Double success for Dublcheck

Dublcheck co-franchise owners Mark Howarth and James Kitwood look back on their journey from single business owners to co-franchise owner and just what a difference it has made to their lives.

There is the old saying ‘it’s grim up North’, and six ago years that was certainly the case working in the cut–throat world of retail fashion manufacturing based in Leeds. Dublcheck co-franchise owners Mark Howarth and James Kitwood had spent 20 years manufacturing garments for major blue-chip retailers such as Next, Ted Baker and Austin Reed.

However, as for many companies in the UK whose businesses relied on the UK manufacturing market, the writing was on the wall, as Mark explains: “In the beginning business was quite lucrative and enjoyable, but slowly the times changed, as did the manufacturing locations for our products. Manufacturing in the UK, became based in Poland, then Romania, Hungary, Macedonia, China and India. I spent more and more time abroad; slowly the worklife balance began to tip and my family life bore the brunt.”

Working an average 40-hour week initially, that quickly became a 70-hour week, Mark and James could no longer spend quality time with their families and when coupled with the gruelling travel schedule, both ended up with the same thought: ‘something has to change and we need some inspiration!’ A visit to The British Franchise Exhibition in 2009 led to that moment of inspiration, James explains: “In front of us was an array of different opportunities. Up and down the aisles, a discussion here, a goodie bag there, but none were exactly right, until we stopped at the Dublcheck stand.”

During the 2-hour drive back home, Mark and James discussed what they had seen at the expo. Business after business was ruled out until they got to Dublcheck. After weighing up the pros and cons between their current role and what Dublcheck offered, both men came to the realisation that a Dublcheck Cleaning franchise might in fact be what they were looking for. “It was UK based, it was relatively recession proof and it couldn’t be outsourced abroad. It was a basic business concept that was easily scalable and most importantly of all it was backed by the support of an established franchisor and that was something that really appealed to us,” highlights Mark.

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In June 2011, Mark and James took the plunge and bought an established franchise from another Dublcheck franchise owner who was looking to retire. They were helped by the mentoring system that Dublcheck had put in place where an established franchise owner offered guidance and advice for as long as it was deemed necessary.

After three months of strong support and guidance, Mark and James felt they were capable of spreading their wings and running the business on their own. “Fortunately, unlike a standalone business, we had the support of Dublcheck and with their input and some ideas of our own we started to turn things around,” remarks James, “Our monthly invoicing figure now stands at £48,000 per month, a massive 70 per cent increase.” The turning point for James and Mark was when they looked at their relationship with their customers.

The business previously had a manager who was responsible for visiting customers to make sure they were happy with the service they were receiving. James and Mark felt as owners of the business that they were too detached from this customer interface and took the bold decision to remove the manager and visit the customers themselves.

As part of this rethink, they also gave their customers cards with their personal mobile numbers, so that they can contact the owners any time, unlike some businesses where contact can only be made 9–5. “The rethink and change in direction was a big step for us,” comments Mark.

“Hopefully it reassures the customer that they can speak directly to the owner at any time and we can resolve any issues quickly and efficiently. This has helped contribute to our customer retention level increasing from 80 per cent in the first year to over 90 per cent currently.”

A second area that James and Mark believed required attention was the quality of their staff. “We understood that our staff represented our business at the customer’s site and therefore we took a decision to no longer employ staff at minimum wage but pay a slight premium in order to secure better employees.”

This had an initial impact on their margin but in the longer term, it saved them money by providing a better service to customers.

Having had strong guidance from the beginning of their franchise journey, James and Mark have also attempted to offer advice to other franchise owners in the Dublcheck network when attending the Kickstart meetings hosted by Dublcheck at their head office.

These are meetings that offer sales and customer relation advice to franchise owners at different points on their development path, “It is the perfect forum for us to now ‘mentor’ those looking to grow their business and highlight some of the pitfalls we have experienced and hopefully enable them to improve the customer facing aspect of their business,” notes Mark, six years on from their initial introduction to Dublcheck, Mark and James have been lucky enough to shift the worklife balance back in the right direction. Both men agree that they credit the turn around in their fortunes to a simple credence: “That maintaining and developing the relationship with our customers retains long term business.”