A practical way to secure your future

As the financial gloom deepens, with the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreeing that we are facing the UK’s worst crisis since the 1930s, the prospect of redundancy is looming larger than ever for increasing numbers of people

Although public sector workers continue to be in the news, one of the largest round of redundancies announced this autumn came from the private sector – 3,000 employees at BAE Systems and an estimated further 5,700 jobs potentially at risk among its suppliers and in the wider economy.

Many of these workers are skilled technicians who despair of finding new jobs against a background of spending cuts and global slowdown, yet their training and skills may fit them perfectly for a practical, hands-on business. For those sufficiently resourceful to help themselves, the franchise industry can offer a lifeline.

Tim Harris, of Franchise Brands Worldwide, manages the recruitment process for ChipsAway and Ovenclean, which are both practical, hands-on business opportunities that people from many different walks of life have successfully invested in.

ChipsAway franchise owners provide repairs to minor automotive paintwork damage, using a system first developed by the company in the US and introduced to the UK seventeen years ago.

“We have an incredible 181 different career backgrounds among our franchisees, but what former engineers and technically trained people, such as the guys from BAE seem to relate to, is working in a space where precision is key.”

He adds that the strength of a hands-on franchise like ChipsAway is that the work cannot be sub-contracted to someone in the subcontinent.

“For those from large companies who have lost their jobs because their employer has been undercut by global outsourcing of labour, there is a comfort in knowing that a job which demands close proximity to your customer, cannot be outsourced overseas.”

Paul Fennell, Managing Director of specialist valeting franchise Autosheen, agrees. A former soldier, Paul himself is also a former franchise owner who looked for just such an opportunity after leaving the Armed Forces.

“I certainly couldn’t see myself in an office or a factory, having been used to the kind of outdoors life a soldier has; so I deliberately looked for something that would allow me to be out and about, but which would also give me the freedom and flexibility to build something of my own. That’s what the Autosheen opportunity offers too. It’s an outdoors role, relished by some – you’ve got to be pretty physically fit for the job and you can build up a great natural tan, but it’s certainly not for anyone who doesn’t want to get their hair wet!”

For Paul, the most important ingredient a franchisor can provide is the expertise necessary to run a business. He admits that some Autosheen franchise owners were previously successful business people whose motivation was to leave behind the politics and pressures of corporate life, but says on the whole his franchise owners are able to learn the practical skills reasonably quickly, requiring most input and support on sales, marketing and business planning.

“That’s what the franchisor/franchise owner partnership is all about,” he confirms. “We can fill in the gaps and build on what’s already there, equipping individuals to move from simply doing a job to being a successful business owner.”

June Falvey, of Mr Electric franchise, brings a slightly different perspective. Many franchise owners joining the Mr Electric network already have experience of running a business and also have the requisite technical skills. Most are trained electricians and join the franchise for the added credibility of the brand and the opportunity to gain access to contracts they would never get near as one-man-bands. Having said that, June confirms skilled technicians such as those facing job losses at BAE Systems would certainly be on her recruitment radar.

“Highly skilled technical people can undertake ‘top-up’ training to become qualified electricians,” she explains. “Most would pass the 17th edition course within a matter of weeks, making them eligible to become Mr Electric franchise owners.”

As a national brand with associate membership of the industry body NICEIC, as well as MCS registration, Mr Electric has secured major contracts, which are serviced by its franchise owners, and this, says June is part of the appeal of the franchise opportunity.

“Although our franchise owners are expected to build and operate their own businesses, we provide a substantial amount of work from large national and regional contracts,” June continues. “This provides reassurance and extra security for franchisees, along with the status and industry accreditations that come with the package.”

On the other hand, not all practical, hands-on franchises require technical skills or retraining. For some, a simple business model, low overheads and a stress-free lifestyle add up to the perfect business opportunity. Of course, the potential to make good money remains a key driver, but this is certainly not incompatible with a low-stress, easy-to-operate business, says Damian Slater of FiltaFry.

“Pretty well anyone is capable of running a FiltaFry franchise – it’s actually no harder than pushing a shopping trolley,” Damian says. “Well, you’ve got to be reasonably fit and have the necessary drive to promote your business, but essentially if you’re prepared to work hard, there’s a huge marketplace out there and plenty of money to be made!”

Damian stresses that FiltaFry franchise owners come from all different backgrounds – firemen to former chefs and everything in between. Training includes a week in the ‘class room’ learning administrative business skills and the necessary Health & Safety procedures, followed by one week’s in-field practical training and a further week of business development support.

The company is well established, with 65 franchise owners in the UK and around 350 worldwide. “Our franchise is very hands-on,” Damian explains. “Franchise owners make weekly visits to regular customers, meaning they only need around 30 to 35 live accounts customers. These can include hospitals, restaurants, pubs and also some national accounts such as large third party catering companies and other well-known brands. The great advantages for franchise owners are ongoing, repeat business, dealing with customers you get to know well, and providing a service which saves customers time and money, while making great profits for your business.”

He adds that a simple job doesn’t equate to low return, as established franchise owners can earn an annual net profit in excess of £50,000. As with Mr Electric, a good proportion of work is derived from national accounts, but Damian is quick to emphasise that franchise owners are expected to operate independently and generate their own work.

“We’re virtually unique,” he says. “There’s no other business quite like us, so the opportunities are tremendous. Franchise owners only need a small customer base and a small ‘footprint’, so we’re really looking to grow our network with ambitious, hard-working people looking to build a profitable business.”

Ovenclean offers a similar opportunity, although franchise owners deal largely with the public rather than with commercial kitchens. As with FiltaFry, the business model is simple to operate, requires minimal training, and with 28 million households in the UK, has a substantial, yet relatively untapped marketplace.

“Ovenclean, like ChipsAway, depends on providing excellent customer service, as well as a high quality finished result,” concludes Tim Harris. “Both businesses are built on repeat work and word-of-mouth recommendation from satisfied customers. However, because Ovenclean franchise owners usually work in customers’ homes, you need to have strong interpersonal skills and enjoy dealing with people to succeed. Ovenclean franchise owners enjoy a flexible, non-stressful lifestyle that many work around the family. At the end of the day, there’s a wide array of options and everyone’s different – it’s horses for courses.”

Witten by Megan Dunmore