Franchising can give you a new lease of life if you find yourself at a career crossroads
The desire to be your boss is still strong among the UK population. 1,843 new businesses were founded every day during the 2018-19 tax year - 672,890 in total - a jump of 8.5 per cent compared to the previous 12-month period and the highest number of incorporations since 2009-10, which followed the financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn brought about by the credit crunch of 2008.
People are motivated to start their own business for a number of reasons, including dissatisfaction with their job, the prospect of earning more money, the chance to do something they love and a fear of redundancy.
However, many are put off by their lack of a viable business idea, fear of failure, insufficient skills and a belief that going it alone will lead to increased stress levels. There are no such barriers if you become a franchisee.
Franchisees run their own businesses using tried and tested systems and know-how that have been developed over a number of years and in a range of locations by an experienced franchisor, who not only provides comprehensive training, but also a package of support that promotes growth.
This has led to the number of UK franchise units increasing 10 per cent to 48,600 since 2015, according to the British Franchise Association, and 93 per cent of franchisees reporting profitability.
Nevertheless, it takes guts and determination to go from employee to franchisee, but the rewards can make the move worthwhile, as the following case studies prove:
1. Simon Herbert
“I’d never go back to employment”
Former engineer Simon Herbert says he never felt completely comfortable working for someone else, which is why he opened Dream Doors’ Gloucester showroom two years ago.
But despite admitting no one was more surprised than he was when he decided to invest in one of the kitchen makeover company’s franchises, he’s enjoying building a business with the help of a brand that has over 90 outlets in the UK.
Simon says: “I had been in and out of engineering roles for about 18 years. I was made redundant from Toyota in 2007 and started an advertising business, which I ran for seven years.
“I ended up going back to Toyota for two years, but it wasn’t really for me - I went back to save up some money. I was getting franchise newsletters at the time and saw this opportunity with Dream Doors. After experiencing running my own business, the thought of going back into employment - I just couldn’t do it.”
Dream Doors franchisees specialise in replacing kitchen doors, drawers and worktops, as well as offering full refits. They also reface and refit bedrooms.
“The biggest positive with Dream Doors is the support you get from head office,” Simon says. “You get the safety net of the business model and everything else that comes with being in a franchise business. Running your own business makes you realise you wouldn’t want to go back to wilful employment.”
Simon’s advice for someone considering leaving their job and becoming a franchisee?
“I was handing my life savings over to Dream Doors, as well as selling my car and taking out a business loan, so make sure you do your research into the company you’re getting involved with, check out their history, track record and the returns on your investment to limit your risk.”
And his biggest challenge when making the transition from employee to franchisee?
“Getting over the initial fear of it all going wrong, leaving my guaranteed wage and five weeks’ holiday entitlement and jumping into the known, which I’m sure is the same for everyone.
“But if you accept the commitment and the long hours, the end result is worth it.”
2. Stuart Harley
“It’s reassuring to know I have such a capable team behind me”
Stuart Harley was inspired to leave the car industry behind after witnessing his two young sons - then aged two and three - engage with technology.
He’d spent 10 years as a sales manager in the automotive sector before he became a ComputerXplorers franchisee in October 2019 and is already working with a number of schools and nurseries in the Southampton area to help children develop important skills such as coding, programming, 3D modelling, robotics and animation.
Stuart says: “When I first reached out to the team, they gave me an honest appraisal of the business opportunity and the training and set-up support has been spot on.
“I hit the ground running and secured my first customers quickly, thanks to a strong online presence. I’m looking forward to building my business and it’s reassuring to know I have such a capable team behind me.”
Interest in his business is high, according to Stuart, who’s now recruiting more teachers for his team. During lockdown, ComputerXplorers supported schools who were caring for children of key workers and provided online virtual computing and tech clubs for pupils who were being home-schooled.
Stuart’s plan is to expand his franchise further across the south and south west. Franchising isn’t for everyone though and while you don’t necessarily need any experience in the sector your franchise operates in, franchisees do need to possess certain qualities to succeed.
“You need a huge array of different skills,” Stuart says. “In the early days, you are essentially salesperson, operations director, administrator, accountant and the staff to make it happen. “If I had to narrow it down, you need to be a go-getter, hard-working, optimistic, resilient, a people person and results motivated.”
Stuart says the main difference between being an employee and a franchisee is the feeling of freedom and sense of achievement you feel: “You’re building something for you and your family’s future and you can be as flexible as you want to be.
“Working from home is definitely the biggest challenge, with my two young boys wanting to help whenever they can, but I have a hugely supportive wife, who has made the transition a lot easier.
“The ComputerXplorers head office team have also been brilliant - they’re always at the end of the phone if I need them and nothing has been too much trouble.”
3. Abhi Prakash
“I grew tired of working for others or sitting at a desk”
Abhi Prakash became disillusioned with life as an employee fairly soon after graduating from university with a medical degree.
With a desire to own his own business, he decided a franchise would be the best and lowest risk route to becoming his own boss.
For Abhi, the choice of franchise wasn’t a difficult one. While he had no previous experience in the sector, Abhi knew he wanted to work within the food industry for a well-known brand that had low costs. Subway was the obvious choice and he opened his first franchise in Ilkeston, Derby at the age of 27.
“I grew tired of working for others or sitting at a desk,” Abhi explains. “I wanted to be physically involved in a business, making the decisions and on my feet, not sat down all day.”
The support offered by Subway was a big factor in his choice of franchise. Abhi and his brother both attended a two-week training course at the company’s UK and Ireland support centre in Cambridge, where they took part in both classroom and store-based training.
