Forget the saying ‘life begins at 40’, many people over 50 have kick-started fulfilling second careers by investing in a franchise
As many baby boomers approach retirement age, it appears we are in the era of the ‘olderpreneur’. A recent report from the Office for National Statistics about people over 50 shows the average age of workers continues to rise, with the number of self-employed people aged 65 and overgrowing significantly in the past five years.
Encouragingly, ONS research revealed that businesses set up by the over-50s are more likely to still be trading five years later than those established by younger age groups. In addition, a recent report by the Financial Times showed the growth in self-employment since 2000 has been in the main fuelled by the over-50s.
“The number of workers aged 50-64 has shot up significantly in recent decades, while the percentage of people in work aged 65 and above has also more than doubled,” says Anne Willmot, age campaign director at Business in the Community, an organisation committed to ensuring that age, gender, race and wellbeing do not limit a worker’s engagement and success.
Welcoming mid-lifers with open arms
While organisations such as Business in the Community are needed in the workplace, where there is still widespread discrimination, franchising is one of the few sectors where older people are not discriminated against on the grounds of age - age discrimination is not such a problem when you are your own boss, after all. Many franchise networks welcome midlifers with open arms – whatever their previous career.
Philip Carr, managing director of multi-brand franchisor Neighbourly UK, says: “Franchising provides ambitious individuals with an opportunity to start their own business whatever their age and at Neighbourly we welcome all prospects into our family of brands who have the drive to make their business a success.
“Choosing a new career path in franchising in your mid-life can bring many benefits to your new business, from the wealth of experience gained from previous sectors or industries to managing teams and understanding the importance of customer service. “Many people dream of starting their own business so they can be their own boss, but the lack of new business ideas or the graveyard of valiant start-ups regularly squashes the ambitions of countless individuals - until they realise the opportunities franchising offers.”
Mike Ryan, chief executive of PACK & SEND UK, agrees. He says: “It’s good to have a variety of people in a franchise network, whether that be in age, skills or personality, and there are many benefits of having someone join our network who has already hit their 50s.
“A mature person can draw on life and work experience to deal with challenges, taking them in their stride. They’ve already learned that taking advice, instead of battling through on their own, will save them precious time and money.
“You’d think that a franchisee launching a franchise at 50-plus would be looking to take things easy, but we find the opposite. It normally means they accelerate quickly to achieve their business goals.
“It could be because they feel they have less time to build their business before retirement, they may have children they would like to bring into the business before they take a step back or they want to train a great team to give themselves a few hours less work a day to spend with the family. Whatever their motivations, we welcome franchise applicants who are over 50.”
Colin Hughes, Subway’s country director for the UK and Ireland, says the food franchise looks for the same qualities in its franchisees, regardless of age.
“They must be personable, hardworking, possess business acumen and have passion for the brand,” he adds. “And along with the comprehensive support system, our team is there throughout to ensure all our franchise owners are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to run a successful franchise. A Subway franchise can enable those looking to continue their personal or professional goals after the age of 50 - it’s never too late.”
Unique skills and experience
Franchisees also know they can provide unique skills and experiences. Grant Bolger, Mr. Electric’s Wakefield franchisee, explains: “After 30 years in the corporate world, I reached a stage where I wanted a new challenge and the opportunity to build a business in the local community.
“Having spent my entire working life in the electrical power utility industry and having decided to start my own business, I felt that walking away from over 30 years’ experience would be a shame and a missed opportunity. A Mr. Electric franchise gave me the opportunity to build a business in an allied industry and capitalise on my previous work experience.”
Franchising has never been more diverse
Pip Wilkins, CEO of the British Franchise Association, says data from the latest bfa NatWest franchise survey shows that franchising has never been more diverse.
“Good franchisors seek key traits and characteristics such as drive, ambition and transferable skills that have little to do with age,” she says. “Even with the rise of younger recruits entering the industry, the average franchisee remains typically in their mid-40s, with over-50s accounting for 35 per cent of all franchisees.
“Experience comes with time and at 50 there should be buckets of it. It’s irreplaceable and comes in many forms, including knowledge, skills, competency, professionalism and even maintaining confidence and coolness in the face of challenges.
“These are valuable qualities and franchisors will be looking to recruit franchisees who possess them, as they are an asset to any brand.”
When it comes to funding…
Prospective franchisees over the age of 50 are also more likely to have the required capital to purchase a franchise business.
Brian Duckett, chairman of The Franchising Centre, says: “Franchisees may well employ a large number of younger people in their own businesses, but franchise owners tend to be older, not least because the more mature person is more likely to be able to provide or raise the necessary funding.
