Snap-on’s Craig Bishop is living proof that you don’t need business experience to own a profitable franchise
Craig Bishop has a simple philosophy: to be the best, you’ve got to work hard. It made him Britain’s most improved beach volleyball player and he swam and played water polo at national level. And when, two years ago, he took on a business that he admitted he knew little about he was sure his sheer determination to succeed would see him through.
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It has. At only 32 and one of the youngest franchisees in Snap-on’s UK network, Craig’s North Dorset franchise, which sells vehicle diagnostic tools and software to the automotive trade, is now ranked seventh in the country and one of only 11 with average sales of more than £10,000 a week.
Crowning a memorable year
A memorable year has been crowned by winning the British Franchise Association HSBC Young Male Franchisee of the Year Award, which Craig describes as “very surreal and a great honour”. But he refuses to be carried away.
“Now I’m back to building my business,” Craig says. “There’s still a long way to go.”
Craig had already won an in-house Rookie of the Year Award, but this was the big one and he travelled to London from Dorset with girlfriend Amy, a solicitor, who has given him invaluable backing from the start.
He heard Pip Wilkins, bfa CEO, say he had shown exceptional business acumen, had clearly defined business goals and was “hungry for more”, while Andrew Brattesani, head of franchise at HSBC, praised him as “a determined individual with a vision.”
Time for a new challenge
A lot has happened since 2017, when Craig was a marine engineer working on military contracts and wondering whether it was time for a new challenge. As he puts it: “It was a great job and I enjoyed what I was doing, but it didn’t test me and I wanted more.
“Don’t get me wrong, I loved the travel involved in the job and seeing the world continues to be a driving force, but getting the odd day off to go surfing wasn’t cutting it any more. I’ve always wanted something that makes me push myself to another level and be in control of my destiny.”
Looking around for that elusive new challenge, Craig came across franchising: “It wasn’t something I’d previously known anything about, but it seemed to be a good balance between being self-employed and having a company working with you. A friend’s father had been a Snap-on franchisee for 30 years and had gone from strength to strength and I liked the concept that the harder you worked the bigger the reward.
“I had zero business experience, but talking to him, I realised that through franchising I’d get all the training, support and experience I would need. What I did have in my favour was the drive and determination to be the best.
“I’ve always been a hard worker and felt Snap-on could be one of those opportunities to get out what you put in. So I bit the bullet, got in touch with the franchise recruitment team and went for it.”
Taking the tools to the customer
Snap-on’s tools are only sold by franchisees in custom built, mobile showrooms and not in retail stores - the company has always maintained the philosophy that a customer’s time is too valuable to spend going shopping for tools.
As a result, franchisees visit their customers at their places of work once a week with vans stocked with everything from a set of spanners to high end electronic diagnostic systems.
Craig liked the concept: “In my old job I worked hard and did long hours, but apart from overtime there were no real rewards at the end of it. The more I looked into Snap-on, the more I felt it could be the ideal franchise for me.
“Okay, I didn’t have much experience of either the tool trade or running a business, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I put 100 per cent into everything I do. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know a lot about the tool range - a week’s training at the company’s headquarters in Dallas remedied that.
“After that, it’s really a matter of following the system and using your common sense. From the start, I worked hard at having a good relationship with my customers. In fact, in the early days I learned a lot from them.
“They had usually been doing the job for years, had a lot of experience and knew what tools could do and what was needed for different jobs. When I was honest with them and showed I wanted to learn, I got an awful lot of help.”
Craig visits up to 20 garages a day on the same day and at the same time each week: “Technology is developing so fast that new equipment is constantly needed and customers know they can rely on us to get the gear and support they need. They know exactly when we will visit and can rely on that.
“Diagnostic equipment gets upgraded about every six months and customers will need the latest software for it. The days of spanners hanging on the garage wall are long gone. Modern tool kits are huge and complex and many of our customers will buy something every week.”
Billion dollar business giant
Founded in the US in 1920, the Snap-on Wrench Company came up with the revolutionary idea of sockets that snapped on to interchangeable handles, which were marketed via fully stocked walk-in vans.
It was a concept that turned the company into a $3.3 billion giant offering products and services around the world and employing over 14,000 people. Snap-on crossed the Atlantic in 1965, opening its first business in Kettering, Northamptonshire - now the company’s headquarters - and has over 430 franchises in the UK and Ireland.
