Interview with an Autosmart franchisee
John Tattam has gone from selling double glazing to providing a fast and reliable service as an Autosmart franchisee. Trevor Johnson reports
As one of his company’s most senior and successful franchisees, John Tatta reckoned there wasn’t much he hadn’t tackled in the course of a 23-year career with vehicle cleaning product specialist Autosmart.
“We’ve done everything, from combine harvesters to pushbikes, as well as thousands of cars,” John says. “But cleaning up after hens was a new one on me.”
Autosmart franchisee for Brighton and Hove, John was recently contacted by a poultry farmer on his patch who was having trouble keeping his hen houses clean.
“He had about X60,000 worth of free range hens, which came in at night and stood on plastic mesh,” John says.
“The owner had never found an efficient way of keeping it clean, so he asked if we could help. And we always like a new challenge.”
John put the problem to the experts who devise and constantly update the company’s 300 cleaning products, from hand care to paintwork reviver, that Autosmart produces in its own factory.
“They have come up with an oven cleaner-type product,” John says. “We have high hopes that it will do the job. I don’t think our boffins have been beaten by anything yet.”
John had spent eight years selling double glazing before deciding to look for a franchise and has no hesitation in telling us how much he disliked it.
“It was the horrible side of the sales business, but I suppose it was good training - if you can sell double glazing you can sell pretty well anything,” he says.
But John didn’t want to be pressured into buying a franchise: “I looked around at what was available and was in danger of being hassled into making a decision. Then I had a chat with some people from Autosmart and they were really relaxed and such a nice bunch - it was almost like a family. “I decided Autosmart was the franchise for me and I have never regretted the decision.”
John drives an Autosmart mobile showroom carrying a complete range of vehicle, janitorial and workshop cleaning products and a variety of accessories.
“I have a product for virtually every job and always look forward to talking over problems and fi nding a solution,” he says.
The distinctive, purpose built vehicles are laid out supermarket style.
“The customer comes on board, sees the full range of products, tries out the ones they’re interested in and takes immediate delivery,” John says. “I have always provided a fast and reliable service for my customers - which now total around 200 - and have developed a wide range of skills for cleaning anything, from boats to taxis - and now henhouses.
“I enjoy working with customers and the Autosmart range is so comprehensive that up to now I have been able to fi nd the right product for any need. I make regular visits to customers and the Autosmart customer service team is always there if I need any advice and guidance.” John’s business is largely with the car trade, plus a growing proportion of coaches and trucks, as well as engineering, marine, printing and farming customers.
“If anything needs cleaning, chances are we will have a product that will do it,” he says.
That’s because Autosmart is now the UK’s largest manufacturer and trade supplier of vehicle cleaning and multipurpose products, with more than 150 showrooms and a network of about 225 in 20 countries. The company was British Franchise Association Franchisor of the Year in 2014.
Last year, Autosmart franchises increased their turnover by an average of nine per cent - the highest rise in the company’s history. It’s now among the top 130 UK businesses showing the fastest growing profits over the past three years.
Auto smart’s environmentally friendly products are made in-house and since 2015 include a range of cleaning products for food producers. There is also a specially developed top-up system, which means customers only buy the amount of products they need, so cutting down on packaging. Autosmart franchisees have vastly varied backgrounds - recent recruits were previously a head teacher, an executive of a Chinese supermarket chain, a civil servant, a haulier, an engineer, a media officer and a business manager.
“Most new franchisees have never sold anything before,” the company says.
“We are able to reassure them that we have over 40 years of solid experience teaching new franchisees to sell. Our franchisees take a fully stocked mobile supermarket to the customer. This is much easier than trying to sell via a catalogue and they also build up regular monthly repeat business.”
Autosmart started franchising in 1979 and investment can start from as little as Ј20,000. The company says the real skills are learned out on the road with an experienced sales coach - new franchisees receive bespoke training and support.
Winning new business
“After the problems of selling double glazing, I soon got back my appetite for selling my new range of products,” John says. “Once again, it became fun to call on new customers and win their business.
“With such a good relationship with the franchise, it’s not surprising franchisees tend to stay a long time - I have been with Autosmart 23 years and I’m not the longest serving. Over 71 per cent of the network has been with the franchise for over five years and 46 per cent for over 10 years.
“Some franchisees have brought their children into the business. I did that last year when my son Zak joined the franchise and he now runs a second mobile showroom. He’s 24 and seems to enjoy the job.
“We are lucky to get on well together. It has taken quite a bit of the pressure off me and made life a lot easier. My wife does the books and the business now has a real family feel.”
Does John use the numerous Autosmart products on his own car? “Not as often as I should,” he confesses.
“But with Zak now on board, I should be able to cut down on my working days and give it a bit more attention.”
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