Owner of Ripples Saffron Walden Paula Callaway talks about the surprising effect of positive thinking, which saw her open her own retail showroom and with plans to reach £1million in sales this year.
Having sold electrical and mechanical packages, including plumbing products, to construction companies for the past 25 years, Paula Callaway was keen to become her own boss.
“I wanted to get out of the rat race, so to speak. I wanted to work for myself and I was looking to see what I could do that could interface with what I had done.”
With experience of luxury retail, having previously co-owned an antique shop, combined with plumbing knowledge, she discovered the Ripples franchise.
“The rest is history. I just had tunnel vision and I just kept saying ‘yes’ to every step of the process.
“The next thing I knew, I was sitting in my shop with the keys, wondering how I got here.”
That could be taken literally, as Paula was originally looking for a showroom in Cambridge.
She explains: “As I was driving to Cambridge from where I lived, I saw this shop in Saffron Walden, in Essex. I walked in here and instantly fell in love with the building.
“It’s small, measuring just under 1,000sqft, and is listed with old beams and an original fireplace. It’s on a high street with a one-way system. So, in terms of passing traffic, that’s unbelievable.
“I couldn’t ask for more. It’s busy every night, so people look in my window, whether they like it or not.”
Typical of properties in the area, Paula believes it inspires consumers who may have exposed beams or an old fireplace to be creative, with modern designs inspired by the Ripples showroom.
“I wanted to show as many original features off as possible, for that reason”, says Paula.
“We have low ceilings in parts, so we have shown how you can put a shower in and modernise an older space. It’s worked really well; it’s got the ‘wow’ factor.”
Of course, creating a bathroom showroom in a Sixteenth century building wasn’t going to be without its issues.
Paula says: “Once I got a survey done, it became apparent there had been flooding in the building. So that ended up causing a delay in signing the contract, but it also gave me the opportunity to sit down and think about the showroom designs.
“I also had to get planning permission to build a wall to cover exposed beams and we couldn’t attach anything to the walls.”
All this aside, within just four months, from having signed the lease, Paula opened the doors for business.
When asked isn’t that a rather quick turnaround? Paula replies: “I had to open. I was already paying the rent and I was going to run out of money”, she says honestly, adding: “I nearly cried the first time I took money and I remember my first order was £19,000.”
But it didn’t stop there, as she exclaims: “Then the next day I got another order for £25,000.”
It’s been a steep learning curve for Paula, but one she has been keen to embrace, confessing “because I was selling mechanical packages – like plumbing, waste, pumps, water-using products, I naively thought I know everything about bathrooms.
Then [founder of Ripples] Roger Kyme asked me a question about the difference between two showers, when I first met him, and I was stuck for words.
It was surprising how much I didn’t know about bathrooms”, she laughs.
However, with Ripples training, she was quickly brought up to speed with product knowledge.
“For me the training and the support levels from Ripples has been unbelievable. I
“t’s more than I expected and being part of a wider team, I really like that.
“You can literally ring up any Ripples franchisee and they’ll give you the help and support, so you don’t feel alone at all.”
And Paula rapidly familiarised herself again with selling to consumers, rather than business-to-business sales, which she says is a different mentality: “You’re a lot shrewder with your own money.
“A lot of people come in not understanding how much things cost and I think it’s our job to educate them and let them know the reasons why they’re better off spending money on quality.”
Such has been her success, Paula says the business has continued to be busy this year. “We opened the doors, after New Year, and within the first week we had enquiries for 21 bathrooms, and we are booked up until the end of July now.”
The next move for the business is combining Paula’s experience of selling business-to-business to bolster retail sales with commercial clients, which is also business the Ripples franchise is seeking to explore.
“I’m pricing a commercial project for 251 bathrooms right now. It’s a scheme for apartment blocks using old land. It’s actually three projects and my client secured all three of the projects.
“I’ve also just received my first trade order to supply 86 radiators.” She exclaims: “I’m all about the pound note and getting the order across the line.”
Unsurprisingly then, with the increased footfall in retail customers and desire to add on commercial clients, Paula is already contemplating taking on additional staff to meet a predicted uplift in sales.
And her positivity shines through in her plans for the business this year: “I’m hoping we’ll smash a million.”
Read more about Ripples franchisees, with Dan and Jenna Doherty having opened the first Ripples showroom in the North of England.