Keeping it in the family

Reading Time: 4 minutesPoppies has been part of Kate Lawson’s life for as long as she can remember. As a youngster, she recalls going to her mother’s Poppies office after school where she and her sister, Rachel, would get stuck in – enveloping letters and sticking stamps to their heart’s content. Precious memories that made a lasting impact. In 2008, Kate officially took over operations of her beloved Poppies Farnborough from her mother, Tricia. 12 years later and it’s those early moments that Kate cherishes the most.

“Poppies is, and always has been, part of our family. From when my mum ran the franchise to when I was employed as a cleaner during my studies, to now, being the owner, it’s always been there. I wasn’t originally looking for a new career but when my mother was looking to step down, it made complete sense for me to take over. It would’ve been silly to turn down the business that she worked so hard to build and one that had an impression on all of our lives.”

During college, Kate was employed at the Wokingham and Windsor branch that was close to where she lived. After completing her A levels and a business studies diploma, Kate worked as an account manager for an IT distributor, dealing with corporate account management. For five years, she was integral in developing IT software for businesses. She enjoyed her job, but when the time came to make the all-important Poppies decision, Kate knew it was an opportunity that was too good to refuse.

“After 17 years of having the Poppies franchise, my mum wanted to move back to her hometown to be closer to her elderly parents. We’d already had conversations about what happened next as we figured it was the right time for her to sell the business. I saw the opportunity and decided that it was too good to pass. After many discussions with my mum, I made a business plan and arranged a meeting with the bank. I was accepted and given a business loan to enable me to buy the business. Poppies Farnborough was an existing business and had an extremely respectable name in the local community – that, as well as the reassurance that I got from my mum, meant that I was certain that I could excel in the role.”

Established in 1980, Poppies is the UK’s first domestic cleaning franchise. Franchisees manage a team of dedicated cleaners who visit clients’ homes and provide a range of top-quality services. From basic housekeeping and laundry to party clear-ups, spring cleans and home-move assistance.

Integral to its best-in-class offering is the Poppies culture. The franchise proudly champions the wellbeing of its cleaners and believes in treating staff with respect and care and creating a fun, enjoyable working environment. Happy, loyal staff go above and beyond for clients and truly make the Poppies brand shine.

Although Kate was relatively knowledgeable about the Poppies franchise and how the business worked, she was still given training and support for when she officially took the reins. Poppies tailored approach empowered her with confidence and essential knowledge as well as furthering her understanding of the franchise model.

“I’d met with Poppies founder, Sue Rorstad, when I was younger as she and my mum were very good friends. To receive training from her and learn from her expertise was invaluable. Sue was integral to the business in its early stages and was real mentor for the first couple of years – she was Poppies personified! It was a massive learning curve but I was so desperate to do well.

“I also visited fellow franchisee Chris Wootton, who has recently taken over as franchisor, to see how it all worked. I shadowed him in his office for a couple of days and spent time with his office manager to observe and experience Poppies from both an owner’s and manager’s perspective. That really opened my eyes and gave me a great insight. It was clear then, that I had made the right decision as the network was buzzing with enthusiasm and pride in what they do.”

Feeling enlightened, Kate returned home to lead Poppies Farnborough and officially took the helm in January 2008. Although she is the first to admit that she succeeds best by ‘doing and learning’, Kate says she appreciated the security of knowing that she had the support of the existing network behind her.

“I was very self-sufficient when I got going, but I was aware that I had the support there if I needed it. It helped that I was taking over an existing franchise with a book of clients and cleaners already. But I very much appreciated the extent of help that was available. If I required any assistance or had any questions, I could just pick up the phone and my mind would instantly be put at ease.”

In 2018, Poppies entered its next phase. Kate, along with the existing network of franchisees, was excited to see long-standing franchisee, and friend, Chris Wootton buy the business and take on the role of franchisor. Having owned and operated his own Poppies franchise since 1996, Chris’ experience was held in great esteem by Kate.

“I’m sure I speak for the rest of the network when I say that I’m excited he’s made the leap. He’s a great people-person, a great business-person and he’s got a lot of vision about where to take the brand now. He’s operated his own franchise for 25 years and it’s grown to become an empire – I respect him a lot and he’s the exact person that we need to be listening to.”

The first Poppies franchise was launched in 1984 – and is still going strong! Today, the 22-strong franchise network provides high-quality cleaning to over 6,000 homes on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis in line with clients’ individual needs. Generating an impressive combined turnover of more than £5million, the Poppies franchise offers an exciting opportunity for prospective business owners to capitalise on an industry worth £4.7billion.

Fast forward to present day and Kate employs 22 cleaners and services over 150 clients in the Farnborough region – covering the borders of Surrey and Hampshire. Whilst her team already provide over 900 hours of cleaning every four weeks, Kate is determined to grow the business in the future. As well as her family!

“I’ve made sure over the last two years that I don’t have to be in the office every single day as I’m preparing for when my baby boy arrives. I’ve got two great people by my side, Suzie and Caroline, who are in charge of the office. They are integral to the day-to-day running of the business and it wouldn’t be anywhere near where it is today without them. The team has grown drastically since I took over, but I would say that I’ve got one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with. They make me feel extremely proud.”

When she’s not busy in the office, Kate enjoys jet-setting with her pilot husband, Chris. It’s a lifestyle that Poppies has allowed her to enjoy to the fullest.

“Poppies has given me the opportunity to take time out when I wish. If Chris is flying to a particular destination, I know I’m able to be flexible around my arrangements to go with him. We’ve been all over the world – we even got our PADI in St Lucia allowing us to scuba dive in many different places. It’s one of the main aspects that appealed to me – the work-life balance, the satisfaction and the pride that it gives me is simply amazing!”

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