Starting with a basic 10 sockets and five handles and with the slogan ‘5 do the job of 50’, Snap-on now caters for professionals in numerous industries and has a range of 22,000 products.
Focus on the franchise
The total cost of a Snap-on franchise is around £110,000.
A new franchisee will get an exclusive territory, a customer list of potential tool users and comprehensive training and support.
Afterwards, franchisees visit the company’s head office to meet support staff and collect their mobile store, which can have as much as £100,000 worth of tools and equipment on board. Out on the road, one to one training continues with a franchise developer, who rides with the newcomer for the first five weeks.
And there’s further on-van support for several months. “The training gives you everything you need and there’s always someone on the end of the phone if you have problems,”
Craig says. “The Snap-on programme is brilliant. They’ve got the whole business concept down to a tee, from how to market tools and attract customers to ongoing support. I’m living proof that you don’t have to be an experienced business professional to own a profitable franchise.”
According to Snap-on, franchisees have a variety of goals, ranging from being your own boss and spending more time with your family to building a profitable business as a pension provision.
The company says: “Whatever the end game, we’re committed to growing our network of successful franchise owners. We pride ourselves on supporting, educating and inspiring every member of our business. At Snap-on there’s no such thing as a ‘man in a van’. Our network is our family and our business operates on our core values.
“The Snap-on franchise is a simple model that enables ordinary people to take charge of their destiny and then, through their own efforts, go on to be successful and fulfill their dreams. There are no royalties or advertising fees to pay and you keep 100 per cent of your profits.”
Snap-on also claims to be one of the few UK franchisors that’s able to help franchisees fund buying their businesses. It’s done through Snap-on Finance, its in-house bank, which eliminates the need for funding from the high street banks.
Franchises are ideal for young people
Craig reckons that today’s franchises are ideal for young people. He says they’re realising that it’s better to start young and build a business than spend 20 years working for someone else before deciding to become your own boss.
“There can be nothing worse than looking back and wishing you’d done it sooner,” he says.
Craig says he’s: “from a family of nine-to-fivers” and buying a franchise: “was a huge deal for me. My parents were actually very cautious, so I was always determined to prove them wrong and achieve something special under my own steam.
“I like to think my story shows you can come from literally any background and providing you apply yourself and follow the systems in place, achieve your dream with a franchise.
“With Snap-on, you get all the training and support you need. How successful you are is down to how much you put in.”
Craig has no doubt about the secret of his success: “You have to work long and hard and you have got to be honest, reliable and open with your customers and offer them the best possible deals.
“You have to work as long as it takes. If it’s 5.30 at night and you’ve got a customer who wants to buy a £5,000 tool kit, it’s not a good idea to say: ‘Make your mind up, mate. I’ve got to get home for tea.’ In fact, if I get home by 7.30 that’s an early night.”
Craig Bishop’s 6 tips for franchise success
1. Work long hours, so long as it suits your lifestyle.
2. Make sure you know your products and sell them well.
3. Take time to understand your customers and anticipate their needs.
4. Plan a basic strategy for future development.
5. Follow the system. Don’t just get by during your initial training - absorb as much as you can.
6. Learn the industry. Trade associations - and other franchisees - are great for improving your knowledge, networking and offering insights into the latest trends and developments.
Choosing the right franchise
Want to be your own boss and like the idea of being in business for yourself, but not by yourself? Craig Bishop has this advice for would-be franchisees:
1. Look at it as a lifestyle, not just a job. Make sure you’re going into something that interests and absorbs you. You’ll be doing it for a long time.
2. Evaluate your finances. Starting a business on a shoestring can be dangerous. Look for a franchise that has affordable set-up costs. Make sure you can finance the business while you find your feet.
3. Talk to existing franchisees in the business you’re considering investing in. Are they making money? Have they recovered their investment? What’s their relationship with the franchisor like?
4. Define what you want to achieve and pick a franchise that gives you the ability to achieve your goals. Do you want to manage a team or work on your own?
5. Do your homework. Find out everything you can about the prospective franchisor. Beware businesses that have grown very quickly - they might not have the infrastructure for proper training and support.
An award-winning journalist and author, Tony James specialises in business and sport