisation. This has enabled the management team to pursue an ambitious development plan.

Key to a great business, according to Stradling, is a ‘strong financial model, quality products, fantastic training and a first-class support network’ – principles Shuttercraft has built its franchising model upon.

Supplying and fitting premium made-to-measure shutters and blinds across the UK that can be designed to fit virtually any window, in any property – irrespective of shape, size or location – is one thing; but for Stradling, Shuttercraft is also a management business with high margins, strong cash flow and low staffing requirements in a growing market. 

“One of the core strengths of the Shuttercraft brand is that we don’t just train you to sell and install shutters; we teach you how to build a business to develop and manage. We provide access to a Power Team of experts to help partners every step of the way to ensure you have the time and confidence to build your business, and a team at head office to guide and mentor you to build within the Shuttercraft brand” according to Stradling.

He adds: “With a dedicated (ring-fenced) national marketing fund, we help source sales and supply warm leads directed straight to you by the head office team.

“With our high performing website converting at industry leading rate, after three months you can expect to receive a minimum of 15-30 leads per month,” Stradling says.

A franchise package investment of £25,000 secures the franchise partner a 5-year renewable licence, a detailed analysis of that partner’s sales area, including demographics, as well as product samples, branded clothing, stationery/marketing materials and point of sale products.

Also included is a launch marketing campaign worth over £6,000, business planning with industry experts, accounts and finance systems, administration assistance and a call handling service.

But Stradling adds: “In addition you will need funds to secure a suitable vehicle, van wrapping, sundry tools and equipment, legal advice and start-up training expenses (circa £4k if working on the assumption of a leased van).

“You should also have the funds to cover your own living/household expenses for a minimum of 6-12 months.”

For would be franchise partners Stradling’s advice is simple. “First and foremost, a would-be partner needs to be a ‘people person’ given the importance of customer service and the fact over 50 percent of the company’s orders are either from returning customers or recommendations”.

“If you think this is you then head to our website for an initial introduction to the franchise. It’s a good overview and eases you in gently, while answering most of the high-level questions people will have.”

Once there a would-be partner can download Shuttercraft’s brochure and make contact via phone, email or our online form.

Stradling recommends booking a scoping call with one of the team – “this is where you really get to find out about our business and we get to find out about you. We can address your initial questions and guide you through our selection criteria and recruitment process.” 

Shuttercraft is looking for individuals who understand the brand values and have a desire to grow a management business rather than ‘just be self-employed’. “They should be someone who doesn’t just want to be a one-man band but can build a team, so they can work on the business, not in the business,” says Stradling. 

Individuals need to understand their numbers though, namely knowing when and how to grow and develop their business. “As I mentioned earlier, a great business has a strong financial model, quality products, fantastic training and a first-class support network. Without tracking and knowing your numbers you don’t have the information necessary to make the right decisions for your business at the right time,” Stradling is quick to point out.

Meanwhile, key core values for Shuttercraft are People, Partnership and Pride!

People – this means surrounding yourself with those you can help you build your business and support your vision.

Partnership – real change can only come about through collective effort which being part of a franchise and an excellent network can provide.

Pride – means believing in something wholeheartedly and having the power to ‘energise and motivate those around you.

He adds: “Shuttercraft is growth-focussed but we maintain a personal touch with our franchise partners, via our account managers, dedicated customer service team and award-winning training programme. The ideas and feedback we receive from franchise partners are absolutely key in ensuring we constantly improve.”

Building individual relationships with partners though means we can provide tailored support – one example being gathering feedback from the Trustpilot website, where early indications of a territory experiencing challenges may be quickly determined.

“With regular support and a vibrant Facebook and WhatsApp community, we make sure communication is two-way and there is accountability, not just from head office but also peer to peer. A constant feedback loop that ensures any challenges or issues are dealt with promptly,” Stradling adds.

Going forward, key objectives for Stradling include ensuring all Shuttercraft franchise partners achieve their goals and continue exploring product diversification, meaning adding complimentary product lines that will foster incremental growth opportunities whilst maintaining the high standards the company has long advocated.

Staying ahead of the competition is important and with 25 Franchise Territories across 21 Franchise Owners in the UK the company is well placed to consolidate what is already a strong position.

Indeed, Stradling is quick to point out not only Shuttercraft’s competitively-priced service and high-quality products supplied by them, but also the company’s combined 18 years of experience.

“We recognise that the partners we sell to are looking for more, much more; value added distribution has to be supported by an excellent logistics team. Our team will let you know when your product will arrive, ensure it is delivered safely and carefully by one of our own staff, and on time,” says Stradling.

The company’s finance team, meanwhile, is also on hand to help partners, if required, on best practices for running a profitable business, while marketing can advise on details such as website design and lead creation, as well as providing needed marketing tools.

In the here and now, though, the impact of COVID-19 – with its well-documented challenges for business in general – hasn’t, unsurprisingly, exempted Shuttercraft.

“Right from the start, we decided that our first priority should be our partners. Every decision we made considered how it would affect them.

“We furloughed just 7 of our 37 staff and kept everyone else working from home. Provision had already been made as part of our disaster recovery plan to provide working stations at home for every employee in the company, so that to anyone outside looking in, nothing would appear different,” says Stradling.

It also quickly became a question of logistics, given the company doesn’t normally hold any stock.

“Once products arrive, we get it on our vans straight to our partners so they can install. Now thousands of boxes would arrive and some of our partners would not have enough room or be ready or willing to take stock.”

As a result the company took on warehouse space 6 times the size of its own distribution centre in order to support partners, as well as providing regular communication updates, such as the latest government advice, updates about production regarding the company’s manufacturing partners and details of shipments as they came in.

Customer services, finance and marketing teams, as well as sales account managers, have been available and proactively calling all partners to offer a friendly word and explain how the supply chain might be affected so that each partner can feel informed, even if it wasn’t good news, according to Stradling.

On the positive side though, COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to look at other ways of “getting stuff done as well as, or even better than, we did before” Stradling says.

“As usual, adversity has brought out the best in many people and disciplines; the strength and creativity of our team has been a wonderful thing to be involved in. It has certainly made us realise that you can be very efficient working from home, even if it is only occasional.”

In the meantime, communication across company teams has, if anything, increased and is something it wishes to continue embracing. Moreover, while many have found that working from home has meant tasks have been rendered easier and less time consuming, Stradling notes that employees have recognised there is nothing quite like stepping into an office environment for a strong healthy company culture. 

“Weekly  Zoom meetings with everyone in the company followed by a fun quiz isn’t necessarily a like for like substitute, although it has served us very well.”

COVID-19 or not, Stradling sees no significant changes being made to the company’s long-term strategic plans.

“It (COVID-19) has delayed some projects but they will just start a little later than planned. Many partners have reported that it has provided a chance for reflection and perhaps re-setting their sights; so we will need to quickly identify, understand and support these partners with the new updated models of their own plans and goals,” Stradling says.

On a personal note Stradling says that when the time eventually comes for him to move on he’d like to be remembered positively by colleagues both at Shuttercraft, as well as his wider network of contacts.

Stradling is proud that his experience of working across multiple channels and developing strategies that support company growth, has helped him better understand the needs of partners.

He has a long-term plan, to leave the company in the best possible position to continue its development, ensuring that its ethos remains intact, its combination of professionalism, family feel, entrepreneurial approach and commitment to excellent customer service allied to the very best in systems and business practices. Keeping at its heart the values of People, Partnership and Pride.

Martin Morris
Martin Morris