Owning a business on wheels is a fast route to profit in today’s convenience-orientated market
Expecting a treat? Whether it’s a coffee, a pizza or a parcel, it’s never been more likely that it will arrive on wheels. Judging by demand, delivery is a great sector to get into – and there are a whole host of franchises that will allow you to do that, from mobile coffee vans to parcel delivery services.
The good news: Soaring demand
Internet sales now account for a massive 27.9 per cent of total U.K. retail sales (ONS 2022) and every one of these items needs to be delivered. Approximately 4.2 billion parcels were sent in the 2020/2021 fiscal year, an increase of over 1.3 billion parcels from the previous year, according to Statista. It’s all good news for delivery service franchisees, who work from delivery hubs managing teams of drivers delivering to companies and consumers.
Meanwhile, all kinds of services are being delivered by mobile franchisees too, including replacing vehicle tyres, providing pet care and delivering coffee and snacks. Kevin Thackrah, director of petcare franchise PetPals says: “The flexibility of a mobile service is one of the USPs of the sector. With Petpals, being able to book a service for your pet without leaving home fits into the current consumer trend of instant and easy access to services. With the increased growth of pet ownership in the U.K., we’re seeing unprecedented demand.”
It’s not all about driving
While the nature of mobile franchises offers the chance to get out and about in a variety of locations, it’s important to understand that your vehicle is just a tool to get you to the place of work. You make money from the work, but the vehicle is a cost.
Kevin says: “A mobile franchise opportunity is definitely not all about driving. To be successful, you need to treat it as you would any other business. The more time you spend outside of the van, actually delivering your services to your customers, the more successful you’ll be.”
No premises needed
Typically, mobile services franchises don’t require you to work from premises, so they’re cheaper to get started than businesses that require, say, retail space. Faster starts can mean a shorter time to profits, although in some cases you may need space to store stock.
Because you’re not tied to one physical location you’re not at the mercy of variations in footfall, instead sourcing customers from marketing sources, such as Facebook. Usually, franchisors will help you set up and use online marketing. Kevin points out: “With an opportunity like Petpals, your digital marketing approach – which is supported by head office – gives you access to an unlimited number of customers in your territory.”
Funding your vehicle
Vehicles used for mobile franchises can often be expensive, especially for franchises that provide services that require technology to be fitted into the van (such as dog washing facilities, mobile displays, or workshops). Most mobile franchisors provide you with the chance to buy or lease a vehicle and can introduce you to leasing companies that spread the cost over a few years.
Your vehicle is one of your biggest marketing assets. Clever branding on the van with details of how to get in touch with you can bring in sales, so smart franchisors make the most of this opportunity with eye-catching liveries. Your van is a mobile billboard, advertising your services even when it’s parked.
Mobile franchisors typically supply you with customer booking and route planning software, so each day you know where you are going and the most efficient route to get there, saving on time and fuel. This is more important now than ever, with high fuel costs eating into profits. You may also get dedicated communications technology, including software and apps specific to the franchise.
Green technology saves fuel
Smart franchisors are already helping franchisees save money on fuel by moving to electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
Martyn Ward, chief executive at Cafe2U U.K., which has a network of franchisees across the country who run mobile coffee van and café services, mainly to workplaces and for events, says: “We’ve been changing over to new all-electric vans and they have revolutionised the business.”
Cafe2U was ahead of the market. “We started thinking about this about three years ago, for sustainability reasons. Our vans were diesel-driven with diesel generators to power the café equipment inside, and initially, we started replacing the generators with lithium-ion (li-ion) rechargeable batteries.
“But when we looked for all-electric vans that were driven by li-ion batteries too, we found we were almost ahead of the automotive market and had trouble finding mid-sized, all-electric vans. Finally, we got hold of some of the first available in the country. It’s a good thing we bought quite a few because the waiting list for all kinds of electric vans is now huge.”
The vans cost £60,000+VAT and Cafe2U offers franchisees a monthly leasing arrangement to pay for them. “They cost about £10,000 more than the old diesel vans, but the repayments are only about £150 more than they were for the diesels, and franchisees are saving much more than that due to the cost of fuel and servicing,” says Martyn.
An overnight home charge allows the vans to cover about 140 miles a day (though franchisees typically do 30). “It’s attracting franchisees and customers, because they are increasingly prioritising sustainability, and fuel prices are soaring.”
“Our electric van investment is paying off”
Amanda and Steve, Cafe2U
Amanda Lawrence set her heart on a high street coffee shop when she accepted voluntary redundancy from NatWest Bank in 2020. However, when she and her husband, Steve, considered the level of competition and the risk of dropping footfall, they decided it was better to go mobile. In November 2020 Amanda invested in a Cafe2U mobile coffee van and café franchise, serving the Braintree area.
“The resale franchise included an eight-year-old diesel van equipped with a diesel generator to drive the café equipment,” says Steve, who left his bank career to join Amanda in June 2021, “but in September 2021 we invested in a new all-electric van.”
