As Mobalpa develops its new franchise operation in the UK, we talk to first-time retailer Biola Apooyin about his new showroom in Richmond and his impressions of the kitchen business.

MD and owner of Mobalpa’s new franchise in Richmond, Biola Apooyin, cuts straight to the chase, admitting that he has absolutely no experience of the kitchen industry.”I come from a completely different background,” he says.

Now 45, Apooyin has been an IT and management consultant for 15 years, working for blue-chip companies such as Accenture and IBM. So what prompted him to make the move into kitchens?

“Alongside my day job, I’ve had a sideline business buying rundown properties, which I fix, then sell or rent,” he explains. “Now I want to do new-build properties, and I realised that it would be a great help to have control over the kitchens with the potential for higher margins.”

 It was on a visit to a franchise exhibition in Manchester in 2013 that he spotted Mobalpa. “To run a successful business, you must be able to take risks – the more risks you take, the more money you can make,” he says. “I liked the fact that Mobalpa is French. You see a lot of Italian and German kitchens, but Mobalpa is different.”

As Mobalpa was just starting its UK franchise operation, Apooyin says he saw the opportunity to negotiate favourable terms and discussions began. The next step was a visit to Mobalpa’s head office in Thônes.

“I was blown away,” he laughs. “And not just by the beauty of the area – the culture of the company is fantastic. I loved the way that the lowest-ranking member of the factory staff sits at the same lunch table as the CEO.”

He was also very impressed by the products. “The way they put things together, so that the kitchen becomes a living space, a place to entertain – for me as a [property] developer, that’s what sent me a message.”

He says he was undeterred by his lack of kitchen expertise. “My role at IBM was all about managing teams in diverse locations – in the Philippines, Colombia, the Czech Republic, India… and delivering projects on budget, on time,” he says. “I knew I could approach this [company] with a business eye – I think the reason why some independent showrooms fail is because they are kitchen designers, they’re not business people,” he says.

His 225sq m premises – representing a sizeable £300,000 investment – is on a busy main road, opposite a large Bathrooms Direct showroom – they are already sharing clients. Training from the Mobalpa team has been invaluable, he says. The doors opened in May and Apooyin has already sold two of his own designs – and that’s in addition to those of his two qualified designers.

Targeting sales of £1.2 to £1.5m in 2015, Apooyin plans to spend £20,000 to £25,000 on marketing before Christmas, including the cost of a 40,000 leaflet door drop, local magazine advertising, Google ads and contributions to the activities of a local charity. He is already planning a second showroom, probably in South East London, to open in 2016.

He says: “It’s early days – but there are already some changes I want to make here.”

Your biggest challenge so far?

“Being away from my family so much,” says Apooyin, who has three children, aged seven, four and just five months. The showroom is open seven days a week. “I’ve only had one day off in months,” he adds.

What has surprised you most?

“The opportunities – I just wasn’t expecting the level of demand. It seems that most people don’t want to move around here, instead most of them are doing extensions,” he says.

Strange but true.

“No one could believe I was setting up a kitchen business. Even my wife said: ‘Why kitchens?’ But when they saw the showroom, they got it and one friend is already talking to Mobalpa about opening his own franchise,” says Apooyin.

Retailer profile – Mobalpa Richmond

Who are we? Biola Apooyin, MD

Where are we? 132-134 Lower Mortlake Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2JZ. Tel: 0203 727 7762. 

What we do? Kitchen retailer.

Business history – Opened in May 2014, Mobalpa Richmond is owned by Biola Apooyin, who has a degree in business administration from a university in Nigeria, where he grew up, and an MBA from the University of Sheffield.

The showroom has five kitchen displays and one apartment-living area, all featuring Mobalpa furniture. Kitchen prices from £15,000 up to £60,000; average is expected to be around £18,000 including VAT. Appliances by Miele, Neff, Bosch, Siemens. Sinks and taps by Mobalpa, Franke, Blanco, Schock, Villeroy & Boch.

Sales stats – “We’re looking at £1.2 to £1.5m annual turnover for 2015,” says Apooyin.

Staffing levels – Three, including Biola Apooyin and two design consultants, Caroline Smith and Lisa-Marie Johnson.

We have 400 Mobalpa shops worldwide,
which gives us real expertise in retail,”
Cyril Raberin, franchise director for the UK, Mobalpa.

Why become a franchisee? Cyril Raberin explains.

Can you tell us about Mobalpa and its history in the UK?

The main difference between Mobalpa and any other manufacturer is that we are both a manufacturer and retailer. We have more than 400 Mobalpa shops worldwide, which gives us real expertise in retail. Mobalpa has exported to the UK for about 33 years. At the beginning, there was a trend for very rustic, Provençal-style kitchens – typically French – and at its peak, we were dealing with more than 300 accounts in the UK.

In 2005, we realised we were becoming niche and the trend was decreasing. We were dealing with a lot of accounts with a lot of reps on the road, but producing low turnover. So between 2005 and 2009, we invested €100m in our factories, to make our production more flexible and enable us to produce more models, on demand. In 2012, we opened our first UK franchise in Warrington. The model has worked in France, where we have 270 franchise shops.

What does it take to become a Mobalpa franchisee?

It usually takes six to nine months from first contact to opening. To be a successful Mobalpa franchisee, you need to be able to sell with strong interpersonal skills and good management skills. With some franchise operations, it’s a one-man band, typically with the wife doing the accounts and one fitter, but ours is usually made up of one manager, a minimum of two sales designers, and after one year a technical director – hence the need for strong management skills; and the ability to run a company.

In order to help us in our selection we use psychometric testing. We have identified the key skills that the managers of our most successful shops have in common, so we use this to analyse the results. It can be very difficult when we have to tell a prospect that they don’t fit.

What does Mobalpa offer the franchisee?
Mobalpa offers a 0% loan to help finance the showroom. There is no entry fee and no royalties are payable. Instead, the franchisee pays an annual marketing fee. Mobalpa offers franchisees an exclusive trading area, management systems, a full training programme and coaching once the store opens. It also makes a difference that we are family owned.

During the economic crisis, we didn’t stop our investment plan. And there’s no turning back in the UK – we are making the investment for the long term. We are reliable and that’s reassuring for us, our employees, and partners, as well as for consumers.

What is your target in the UK?
Next year, we want to have another four to five, and then four to five every year after that, until we get a proper network. National awareness will be at about 50 franchisees.

What about your existing UK retailers?
We are no longer taking on independent retailers that are not franchisees. Of our 18 existing retailers, some may choose to become franchisees, others may carry on as they are until retirement.

To run a successful business, you must be able to take risks – the more risks you take, the more money you can make,”
Biola Apooyin, MD, Mobalpa Richmond.

Company profile

Who are we? Cyril Raberin, franchise director for the UK, and Kyle Whittle, national business development manager for the UK.

Where are we? 39 Rue de la Saulne, 74230 Thônes, France. 

What we do? French kitchen and bathroom furniture manufacturer and retailer

Business history – Mobalpa is part of the Fournier group. Its kitchen cupboard-making history dates back to 1907, to a cabinet-making workshop near Thônes in the French Alps. In 1949, it branched out to make unit-based kitchens and the Mobalpa brand was created. Today, the business is still owned by the Fournier family: CEO Bernard Fournier is the grandson of the founder, and Bernard’s brother, Pierre is financial director and deputy CEO.

Mobalpa has four production plants in the Thônes area of France, and employs more than 1,000 staff. There are over 419 different kitchen door fronts, and 34 different ranges.

Words: Amelia Thorpe
Photos: Paul Craig
Reproduced with kind permission from: ekb business magazine

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