Following completion of the course, Subway’s team of business development agents were available to answer any questions or offer advice.
Since opening his franchise, Abhi says his work-life balance has improved and he now enjoys the independence of being his own boss. While the store is still in its infancy, he plans to continue working on the front line, serving customers and making sure customer service levels are maintained.
Running the store is a family affair for Abhi - his brother and girlfriend are among the 12 members of staff he employs. His brother usually opens up the store in the morning and has a hands-on role in its running, so much so that Abhi is working with him to open his own Subway franchise.
“I’m hoping to help my brother open a Subway store in the next six months,” Abhi says. “But right now my focus is on my store and while I hope to expand I want to get my first store exactly right before I think about opening another.”
4. Hanri van der Merwe and Rene Swart
“I always thought there must be more to life than the day-to-day rat race”
In 2009 Hanri van der Merwe moved to the UK from South Africa with her friend Rene Swart in search of new opportunities. Instead of finding what she was looking for, she ended up in a job that left her feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.
It was then the fitness enthusiasts came across functional fitness brand F45 Training while they were preparing for various races and half marathons.
Hanri says: “I always thought there must be more to life than the day-to-day rat race and believe the only way to be financially free is to work for yourself.
“It’s not purely about financial freedom, but also about being free in general. It’s hard work, but I get to decide how I work - and that’s the beauty of it.” Hanri and Rene opened the doors of their London F45 Training franchise in Holloway in February 2019.
“Our member count increased steadily every month and we were breaking even after about five months,” Hanri says. “Just before COVID, our member count was on 200, which we were very happy about.”
During lockdown the pair were on board with the F45 Training global community and ran F45 Live, retaining around 100 of their members.
“We’ve managed to build a special community and have loads of loyal members,” Hanri says.
Hanri and Rene also utilised F45 Track, an outdoor bootcamp-style session, so members could still enjoy F45 classes while staying safe.
To support their members, F45 offered a mix of on-demand classes to help them stay on track to achieve their fitness goals, including F45 Live, which featured live stream classes and on-demand classes via the F45 Challenge app, which use bodyweight exercises to achieve maximum results, meaning no equipment is required.
Hanri’s parent’s worked for themselves, as did her grandparents.
“That was all I ever knew and that’s why that was naturally my goal in life,” she says. “It was strange at first that there was no one to answer to and the buck stops with you. It’s scary, but I live by the Richard Branson quote ‘Fake it until you make it’.
“I also quickly learned that structure and routine are key elements, otherwise it’s very easy to get up at 9 am and go to bed at midnight.”
Hanri and Rene’s biggest test was trying to understand an industry they didn’t know much about. But that’s the beauty of franchising: franchisees are able to tap into the franchisor’s knowledge and receive a degree of handholding not available to independent start-ups.
The pair will become multi-unit franchisees when they open their second studio in Walthamstow later this year.
Hanri has this advice if you’re at a career crossroads and are considering investing in a franchise: “Timing is everything, so make sure you leave your current job at the right time.
“Do your homework and speak to current franchisees to get a true insight into what the business is like. Be prepared to work harder than ever before, but it’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
“If you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work and you will never dread a Monday on a Sunday evening ever again.”
5. Jim Humphrey
“It’s about taking a calculated gamble”
There wasn’t one single reason why Jim Humphrey left Devon & Cornwall Police to become a franchisee with commercial cleaning specialist Ecocleen.
“Partly, I had reached a point in my career where the policing I enjoyed and job I wanted no longer existed,” He explains. “I was reluctant to accept a role that did not interest me and at the same time I was realising I was always going to be a small cog in a big machine.”
Jim’s lack of business experience led him to investigate franchising as a means of becoming his own boss.
“When you’re starting out, a franchise offers a lot in terms of added support and expertise, which puts you at an advantage over someone who is setting up on their own from scratch,” he says. “The safety net was appealing, giving me the time to learn about running a business and the sector I was entering.
“I looked around for sectors that would not require a lot of experience or qualifications and the cleaning industry kept coming up as being a resilient sector in good times and bad, something that has proven to be correct during the past few months.
“I also considered what I was good at in terms of interpersonal skills, resource planning and issue resolution and there seemed to be a good fit.”
Jim bought Ecocleen’s Exeter franchise in August 2016, which later become the south west region covering Devon and Cornwall. Since then it’s expanded by 600 per cent and is now a multi-million-pound turnover enterprise.
The business started off with one manager. Now it has six, who are responsible for coordinating a team of over 15 mobile supervisors and almost 200 cleaners.
“When it’s your own business, it’s on you to make it a success,” Jim says. “There’s always a risk that something will not work out as hoped, but for me it has been about having the work ethic to make the business as successful as possible.
“I’ve found that a lot of what I did as a police sergeant - the self-governance, communicating well, reacting quickly to issues and picking the right team - has proved invaluable in my current role.
“They say the best leaders surround themselves with people who are better at a job than they are, so this is the approach I’ve tried to take over the past four years.”
Jim has some wise words for prospective franchisees: “Do your background checks because due diligence is crucial. There are many questions to ask yourself, including what do you want to be involved in, what are you going to bring to the franchise and what might you need to learn?
“By understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, you can decide if you’re the right fit for a franchise, but equally important, you need to establish if culturally the franchise is aligned with your own way of thinking.
“It’s about taking a calculated gamble because you can never know what’s around the corner. All you can do is be prepared, so you can mitigate the risk as much as possible and ensure you’re best placed to succeed.”