He says: “We love it, and so do our customers. One battery drives the van and the other powers the coffee machine, refrigerator and freezer, the heated oven and the lights. There’s no noisy diesel generator and no fumes, and one overnight charge delivers more than enough power to get the van through our 45-mile round, delivering coffee and food to 25-30 local workplaces.”
The couple, from Coggeshall, Essex, has also found the electric van saves money as well as the environment.
“It saves us about £350 a month in fuel costs compared to the old diesel van,” says Steve. “Even at current electricity prices, charging both batteries nightly costs about £180 a month. There’s also no road tax to pay, so that saves about £240 a year, and because the electric engine has no clutch, gearbox or exhaust, there’s a lot less to go wrong, so it saves us hundreds of pounds on repairs and replacements.”
The van livery highlights the fact that it’s all-electric, which customers like, and Steve adds: “The cost savings mean we have not had to put up our prices to cover the increase in fuel costs.”
“I turned my love of animals into a mobile business”
Sharren Redmond, Petpals
As a child, Sharren Redmond told her family that she was going to “live on my own with ten dogs”. Always a pet enthusiast, she volunteered at an animal shelter, but then went to a career in digital forensics and cyber security. When she was later made redundant, she decided she wanted to work from home around her young family and use her managerial skills in a new career in the pet or sports sectors.
“I liked the idea of franchising. I knew how difficult starting your own business could be, so I could see the benefits of joining an established network,” she says. After careful analysis, she chose the Petpals franchise. “The fact it has been helping franchisees achieve their goals for over 20 years was very appealing to me, and I felt I had all the tools to grow with Petpals.”
She also liked the mobile aspect. “I knew I wanted a career and lifestyle change that encompassed my love of being outdoors, keeping fit and my passion for animals. It’s a physical job, but very rewarding,” she says.
Sharren now has a team of 12 staff and a fleet of vans outside her house. “In 2021, we went on 3,576 dog walks and visited cats 626 times in our area, Sefton, Merseyside. I know this is just the start for Petpals Sefton, and I am very excited to see what the rest of 2022 has in store.
“It is amazing to have built something so significant – but still one of my favourite things is to walk my dog, Lucy.”
She advises: “Lean into the franchisee support. With a young family, you need all the help you can get. It takes a lot of determination to start a mobile franchise business. It would be even more demanding if you didn’t have the right people around you in your personal and business life.”
Fuel costs and shortages of truck drivers are putting pressure on parcel and goods delivery franchises – but long-term, demand will always be there, says Len Rainford, consultant at The Franchise Specialist.
“There’s always going to be demand in the transport industry,” he says. “The sector will survive because it’s resilient. It’s kept going through recessions and the pandemic, but profit margins have always been tight and competition means that it’s hard to increase delivery charges. Now fuel cost increases mean that price rises are almost inevitable.
“Recruitment will also be difficult, but franchise support offices usually set prices per mile and help with recruitment where they can, so franchisees in the delivery sector may be better off than nonfranchised businesses.”
Many delivery franchises are about managing hubs, fleets and their drivers, so franchisees need management skills, resilience and a ruthless dedication to meeting deadlines. There are also some driver-only franchises recruiting individuals.
Len says: “If you’re considering a delivery franchise, quiz the franchisor about how they’re helping franchisees to deal with the current issues – but be aware that this is a sector that will survive long-term.”
“I’m better off financially now”
Dean Giles, Snap-on tools
Dean Giles was a car-mad kid who went on to become an apprentice with Vauxhall and had a 20-year career as a mechanic, working for the AA, Audi and Honda. But latterly he felt as if his career was not delivering the same excitement, and having a new baby, Poppy, was an additional push to change his career.
He’s now in business for himself as the Snap-on Tools franchisee for Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks, Kent, visiting local garages to sell Snap-on tools from his mobile showroom.
“I’d always admired the Snap-on franchise investment opportunity from afar, having used their tools throughout my career,” says Dean.
He considered opening his own automotive garage but says: “There’s just so much competition I knew I wouldn’t last five seconds. And, although I knew everything there was to know about the automotive trade, what did I really understand about running my own business – paying wages, keeping accounts and marketing? Truthfully – nothing.”
The business is about a lot more than simply driving, and Snap-on trains franchisees in selling its tools. Dean did 10 days of classroom-style training, learning how to run a successful Snap-on franchise. Then, once on the road in his custom-built mobile store, he got a further five weeks of one-to-one training from his dedicated franchise developer. As part of a six-month intensive onboarding process, franchisees receive a further 31 days of on-van support from a sales developer and business manager.
Despite launching his franchise during the pandemic, Dean says: “In my first month my sales were impressive and the enquiries soon came flooding in. I’m already better off financially than I would have been if I’d stayed working as a mechanic.”
Linda Whitney writes about franchising for the Daily Mail, What Franchise and many other publications.