Ex-soldier advances through the franchise ranks

Paul Fennell is a man who knows about franchising, both from the perspective of a prospective franchise owner and from the other side of the fence as the Managing Director of the UK’s longest established mobile valeting specialist, Autosheen.

Before joining the industry, Paul Fennell spent 12 years in the British Army and firmly believes his experience with the Royal Engineers prepared him perfectly for his successful career in franchising. Paul left the Army in 1995 as a confident, well-trained and self-disciplined young man, determined to be his own boss. Having travelled the world and spent the majority of his time outdoors, he certainly couldn’t see himself tied to a shop or office and so set about drawing up a shortlist of potential business opportunities.

Make a plan

“The key thing about ex-Forces people is that they know how to follow a plan,” Paul explains. “Franchising is, therefore, an ideal business format – it’s all about following a proven formula and doing things the way you’re shown in order to achieve success. Of course, it’s also a far safer route than go-it-alone business start ups, so to me it seemed a no-brainer.”

Budget was also a key consideration for him. Paul left the Army as a married man with two young daughters, but very little in the way of savings.

When he first returned to Civvy Street, he and his family lived with his parents-in-law, and so Paul was focused on finding a franchise that he could afford – and one that he could launch and build quickly.

“I didn’t have the time or money to invest in something that would require further education or extensive training,” he recalls. “My priority was to find an easy-to-operate, value for money business that would deliver returns reasonably quickly. Having said that, I was energetic and ambitious too, so it was important to me that I had the opportunity to grow any business I invested in into a larger scale operation.”

Select a target

At that time, the choice of franchises on offer was more limited than it is today, but Paul identified a carpet cleaning opportunity in his local area that fitted the bill. It was an owner/operator ‘man and a van’ format, so overheads would be low and flexibility high, with requirement for practical and good organisational skills as well as a friendly, likeable manner with customers.

Within a year, Paul had developed a customer base and workload that meant he needed help. First his wife Tina left her job to join the business and six months later, Paul took on his first employee. Naturally a hard worker, he ultimately won a thriving management company’s Franchisee of the Year title in the process.

“Running the business eventually became second nature to me and I needed a new challenge,” Paul continues. “So, when the opportunity to join the management team as Franchise Development Manager arose, I was eager for the new experience and to share my expertise with others coming into the network. Accordingly, I sold my business – for several times more what I’d paid for it! Bearing in mind it had also yielded me an excellent living for 11 years, I felt I’d achieved a really excellent return on my original franchise investment.”

Keep winning

Continuing his rise through the ranks, Paul was subsequently offered the position of Managing Director at Autosheen by parent company Farécla. Characteristically, he quickly made his mark, rebranding and redefining the franchise. With the support of Farécla, Paul has sought to consolidate Autosheen’s position in the automotive marketplace, but has also opened up new potential channels of revenue in the marine and leisure vehicle sectors. The Autosheen franchise package has been substantially extended with larger territories on offer, free ongoing training opportunities and access to an increasing portfolio of national account work. His latest coup is to secure a multi-million pound national contract with surface coatings specialists Tribos, which he expects to yield a lucrative additional source of income for franchise owners over the next few years.

“I jumped at the chance to join Autosheen, because it had all the attributes of my original franchise, offering the perfect opportunity for practical, hands-on ex-Forces folk like me,” he explains. “A similar affordable entry point, low overheads, same flexibility and practical skills needed. However, a crucial difference with the Autosheen franchise is the potential to build a database of regular customers, who use our services on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. We provide tremendous support and because our core customer base consists of affluent owners of prestige cars, who are pretty well unaffected by the general downturn, our franchise accordingly tends to be resilient to recession too.”

He concludes: “Of course there are as many different personalities and skill-sets in the Forces as there are in any walk of life, but speaking for myself, investing in a franchise when I left the Army was certainly the best thing I could have done. I found the perfect fit and a platform to develop and grow. My strong advice to those leaving the Forces now, facing one of the toughest job markets since the 1930s, is to think franchising first!”

Written by Megan Dunmore