Franchise Case Study: Rocky Mountain Express

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Running two showrooms 375 miles apart and three different franchise territories, as well as being Vice President of the GT Franchise Advisory Council, keeps Greg very busy. Yet he maintains a relatively hands-off approach to managing his businesses, depending on a trusted staff to make day-to-day decisions and keep the whole enterprise going. He sets an excellent example of how to manage a franchise operation, according to North American franchisor RSG, and this helps explain his impressive growth trajectory.

Greg Brown is proof that you don’t need a business degree to become a successful franchisee – although he did gain a Land Agent diploma from one of Canada’s most eminent schools of agriculture, Olds College. An extensive corporate career equipped him with the necessary qualities of leadership, a focus on customer service and a willingness to spend time on the road.

He came into the home improvement sector from an unlikely direction, land surveying in the oil and gas industry. He was previously a partner in an Edmonton-based geomatic land survey company and he came to Calgary in 2004 to open a new branch location and the business in a fresh territory. Seven years later, he had purchased his first Granite Transformations franchise in Southern Alberta, moving from serving one or two large corporate oil clients, to dealing with thousands of residential customers.

Greg’s first encounter with the Granite Transformations brand occurred several years earlier, on a golfing trip to Phoenix. He came across a display unit in a shopping mall and was intrigued to see a countertop neatly installed over a laminate surface, exposed underneath.

“I literally did a double take.” says Greg. “I knew about ordinary granite slab, but this material was engineered to be really thin. I liked the concept and filed it away for future reference.”
That opportunity came later, when he was bought out of his land survey partnership and was looking for a new business investment for himself and his wife Brenda, who has a background in accounting. He carried out extensive due diligence and then flew down to Florida to visit the franchisor, where he met with one of the brand founders, the legendary Mark Johnson, and they talked through the deal. Later, Mark flew up to Calgary and the agreement was duly signed.

“The numbers made sense and I purchased the territory for Southern Alberta, area GT100, which seemed to have plenty of market potential” he recalls. “There was already a franchise in central Calgary, GT32, and when that came up for resale, we bought that too, consolidating both operations into one big 2,000 sq. ft. retail showroom and a manufacturing workshop.”

Receiving makeover material direct from RSG’s distribution center in Dallas, the combined Calgary operation markets, fabricates and installs across an extensive Alberta territory, operating from a 7,000 sq. ft. office-showroom and employing 22 staff. He pays the salespeople a salary plus incentive, rather than the more usual practice of a commission, to motivate staff and empower them to achieve success.
According to the local tourist authority, Kelowna is an exciting hybrid of amazing food and wine, vibrant culture and beach-based vacations on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Greg agrees that this BC city is a pretty unique place and that his showroom there is rather special, having latterly added territory GT110 to his expanding operation. The 4,000 sq. ft. premises are run by a hand-picked team of just six staff members, headed by Branch Manager, Tami Weller.

Across all three franchise territories, kitchen countertops are the big sellers — and he means big. Typical installations are 60-80 sq. ft., including a current order for 150 sq. ft. of granite bar tops for a $4 million home in the Okanagan Valley.

“Right now, we are fitting countertops of similar square footage in a plush lakeside property in Kelowna,” adds Greg. “We’re installing it over granite slab, which is already chipping and staining badly. It’s the type of job that only Granite Transformations products are suited to and should make for some great ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos.”

The top-selling countertop color by a long stretch used to be Terra di Sienna. But, like most other GT franchise territories, Western Canada is now going strong on Royal Ivory, which is fast closing the gap at the top of the sales charts.

“It’s a beautiful color, with flecks of different materials, and it goes with everything,” Greg comments. “It’s popular in bathrooms too, although White Star is also quite a favorite.”

Canada is not a big market for large mosaic features, having been deemed ‘a little too busy’ by the locals. However, Greg and his team are having more success with fitting mosaic inlays into granite or quartz backsplashes, which juices up the look. The same formula works for large walk-in showers, with combinations of Karma tiles and Royal Ivory or White Star slab producing eye-catching effects.

Greg feels there is particular opportunity for revenue growth in cabinet refacing, which he feels has yet to be fully exploited. He used to source his replacement doors and drawer fronts from RSG’s regular US supplier, but with the Canadian dollar suffering in the exchange rate, he is investigating a partnership with a Canadian vendor to make installs more competitive.

Most of his customer inquiries come from full and half page color ads in the major Calgary and BC papers. He also runs an active referrals program, offering $50 for customer recommendations and maintains an active database of installations. He even mailed out the GT recipe book to his complete customer base with some success.
What gets Greg up in the morning and driving regularly along Highway 1 is the thrill of building a successful business and continually planning for growth. He already has his eyes on a new 20,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Calgary and feels there’s more revenue to be made from the Trend collections. He also enjoys his active role in the FAC, which allows him to travel around North America, network with like-minded franchise owners and help wherever he can to make colleagues even more successful.”

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