The three generations of bathroomware company Franklins - People NZ
The three generations of bathroomware company Franklins

The three generations of bathroomware company Franklins

A small workshop on Franklin Road in Pukekohe, Auckland, was home to Franklins’ first store over 65 years ago. Today, the brand continues to provide beautiful bathroomware to Kiwi homeowners, architects, builders and plumbers. James Smith – the grandson of the company’s founder, Peter – tells us about his family’s business.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

ArchiPro: How did Franklins start?

James Smith: My grandfather started the business back in 1954. He was 28 at the time and the only place he could afford was a little shop in Pukekohe. He’d been working in the plumbing industry since he was about 15 years old.

It took about 20 years or so for Franklins to become part of the plumbing guild, which no longer exists today, but it meant he couldn’t buy products from the local supply chain as easily as other plumbing companies – he had to think a little bit outside the box.

For example, instead of buying a complete cistern, he would buy the timber, the copper lining, and the valve separately from various suppliers and work through the night assembling all of it. He would load it into the van the next day to sell.

My father and my uncle then came into the business in the 1980s – my uncle went into sales and my father was in warehousing and distribution. In 1995, Franklins broke the traditional way of procurement by working with high-end brands from Europe rather than local manufacturers or importers. Franklins built its supply chain to reach over 20 international supply partners and quickly outgrew its new warehouse. Franklins expanded to a total of six warehouses around Pukekohe. The business has worked with some of the world’s leading manufacturers of bathroomware, and some of those agencies we still have today.

"My grandfather started the business back in 1954."
It meant he couldn’t buy products from the local supply chain as easily as other plumbing companies – he had to think a little bit outside the box.

AP: When did you get involved in the family business?

JS: I’m the oldest of three boys and after completing my Bachelor of Commerce, double major in Finance and Accounting, with a minor in Economics, I fortunately had a family business that I could start with the next day. I had interviewed for other jobs, but at the time I was still living at home and sitting around the dinner table with dad every night. It was just so exciting talking about everything that was going on with Franklins, the international supply chain, and learning about all of the challenges that are dealt with in the running of the company.

For three years when I first started with Franklins, I was working in the containers unloading and loading warehouse products, making sure that product went out to customers and our branches on time. Now as the general manager of sales, I haven’t looked back.

My father Stephen remains the CEO, and my brothers Connor and Trent are also part of the business – Connor is the general manager of operations, and Trent is our Westgate branch manager.

Bathroomware from Franklins is designed and engineered to stand the test of time.

AP: What do you enjoy about working so closely with your family?

JS: With three boys, growing up mum and dad probably thought we’d never get along. Strangely enough, it only took moving out of home for all of us to realise that we’re actually really good mates. We spend a lot of time with each other now outside of work, too – much to the surprise of all of us.

We’ve definitely got different strengths and weaknesses, and we lean on each other in that respect. We’re a pretty light-hearted family – life is too short to be too serious. As a family unit we’re very close, and at the moment we joke that our future CEO will be my brother’s seven-month-old daughter, Harper.

We joke that our future CEO will be my brother’s seven-month-old daughter, Harper.
"We’ve definitely got different strengths and weaknesses, and we lean on each other in that respect."

AP: Is it a conscious choice to work mostly with family-owned European suppliers?

JS: We do look for family businesses because we can all relate – others can come and go, but you’ve always got that concrete relationship sitting at the top. I think that’s why a lot of Franklins’ customers like dealing with us, we will of course have staff come and go from the business, but we’re always here.

The Armando Vicario Cyrcus Basin Faucet is the ultimate combination of sophistication and simplicity.

AP: What’s your advice for homeowners or designers choosing products for a bathroom?

JS: Listen carefully and ask the question: where is this product manufactured? More and more today, we’re seeing products labelled in the New Zealand marketplace, with Italian and German names, but the country of origin is actually China. There’s no point paying European prices when the product has actually come from the East. With this comes risk and concerns around serviceability and longevity. Products can look fantastic on Pinterest, but you might not actually be buying from a European manufacturer.

We’re looking forward to working with our joiners and manufacturing new designs.
"The business has worked with some of the world’s leading manufacturers of bathroomware, and some of those agencies we still have today."

AP: Does Franklins have any new products on the way?

JS: Franklins is overhauling its vanity offer. We manufacture the vanity carcasses here in East Tamaki with one of our joiners, and import the tops. We are doing this because there’s been a trend moving away from traditional white box vanities – people are coming in requesting some exciting designs, so we’re looking forward to working with our joiners and manufacturing new designs.

AP: What trends are you currently seeing?

JS: Doubling down on colours – brushed nickel is a finish that’s easily becoming the most popular. Concrete is definitely becoming more popular, and we’re working with a couple of good partners locally in New Zealand with that.

Learn more about Franklins’ story, and view its products on ArchiPro.

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