Jennifer David managed to grow her franchise business despite COVID. She attributes it to hard work and a positive outlook
Name: Jennifer David (49)
Organisation: Debutots Finchley, Hampstead and Muswell Hill
Years trading: 15
Jennifer David, from Debutots, faced the COVID-19 pandemic head-on and with impressive speed managed to convert her in-person classes to virtual whilst retaining over 75 per cent of her customers. She has now increased her turnover by 38 per cent in the equivalent month before COVID hit. Jennifer was also the first in her network to establish a lucrative partnership with a high-profile private members club, generating an income stream and exposure to a new group of potential customers for party bookings and holiday camps.
Introduction to franchising
It was about 15 years ago and at the time I had two young children. I had a real love of drama and storytelling and working with children, and I wanted to have my own business. But because my kids were so young and I didn’t feel like I had that much business experience, I started researching franchises on the internet and came across Debutots. I went to meet the founders and it just seemed like a perfect fit.
Best part about being a franchisee
I love that the Debutots network is flexible. For example, one of my colleagues decided they wanted to start doing intergenerational sessions, and it was taken on board by the franchisor. Now it’s rolled out across the whole network and it’s something that I really love doing.
Most difficult part of the job
I don’t really have difficult parts anymore. When I first started, it was difficult because I had a blank timetable and there were a lot of phone calls, with me trying to get classes started, dealing with rejections, and with people not interested on the phone. So that was probably the hardest thing at the beginning. Now I really enjoy my work and I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this.
Achieving your business goals
Charlotte (founding director) is very encouraging and she’s understanding when it comes to personal circumstances. I had to take some time off at the beginning of this year and she literally just picked up my business, took over the management of staff and classes and kept it going seamlessly. When I was ready to come back in, I didn’t even feel like I was on the back foot, I just hit the ground running.
Biggest challenge facing the industry
The amount of competition. When I first started there was much less competition and then it grew and grew. But I’ve always just kept my head up and kept looking straight ahead. You have to develop the attitude that you’re going to keep doing the best that you can do and trust that your customers will value it and that they’ll stay with you.
We worked as a team to perfect the online model. Lockdown happened on a Friday, and we had online classes running by Zoom by the Monday, it was that quick. I managed to convert all my parent and child classes online as well, so they worked really well. I would film a class every week and then we’d send that out to people as an option to watch with their children. And it was a family thing because my husband filmed the class, my younger daughter pressed play and stop for the music game. My elder daughter did my makeup and my son edited it every week. It was really nice.
During the pandemic, we also supported children’s hospices with free access to our online content for their families. We have maintained these relationships and now delivering a free session once a month, in-person, to a local hospice.
Just to keep growing. I’m learning to remove that invisible ceiling that I sometimes impose. Also, having to step back from my business earlier this year really gave me faith in my team of practitioners and in the idea that other people can keep it going. It doesn’t always have to be me. For instance, I had established a development role for my most senior member of staff who was able to take over observations of other staff and liaise with settings and parents. Given the additional training and closely working with this staff member, she was able to take charge of a holiday camp and fully deliver.
Get to know
My idea of success is… doing what you love to your best ability.
My proudest business achievement is… working with charities and being able to share my love of storytelling with families who really benefit from it.