Question and answer with Matt O'Neil

Snack-in the-Box Franchise Sales Director Matt O’Neil talks to FDS Southern consultants Gordon Patterson and Gary Rigby about how the franchise’s continuing success

Question: How long have you now been with Snack-in-the-Box (SITB) – you must have been involved in the recruitment of a great number of franchise owners in the network?

Matt O’Neil (pictured right): I joined SITB in December 2000 and was appointed Sales Director in 2004. The following year, I was involved in a management buy-out and, as a result, became an owner of SITB until SnackTime Plc purchased it in September 2009. I took over the recruitment of franchise owners in 2001 and have personally recruited almost all of the 98 SITB franchise owners as well as handling the re-sales – with the exception of a few long-standing franchise owners who have been with us for over 10 years.

Question: It must have been a big task to work through the transition of your association with Cadbury to Mars – do all of your franchise owners now have new vehicle livery, etc?

Matt O’Neil: The transition of brand association and corporate rebranding was a huge project and continues to be. We spent the first four months personally visiting every franchise owner to explain what the acquisition would mean for him or her. Our vending franchise owners have benefited from an increased product margin as they also have the option to grow their business using the SnackTime network of vending machines. This has seen a huge growth in both the franchise owners’ business and SITB business as a whole. Part of the re-brand involves the corporate vehicles. We have a national arrangement with Signs Express, which has done a fantastic job of managing and rebranding all of the SITB vehicles.

Question: In the current economic climate, what is the marketplace like for your products and service?

Matt O’Neil: I think it is true to say all UK businesses – franchised and non-franchised – experienced a squeeze over the last few years. We are very fortunate our business has proven to be recession-proof. This is largely due to the nature of the product, as chocolate sales tend to increase or at least remain stable in these difficult times. Also, franchise owners will have somewhere in the region of 75-350 customers. This means their eggs are not all in one basket. Should a customer close down, we can simply withdraw our service and go out and place our Self Service Boxes or Compact Vending machines elsewhere.

Question: We understand that the entry cost for the franchise owner is now much less – is that so?

Matt O’Neil: No. We cannot change the costs that are involved in launching a new business nor indeed would we want to compromise or even gamble on the future success of a new franchise owner. However, we have been able to make use of the fact that we are now part of a plc and, therefore, offer new franchise owners the opportunity of deferred payments if they do not have all of the funds up front – should they qualify. This will not work for everyone, as there will be those who need to earn the full potential the franchise produces, as such deferred payments will not suit their circumstances.

Question: Has the nature of the franchise changed in recent times – what are the essential ingredients delivered?

Matt O’Neil: Essentially SITB has stuck with a franchise format that works and has longevity. We have simply perfected the art of delivering a bar of chocolate or a packet of crisps to the workplace in a cost effective and profitable way. However, I can see that as SnackTime plc grows and with its recent purchase of the Vendia group, we will have even more services to offer – this may include hot and cold beverages as well as water.

Question: Are you looking for different kinds of people to operate the box business compared to the vending business?

Matt O’Neil: Not necessarily. It depends on the individual’s circumstances and aspirations at the end of the day. When I analyse our network of franchise owners they have a varied background. We have quite a few former shop, garage, convenience store owners who love the business because it gives them a similar return without the hassle of staff and for a fraction of the hours involved. We have a couple of mums/sisters who share running a Self Service Box business three days a week each, thus helping them work around caring for their families. And then, of course, we have many people who have never run their own business before who have fulfilled their dream of becoming their own boss.

Question: What opportunity do you see for further growth and development over the next five years?

Matt O’Neil: We have franchise owners from Aberdeen to Plymouth and all over Northern and the Republic of Ireland but there are still pockets not covered because we simply have not received the right enquiry for that area. It is an exciting time to join Snack-in-the-Box. There are lots of new opportunities with the scope to really grow and build successful franchise businesses. We have a great network of franchise owners with many in their third term of being with us. This business really works!