Mark Willingham

The leap from kitchens to bathrooms isn’t so far!

When the promise of shares in a company he was working for fell through, Mark Willingham decided it was time to create his own business opportunity, buoyed by the support of the Ripples franchise.

There’s nothing worse than betrayal in business. For Mark Willingham, who received the promise of taking over a kitchen showroom business, when the current owner retired, abject disappointment ensued. Mark had worked hard to build a strong business by increasing turnover, profitability and the quality of the service they offered. “My employer and I had a gentleman’s agreement: I would take over from him, with options for buying shares in it when he retired. However, as the business became more successful, he changed his mind, and decided to stay put. Which was his prerogative; but I knew it was time for me to leave and maybe even start doing something for myself?”

It was around this time life spiraled out of control for Mark, and he suffered one of the darkest seasons of his life, “I was frustrated where I was, then I lost my father, had to endure major spinal surgery, and then lost my mother, allin just over three years. After my surgery and with 6 months recovery ahead, I had lots of time to reflect on what I’d already achieved and what I was going to do next; all I knew was it was the right time for me to make the next move.”

Past experience for a future goal

Mark’s career has certainly been varied, “I actually trained in hydrography with Poole Harbour Commissioners and later followed my father’s footsteps into construction and civil engineering. I never really felt challenged or got that buzz out of what I was doing, until I discovered the world of ‘sales’, from products to advertising and later recruitment in a variety of industries, but I kept getting drawn back to the construction sector, and finally found my calling in the rapidly growing kitchen business where I settled for about 20 years.

I started as a kitchen designer for a corporate brand and quickly rose to branch manager and later setting up and developing new branches for a competitive company; prior to working with the gentleman looking to retire. But his business ticked a lot more boxes for me, working in the luxury kitchens sector, and I really enjoyed working with the higher end products and clients compared to mass produced kitchens for the masses. When I look back, I can see how much grounding all this gave me for running my own business and the direction I wanted to go in.” 

Time to build a business for himself

Driven by the anticipation of almost running his own business, Mark believed he could build something which would be successful and profitable for himself, having increased the performance, turnover and profits for many other companies, so why not achieve it for himself? “While I was recuperating after surgery, I realised I didn’t want to go back to working for someone else’s business and the kitchen industry was saturated, so I used the time to read about business start-up, and found franchising offered an ideal scenario. Although he had always known about franchising, Mark hadn’t really understood it. “The way I see it now,” Mark says, “franchising is like driving to somewhere you think you know how to get to, but with a Satnav to hand if you get lost”. The franchise system offers you that support, based on their proven knowledge and business model. If you have no experience of running your own business or think you do, having that support their really helps.”

The franchisor has already done the hard work for you, establishing what works for the brand, has built strong supplier relationships, and has tried and tested the market, “I came across the luxury bathroom franchise, Ripples, in my research. They are well-established, with the MD Roger Kyme having been involved for 30 years in the bathroom industry. But what attracted me most, was the family feel of the Ripples network, as well as the freedom to run my own business my way, using their established guidelines model.”

In business for myself, but not by myself

Mark had always enjoyed the challenge of taking something and building it up, so he jumped at the chance when he came across a local Ripples franchise, up for resale. “The timing was spot on and the bathroom industry was a growing one! I was looking for something to invest in which would provide a good income. So, I bought the Bournemouth franchise. Over about 6/8 months, I brought it up to the standard from which I was ready to build. By just implementing key measures from the Ripples systems, which had been missing, I started to see considerable improvement within my first year.”

Ripples, as a high-end bathroom retailer, has set itself apart in the industry. “If you go into business alone, you don’t have the buying power an established brand has, so you have to compete. By joining the network, not only do I automatically carry the weight of the brand, but I also have access to the additional expertise of other franchisees. And although Ripples Bournemouth is MY business, I am not alone on this journey in trying to make it work.”

Transferring skills between industries

Whilst some people may have found leaping from one industry to another daunting, Mark realised it was a case of using what you know and transferring it into your new opportunity. “It’s like when you move from driving a low-end Ford, to a luxury Range Rover. The mechanics of the cars are essentially the same. The kitchen and bathroom industries are parallel to each other, with the foundational aspect of both being similar. So I thought my skills would be easily transferable.

Even though I had 20 years’ experience of business management, I had no idea how to run my own company. It is a different set of skills, as you need to understand all aspects of how your business runs. Franchising without doubt, has been the best route for me, and I would highly recommend it, especially if you’ve never had your own business. They offer training, and support from opening your showroom, to attracting customer, employing the right team, and how to deliver the exceptional customer service, Ripples are known for.”

The Ripple-effect on the future

Five years ago, everyone had a white bathroom! As a luxury brand Ripples is appealing to a new market. “People are seeing stunning bathrooms on Pinterest, Houzz and Instagram. Loving what they see, they want to recreate sensational bathrooms at home, so they can take amazing photos which just have to be shared on their Instagram page. Ripples is at the forefront of bathroom design. By investing in your own business with their support, you are opening your market to those who want elegance and luxury.”

“Although Ripples Bournemouth is MY business, I am not alone on this journey in trying to make it work.”

Mark Willingham, Bournemouth 

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