Beaumont Tiles is an Australian household name and remains one of the largest tile distributors to date. With over 110 outlets right across the country, it would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t know the iconic brand.
However, despite their well-renowned reputation, Executive Chairman, Bob Beaumont admits while the story of their business is well-documented, their franchising journey is a little-known one…
“My Dad was building a house back in South Australia, and the builder was having a big whinge about there not being a decent range of tiles in Australia,” Bob recalled.
“At the time, you needed an import licence to import anything, and Dad had one so he said, ‘I’ll import some!’ and he did, and he put them in our back garage.”
“He had great faith in his ability as a salesman so he went out to various hardware stores and couldn’t sell them, because they had their own suppliers. So, he went straight to the builders and tilers, and it worked, and he built up this little business in the backyard.”
From the backyard of their home to the booming business we see today, Beaumont Tiles came a long way fast. Bob grew up with his three brothers (much to his mother’s continual horror), and he always entertained dreams of being an engineer. Indeed, he had a cadetship lined up before falling through at the last moment, and he ultimately ended up working under his father. He found however, he enjoyed the warehouse work, and before he was done he had tried his hand at every single job except for Forklift Operator (they didn’t have one) and IT Manager (which didn’t stop him from purchasing their first computer, more than double the size of an average desk).
“It was great and gave me excellent grounding – there is nothing like touching a product to actually get an understanding of it,” Bob said.
“I think it is very important you try your hand at everything, if you can do it.”
Working his way up the ranks, Bob is now the Executive Chairman. After experiencing substantial growth, there was another twist for the company during the early 1990’s. Small-time wholesale merchants were suddenly coming to Bob with a simple request. With such a strong brand presence and wide selection of product, the merchants were determined to licence the brand and become their own ‘Beaumont Tiles’ in the country area.
“So, we thought about it for a very long time,” Bob said.
“And after deep and meaningful research for at least two or three seconds, we decided, ‘yep, no worries’. And that is how our franchising began!”
While admittedly not the most thought-out of processes, Beaumont Tiles shows us a successful company can be built on the foundations of a good idea – mixed then with a strong determination to follow it through.
“It (franchising) was very casual and informal right from the start, but it gradually grew and grew and in 2004, we had to draw a line in the sand and say ‘right, we are going to do this deliberately, not accidently’,” Bob said.
“And it really started to flow from there. We came to the realisation the system was so strong that it was of benefit to everyone to comply with it 100%.”
“We weren’t that disciplined at the start, and nobody told me it was a really dumb idea to open 15 franchises on the one day, but we got better and more disciplined, and importantly we held people to account more and more. The thing that taught me this was our franchise in Canberra.”
The Canberra story is a favourite of Bob’s. His good friends of 40 years had run a tile company for a long time in Canberra, but were not experiencing much success – and they wanted in on Beaumont Tiles.
“I was a bit hesitant, but they were good friends and my heart ruled my head so I said yes,” Bob said.
“So they put the name up, changed a few things, but wanted to keep a foot in both camps. They did some things the way that had suited them, then others that were suitable from our model. And they still weren’t doing well.”
“So, Bernadette (the franchisee) got up one day and said “right, we are going to completely reject everything we did before and do what you want us to do” – and they just took off. Within a couple of years, they were making an offer for their building. When someone drifts in the network, we simply roll Bernadette out and say, “Bernie, have a chat to these people!”. Loyal and enthusiastic franchisees are your best ambassadors.”
When it comes to running a business, Bob highlights four characteristics as key components to being successful.
“We were bought up to be very pragmatic,” Bob said. “My father and mother were both very sensible and very wise, very even-handed – sometimes even too much. I think all my brothers are pragmatists as well. They sit on our Board of Directors and we don’t argue. We are presented with some facts, and we go with the logical solutions. There are no hidden agendas.”
Surround yourself with better people
“I tend not to think about highlights and achievements, because when people say “look what you have done, aren’t you proud?” I say no, it’s not me it’s the people I’ve surrounded myself with. I’ve just surrounded myself with people who do stuff better than I do. Simple formula.”
DNA is not a prerequisite
“You’ve got to ask yourself the question when you are in family business; are you there to provide jobs for family, or are you there as a business to make money for shareholders and look after staff?”
Bob said. “If your objective is to provide jobs for family, great, as long as you make that decision rationally and fairly, and you don’t just stumble into it. Personally, that is not the reason we exist. I know it sounds kitsch, but I regard my staff as extended family, so one of my extended family is most likely to take over.”
“I have a very complex goal setting system,” Bob said. “I have a spreadsheet where I have ‘main goals’ and ‘sub goals’, and every month I go through and rate myself out of 10 on how far I have progressed towards my goal. Then, if I am not doing well I have another column where I note actions I need to fix this. I have told many people about my method but I am sure not one of them has adopted it. This is fine though, because it is what works for me, and the most important part is holding yourself accountable.”
Despite what must be an intense schedule, these days Bob likes to take the time to watch motor racing, read a good book on just about any subject ranging from science fiction to business, and spend time with his family. Every year they take a family holiday, and he admits when his son reached 18, he thought that would be the end of it.
“Well, this year he turns 40, and we haven’t missed one yet!” Bob said.
A family tradition that has prospered throughout the years, despite the fact there has no doubt been few hiccups, tough times and a couple of rash decisions – it is perhaps a good omen for the future of Beaumont Tiles too.