Paul Hague talks to Gareth Lippiatt

Franchise Consultant, Paul Hague, of FDS talks to Gareth Lippiatt, Managing Director of Sports Xtra

Paul Hague: Why did you start your business and how has franchising benefited the development of your brand?

Gareth Lippiatt (pictured): I started my business almost a decade ago. Having been employed by a handful of primary schools to develop their physical activity and sport programmes, I realised there was an opportunity to build a brand and a business to deliver these services on a much larger scale. I first considered franchising as a means to significantly expand the business fairly early on, although it wasn’t until London was awarded the Olympic Games in July 2007, that I made the decision to ‘go for it’, thinking if ever there was to be an opportunity to take the next step, that was it.

Sports Xtra is now one of the major brands in what is a highly competitive marketplace and a founding member of the industry trade association. Our aim was to rapidly build a national network and turn Sports Xtra into the market leader within four years so even if we don’t quite achieve it, we’ll be incredibly close.

This would never have been possible without franchising the business so, in hindsight, I’m very glad that I took a risk.

Paul Hague: When did you launch the Sports Xtra franchise, and how many franchise owners are there in the network now?

Gareth Lippiatt: I spoke to a number of franchise consultants as part of my due diligence and none had impressed me until I met Nick Williams in January 2008.

Talking to him made me aware of a number of major issues that I hadn’t even considered and, looking back, although I’ve made some bad decisions developing my business, history has proved I made the right one on that occasion.

While I knew I had a concept that worked, I was completely unaware of the level of work required to get the model to a stage where it was robust enough to franchise, so it wasn’t until the following September that we were finally ready to launch the pilot regions.

Almost three years on, we currently have a network of 33 franchise owners and are well on our way to reaching the target of 40 by the end of the 2011.

Paul Hague: What advice would you give to someone looking to invest in a franchise?

Gareth Lippiatt: The two things that I would suggest are: firstly, choose a business you can get excited about. Ultimately work will always be work, but if you can look forward to getting up every day to do what you do, I think that’s an important factor in making your choice.

Once you’ve made a decision, follow the guidance of the franchisor implicitly. If you trust their expertise sufficiently to hand over your hard-earned cash, trust yourself that you’ve made a reasoned decision and use the systems they provide. It sounds obvious I know, but if you do decide take a franchise, remember this advice the first time you even consider about doing things your own way.

Paul Hague: What kind of person are you looking for when recruiting a franchise owner?

Gareth Lippiatt: We offer a management franchise, so it will be someone who is attracted by the prospect of managing a business. One thing experience has taught me is that a franchise owner’s background – such as industry experience or previous achievements – is not as important as their ability/willingness to follow a proven model.

Paul Hague: What advice would you have for anyone wanting to franchise their business?

Gareth Lippiatt: It’s imperative that anyone who’s interested in franchising should work with someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. There are plenty of options in terms of consultants and lawyers, so I’d recommend anyone considering this step to do their research thoroughly.

You won’t find someone more up for a deal or a discount than me but with something as important as franchising your business, it’s not the time for cutting corners and if you don’t get it right, you’ll end up spending far more in the long-run.

A great piece of advice for entrepreneurs is ‘think big, act small’ i.e. be ambitious in your vision for your brand and what may be achieved but pay personal attention to the minutiae of developing your business at such an important stage.