An interview with Dyno-Rod founder, Jim Zockoll

In the first of a series of interviews with the founders of franchising Stuart Anderson talks to Jim Zockoll, who became one of the first UK franchisors with Dyno-Rod in 1965

Jim Zockoll has been franchising for 40 years this year, and yet his enthusiasm for the concept is undimmed. In fact, with his son Steve, Jim is currently involved in the launches of two new franchises: 0800 flowers and 0800 handyman.

However, it is for launching Dyno-Rod, followed by Dyno-Locks and Dyno-Plumbing under the banner of the Dyno-Group, that Jim made his name and fortune.

The story behind the origins of this concept has become typical to UK franchising - the application of market leading US technology to an underdeveloped market to provide an unbeatable service. 'I was a pilot for PanAm in 1963 when I started the business,' Jim recalls. 'One night I was staying at the Kensington Palace Hotel and got talking to the Night Manager. He was telling me about a blocked pipe they had running under the restaurant - this was a month before Christmas. They were going to rip up the floor, which was going to cost them £45,000 and disrupt their Christmas period, so I asked why they didn't use a drain cleaning machine like we had in the US. It turned out they didn't have them over here.'

Jim already owned a 'Snake Rooter' drain cleaner after investing in one to sort out a blockage in one of his US properties. 'I flew back to New York, picked up the machine and did the job in a couple of hours,' he continues. 'The hotel management was over the moon and paid me 5,000 guineas. I realised then there was a great opportunity to bring over more equipment and set up a business.'

Jim admits that at this stage he should have focused full-time on setting up the business, but instead he continued piloting until 1981, running the business alongside. 'I probably could have put in 300 operatives,' he remarks.

'Instead I started franchising in 1965. Franchising was pretty much unheard of in the UK then, but I'd seen its success in the US and Wimpy was piloting its franchise programme in the UK. I set up the first non-food franchise. I got started through my pilot contacts - two Polish pilots set up the first franchise covering a territory in North London and Essex. The concept took off - Dyno-Rod was national within two years with 45 franchisees.'

As Dyno-Rod was becoming a national name Jim was still flying, so he appointed David Taube as Managing Director. 'David was an excellent marketing man,' says Jim. 'He deserves credit for our national branding. We were the first service company to go into the Yellow Pages, and were also advertising in the London Underground.'

Still searching for something extra in Dyno-Rod's branding, Jim made his his masterstroke, the dayglo orange that makes Dyno-Rod stand out today. 'We hit upon the idea to brand it with a colour - one which would really hit you in the face,' he explains. 'It was at this stage that I also started thinking about cosmetic phone numbers.'

The concept of switching numbers to letters in phone numbers had already taken off in the US, where lettered keypads were widespread. It was not until the last 10 years though, with the popularity of mobile phones that the concept has gained a foothold in the UK market. 'These cosmetic numbers are so user-friendly,' Jim remarks. 'When you put them on the side of a van they stop people going to the Yellow Pages.

'We originally tested a few different number combinations of zeros and eights, then zeros and nines because the average drain blockage comes every nine years. However, they weren't as successful as I thought they would be. Now phone names are taking off and Dyno-Rod is ahead of the game with 0800 DYNOROD.

Dyno-Plumbing has got 0800 PLUMBING too, which is great because it's generic.' The cosmetic phone number concept had captured Jim's imagination, and he felt he had again identified an opening in the UK to which he could apply a US concept. 'I started developing more ideas with phone numbers and started Phonenames. I've invested £10 million in developing the business, and am now concentrating all my efforts on it.' Jim sold The Dyno Group to utilities giant Centrica last year for £57.6 million. 'We've got the rights to a range of valuable cosmetic phone numbers and are licensing them out or developing businesses under them,' Jim reports.

'My son Steve has come into the business with me, and we've already launched 0800 FLOWERS, which has grown into a £900,000 business, followed by 0800 BALLOONS and 0800 WINESHOP.'

Other companies using phonenames include 0800 REVERSE, British Gas, Nestlé and Ideal Standard. 'We're now applying our franchising experience, with 0800 HANDYMAN offering franchises and more to follow. The numbers work - those that have the numbers, you couldn't get them back off them now.'

Franchising is still at the heart of Jim's business plans, and he is keen to build his involvement in the industry,

'We're looking for franchise operations that need capital,' he announces. 'I want to continue to be a major player in the franchise industry.'