The smart choice

Autosmart’s Managing Director, Sophie Atkinson, talks to The Franchise Magazine about the brand’s two award wins at the 2014 bfa HSBC Franchise Awards and how it aims to build on its latest success.

For the third time in six years, Autosmart, the largest supplier of vehicle cleaning products to the trade, has been awarded the prestigious title of Franchisor of the Year at the 2014 bfa HSBC Franchise Awards. What made the evening even sweeter for the company was its receiving of a second award, the newly created bfa Franchisee Recruitment Award 2014.

“Naturally, we are thrilled to have won the double at the bfa HSBC Franchise Awards,” comments Autosmart’s Managing Director, Sophie Atkinson. “These have very much been awarded to us on merit and we feel that the two awards are very much closely related. Winning the awards re-emphasises our belief that the success of ones recruitment policy, and who it brings into the business, is intrinsically linked to the overall success of the brand itself.”

For Sophie, and indeed the rest of the Autosmart family across the country, the awarding of the bfa’s top honour, the Franchisor of the Year award is testimony to the hard work of Autosmart’s franchise owners.

The automotive sector, a key customer base for Autosmart, has undergone a tumultuous time in recent years. The global economic crisis contributed to car sales falling massively in 2008 and remaining rather stagnant up to, and including, 2013. However, even in the face of such challenging conditions in one of their principle markets, five out of six of Autosmart’s franchise owners reported their best years of business in recent times, with its franchise owners together achieving record sales in the UK of over £44 million in 2013. With demand in the car market now exceeding 2008 levels, the future for Autosmart looks even more exciting.

Meanwhile, the presenting of the new Franchisee Recruitment Award to the company was a landmark moment and another that Sophie feels validates Autosmart’s recruitment process.

“Our own recruitment process is a longer one in comparison to some other businesses; however the simple reason behind this is the fact that we endeavour to ensure that both the brand and the new owner are the perfect fit for one another,” she says. “One way in which we also stand out is the fact that our recruitment team is driven by one goal only, and that is to ensure that the highest quality of individual is brought into the Autosmart family. Our recruitment team are paid a fixed salary and there is no incentive based on the number of franchise owners starting, as is commonly seen in the industry. Once on-board, the new franchise owner can look forward to receiving a comprehensive programme of training and support, much of which is spent in a hands-on environment, working alongside one of seven regionally-based business coaches.”

So what about next year’s bfa awards ceremony? Does Sophie already have ambitions of retaining Autosmart’s two awards from this year? “It depends if we choose to enter. Last year we did not and we only enter when we believe we have a great story to share,” Sophie explains.

Of course, that is not to say that exciting things aren’t still occurring on a daily basis for this 35-year-old business. With 147 ‘mobile supermarkets’, as Sophie calls Autosmart’s fleet of vehicles, already operating across the UK, plans are in place for a further 15 to join its ranks in the coming months.

Meanwhile, plenty of focus remains on increasing the pace of the company’s international expansion, a development which may well be the great story that Autosmart looks to share at next year’s bfa awards. “The Autosmart brand continues to grow at a fantastic pace throughout France, where we currently have 25 locations covered. We are now looking to increase this to 100,” Sophie enthuses. “All the while this is happening we will, of course, continue to encourage everyone involved with Autosmart to continue embracing the values and qualities that served us so well throughout 2013 and beyond.”