Changing Places-ChipsAway offers a new life away from corporate existence

A move into self-employment has enabled Jamie Birks to transform his lifestyle and spend more time with his children, as well as build a 'very rewarding' business

In the summer of 2003 ChipsAway franchisee Jamie Birks made the decision to change career. A senior manager for a major finance company, he had spent three years managing large IT programmes and company mergers, but sitting on a beach while on honeymoon in the Caribbean he realised that he had achieved what he wanted from corporate life and felt the desire to do something completely different.

First he made the decision to move from the south-east of England back to Scotland where he planned to buy some land and build a house in the Scottish Borders. 'Although beautiful, it is not the most thriving area, so I had to be careful in my choice of business,' he recalls. 'After looking at various businesses for sale in the region - most were failing B&Bs and restaurants - I turned my attention to franchising.'

According to Jamie, ChipsAway International came out on top for a variety of reasons. It was clear to him that from day one the franchisor and franchisee would work together to mutual benefit, the investment in training and skills seemed first class and the business model would allow him to have a lifestyle where his family came first.

ChipsAway is one of the most successful franchises in the UK with around 370 franchisees operating nationwide and a network of Master Franchises overseas. Based on unique technology, the ChipsAway system continues to dominate in the 'on-the-spot' SMART (Small to Medium Area Repair Technology) repairs sector. Franchisees operate from smartly liveried vehicles, customised as fully equipped mobile workshops, providing high quality repairs to scratches, bumps and scuffs on car paintwork, on a 'same day' basis, at a place convenient to customers and at a fraction of the price of a traditional body shop repair.

'The support from ChipsAway International was fantastic and it didn't stop after training was over,' Jamie affirms. 'The Franchise Support and Technical teams are always happy to help on day-to-day issues and the Management team is available to discuss bigger issues. There are regular regional meetings which demonstrate the franchisor's commitment to developing the network and the Franchise Liaison Group, which I joined 18 months ago, enables ChipsAway franchisees to directly influence ongoing development of the brand and the product.'

Jamie admits that running a ChipsAway franchise is hard work, but says when it's your business and the rewards are yours and yours alone, it's definitely worth it. 'I now have two young sons and my ChipsAway franchise means I can spend as much time with them as I want. It also allows me to pursue my other interests such as mountain biking, canoeing and hill walking.'

Jamie's business is continuing to grow strongly, particularly since the introduction of ChipsAway's new AquaClear system. He was on the first training course offered to ensure that he could take full advantage of this latest technology. 'The new AquaClear product is light years ahead of our competition,' he says. 'Within three months of converting to AquaClear I gained four new regular customers which have since added over £30,000 to my turnover. The improved quality of my repairs has also meant that my relationships with other existing customers have been further strengthened.'

Now Jamie has joined the ChipsAway Business Development team, working with new franchisees about to start their own business as well as existing franchisees looking to expand. 'This is a great service offered by ChipsAway to its network - it is also a very rewarding role for me, adding another dimension to my business and giving me a welcome opportunity to support others,' he concludes. 'In short, I have made the change from having a well-paid existence to having a life!'

Interview by Megan Dunmore