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Running bathroom firm with military precision

Couple outline secrets of their success and talk about their Ripples showroom

Sarah Bosley

sarah.bosley@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886655

Running bathroom firm with military precision

The beautifully elegant showroom of Ripples Newbury is a far cry from where its owners’ careers started, but the change is something they are both relishing.

This destination store opened in its current location on London Road 18 months ago and Richard and Diane Garnett have embraced the opportunity to continue to enhance their business, with high-end products and all the latest bathroom gadgets on display.

Projects, which typically cost between £10,000 and £12,000, are created by Diane and her in-house team of designers, before being shipped off to a customer’s home for
installation.

But when the couple first met, while in the Royal Air Force (RAF), they could not have imagined where their lives would eventually take them.

Born in Kendal, Richard left school after he had finished his GCSEs to join the RAF, where he undertook an HNC in
engineering.

“I joined the air force at 17 as an engineering apprentice,” he explains. “I was based in Cambridgeshire, at RAF Wyton, and spent the next eight years in the RAF.”

It was while he was at RAF Wyton that he met Diane. Born and brought up just outside Liverpool, she had also joined the RAF at 18-years-old as an avionics mechanic.

Her career took her on active service in the first Gulf War, where she was the only female on guard duty.

“After that I went to the Freedom of Kuwait parade in both New York and London and got to meet Maggie Thatcher and Princess Diana,” she adds modestly. “My mum met Princess Margaret too as she went around meeting all the families while we were out in Iraq. I don’t think she knew what to say to my mum when she told her I wasn’t a nurse.”

A few years later the couple’s first child, a daughter, was born and Diane continued to break down the boundaries in the RAF. She was the first unmarried mother – the couple were to wed a few years later – allowed back to work in the air force after having her baby.

Four years later she decided the time was right to leave the RAF and she worked briefly at the Post Office, before going on to become a childminder. By then the couple had two more children, both sons, and Diane loved her time looking after her little ones.

Meanwhile, Richard had also chosen to leave the RAF and joined Panasonic, working at the Thatcham factory as a test engineer.

During his time at Panasonic he also worked in customer support and sales, before becoming head of sales and moving to the company’s Bracknell base.

He was eventually made redundant when the company closed down the mobile department. He received a redundancy pay out and decided to use it to set himself up in his own business.

“We looked at a number of options before settling on Ripples,” he says. “We had bought a bathroom from Ripples in Oxford 12 months earlier. They were based in an old church and it was just a lovely experience, which helped us make that choice.”

The initial plan was for Richard to run the showroom, along with a designer, while Diane continued to look after their three young children. But it quickly became apparent she would be needed on a more permanent basis.

“Our children were very young still so the plan was for me to do the accounts and still work as a childminder,” Diane adds. “I was going to wait and then join Richard, but it became clear I was needed straight away so I stopped child-minding and came straight into the business.”

Six months after Richard was made redundant the couple opened the store, which was originally based at the other end of town, on Cheap Street.

That was 12 years ago. Now, the team has grown to three designers, an office administrator and a storeman, as well as the couple and their 19-year-old son Adam, who is, according to his dad, the “IT guru”.

He will, however, be heading off to university in September and so the company is recruiting for a trainee designer to join the team.

“We came into the business very, very green, but I think that’s an advantage,” says Diane. “We follow the book and it works and that has really helped our success. We don’t argue with the systems or think we know best.

“Ripples is very good at ensuring we are trained up, but this is very much our business. Its success is down to us.

“They are an umbrella to get us up and running in the beginning and are always there to lift us up if we have a bad month. There is a real family feel to them, which we love.”

The couple put their success down to their military training and broad shoulders.

“We had opened in 2006 and then the recession hit, but we didn’t know any better, as we hadn’t had the good times,” adds Richard, who enjoys rally driving when he gets a rare moment away from work.

“Our accountant said most businesses don’t get closed down, the owners just give up, but I knew I had broad shoulders and so we could weather the storm.

“That was really good advice, to just keep going. We worked our way through it and kept things tight. Then, since we came out of the recession, it has been great.”

The couple have made themselves so at home in their Newbury showroom that they have plans to move to the town in the not-to-distant future.

“It took us six weeks to open the new shop, running both storerooms in parallel,” Diane explains. “You just have to be organised and make it happen and head office had told us to do it in six weeks so that’s just what we did. I think that was our military training kicking in too.

“We are trying to keep up with all trends and here it is so much easier, as everything is on one level. We have already changed four of the bays since we opened.

“We cannot sell these beautiful products through a catalogue and all the technology coming through is very exciting.

“It is an exciting time to be involved in bathrooms as we are getting closer to the fashion industry in terms of our customers having disposable income and wanting to show off what they are spending it on.

“It is really great to see our suppliers have real confidence in the industry too now and are bringing in some great new products.”

And showing off those products so beautifully is definitely one of the couple’s fortes. It is easy to see why they have been awarded the Ripples Bathrooms’ Colin Payne Special Achievement Award for Showroom of the Year for the past two years.

You can visit the showroom at 51a London Road, Newbury or online at www.ripplesbathrooms.com

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