“The energy, enthusiasm and ambition younger people bring is of great value, but only when matched with the knowledge and experience of those who have been there and done it. What’s most important is that both age groups are approaching an opportunity with a positive attitude and shared objectives.
“Franchising can often provide great interest and motivation to someone who has become jaded with the ‘same old, same old’ of their previous activity - truly giving them a new lease of life.”
And that has to be a positive for franchisors and franchisees alike.
Combining valuable life and work skills
Husband and wife David and Helen Thomas had been working together in France for 10 years before they decided to move back to the UK to open a new business.
The couple have gained a varied range of skills during their working lives - Helen has a background in administration, while David has worked in the telecoms industry. The couple renovated properties in the UK and France and David also has qualifications in bricklaying and plastering.
Because of their combination of life and work skills, David and Helen proved good prospective franchisee candidates for Granite and TREND Transformations, which offers a franchise opportunity in the home improvements sector.
Helen says: “When you get to 50-plus, we all have life experience, have been through ups and downs, have probably changed jobs more than once, bought and sold a property, maybe married and raised children to adulthood.
“At this stage in life, there are fewer family commitments, giving you freedom to seek out a new challenge and change of direction. You are better at understanding the risks as well as the potential rewards and have the time and energy to devote to a new business.
“Unsurprisingly, having that time available is hugely important when you start a franchise business, as there’s a lot to do. If you’ve been an employee, your experience should go a long way to making you a better employer, as you’re still young enough to learn new skills, but experienced enough to have the patience to nurture your new business to reach its full potential.
“It’s a great feeling to know that what you are building is for you - you have control of your business, but appreciate the responsibility that comes with it.”
Leaving the corporate world behind
Steven Jack is a Countrywide Grounds Maintenance franchisee based in Exeter. He bought the business in 2010. Previously, he had spent much of his career in management roles both in the UK and abroad, latterly implementing business change initiatives for large corporations.
He explains: “After a career spent primarily working for others, I wanted to escape the proverbial corporate world and do something for myself. I felt the benefits offered by the franchise model would help overcome the hurdles ahead in terms of smoothing out the knowledge gaps in my experience and, frankly, the fears of embarking on something new.
“I chose to buy a Countrywide Grounds Maintenance franchise and enter a new sector as I felt that the shackles and politics of corporate life were becoming evermore frustrating and the bright young things snapping at my heels were more adept at navigating the corporate waters than I was.”
Steven’s advice to anyone considering a franchise at the age of 50-plus? “Do your research thoroughly and make sure this includes visiting existing franchisees. Personally, I would definitely make sure you see more than one and try and get under the veneer of what is being offered.
“It’s also important to ensure you are going to connect with and enjoy the business you are about to commit to. For me, part of the appeal of the Countrywide Grounds Maintenance franchise was that I would be outside much more and would be delivering a valuable service to customers - one you could step back from when you’d finished a job and take some satisfaction and pride in a job well done.
“Having said that, here I am 10 years later and for the most part I’m back behind a desk, but this is due in the main to the success of the business, which has grown eightfold in the time I have been running it.
“I also own the desk this time around, as opposed to sitting behind somebody else’s desk, and that is a psychologically positive difference for me.”
The grey hair gives people confidence
As a highly experienced chartered accountant in the commerce and financial industries, Jeremy Gilks was a good match for tax consultancy franchise TaxAssist.
Formerly a financial and commercial director of a number of companies, from start-ups through to multimillion-pound subsidiaries of FTSE 100 businesses, he also had extensive experience of project management and IT systems selection, implementation and design.
Before becoming a TaxAssist franchisee in his hometown of Norwich, Jeremy ran his own business providing finance director and consultancy services. But as he hit his fifties, he wanted to build a business that he could work on and not in.
Jeremy had seen TaxAssist grow from a start-up to a successful national operation, managing to retain the personal touch of a small or medium-sized enterprise as it expanded.
“I wanted to expand my offering to clients and was attracted to TaxAssist because of the proven business model and support, as I had not worked in practice for a number of years,” he explains.
“In my career, I most enjoyed working with small businesses and through TaxAssist I can provide an excellent value for money service to this group of clients.”
TaxAssist’s supportive culture and the range of professional solutions it offers franchisees were the deciding factors when choosing the brand over other franchise accountancy models.
“Having had over 30 years’ experience as an accountant in a variety of roles, I have a wealth of knowledge and real-life scenarios to draw upon, meaning I’m well equipped to deal with the broad range of challenges that are presented to me when new clients walk through the door,” Jeremy says.
“I also think the grey hair - what’s left of it - helps give people confidence that I’m not wet behind the ears.”
Catherine Eade is assistant editor of What Franchise