Operating with just one full-time and two part-time drivers, Countrywide Signs franchisee Lee Rathbone has doubled his customer base since taking on an existing operation in Norfolk
Lee Rathbone was a qualified carpenter for 12 years prior to joining the Countrywide Signs franchise family in 2015. He originally started out as Countrywide Signs Norfolk and quickly expanded his territory area across parts of Suffolk. Lee now operates as Countrywide Signs Norfolk and East Suffolk, with over 85 agents on the books and he has no plans to stop there.
When Lee was working as a carpenter, the company he worked for unfortunately went into administration. The redundancy opened up a whole new set of opportunities for Lee, including the chance to become his own boss two years later.
He changed his career and became a driver for Countrywide Signs, working for the franchise owner at the time. Two years of operating as a property sign installer, Lee found himself in a position to buy the franchise. The existing franchise owner had decided to retire, so Lee stepped in.
“The opportunity presented itself at the perfect time,” Lee says. “I really wanted to take the leap to work for myself. As I was already working for the company, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to own my own business.”
Lee had been erecting property signs and managing his own workload already and understood the inner workings of the business. His hands-on experience and communication with the customers meant he had already established some great relationships within the sector as well as an outstanding reputation for himself.
From employee to owner
Lee became the franchisee in 2017 and over the past few years, he has grown his business at an impressive rate. Growing from a franchise with 42 agents to 88 separate offices has been an impressive achievement, especially since the best part of two years was during the pandemic.
In the early days, Lee operated as the sole full-time driver as well as a part-time driver two to three days per week. He now manages the Norfolk and East Suffolk territory with one full-time driver and two part-time drivers. Lee adds: “We work for some of the biggest agents in the area. These include some well-known names in the estate and lettings sector such as Sowerbys, Minors and Brady, Abbot Fox, Starking & Watson, Watsons, and Ange & Co. The list goes on. The team does a great job, and we receive some even better feedback.”
The perfect balance
Lee is naturally business minded. He has ambition, a great work ethic and the foresight to see the bigger picture through application and hard graft. Despite it sounding like Lee has had to work long hours to achieve his goals, he has been able to achieve an important aspect of his plan to own his own business - the perfect work-life balance.
“Being my own boss and working the hours that suit me and my family has definitely paid off. The work-life balance of owning a Countrywide Signs franchise has definitely been a big contributor,” he says.
“Owning a franchise has given me the chance to see more of my family than my previous job. It’s given me the opportunity to do the morning drop-offs at school and even the evening pickups when needed. If we need a day off, we do more work in the lead up and after. It works well for me and my family.”
Joining a franchise network is a great way to tick so many boxes when it comes to ensuring a balance of financial reward and family time. The franchise model offers a flexibility and luxury that many business-owners are unable to enjoy.
Countrywide Signs franchisees work as a mixture of being home-based and on the road. As long as the service-level agreement (SLA) with the agents is met, it’s up to the franchisee to pick and choose the hours he or she works. For example, if there’s a special event for a child, or an appointment, franchisees can work their job commitments around it.
Franchisees either work the classic nine to five workday or mix it up by working early mornings or later evenings. Some even opt to fulfil their SLAs by working a Saturday or Sunday, so they can take a weekday as holiday.
Lee is just one example of a franchisee who has achieved his goals for both business and family. He says: “Long-term I would like to have even more estate agents on my books and more vans on the road. The aim is to grow, so we are not just the best at what we do in the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk but also the biggest.
“Most importantly, however, is to maintain our high standards. What satisfies me the most is knowing that our agents are happy with the service they receive. There’s no point in growing too quickly at the cost of risking a detrimental impact on our existing agents. We’re really proud of our five star-rating. We have always gone the extra mile to ensure our agents receive an efficient and quality service every time and we plan to keep this up.”