Vehicle-based franchises offer the road to success

As increasing numbers of people seek to become their own boss by investing in a franchise business, it should come as no surprise that vehicle-based franchises are proving among the most popular options in the current climate.

When it comes to deciding what type of franchise to invest in, ‘man and a van’ operations offer a number of a advantages including a lower initial investment, and without the cost of premises or staff, ongoing overheads are kept down too.

Practical, hands-on businesses that can be up and running quickly, with high emphasis on local service, repeat custom and an instant income stream, appeal particularly to younger people and to those who prefer to be ‘out and about’ rather than based in an office or shop, says Paul Fennell, Managing Director of specialist valeting franchise Autosheen.

“While we have franchise owners from many different backgrounds and age groups, we’ve noticed that our business has strong appeal for young men,” says Paul, himself a former ‘man and a van’ franchise owner.

“The job itself is pretty physical and you’ve got to enjoy working with cars, but more than this, you don’t need previous experience or particular qualifications to get started – a perennial challenge faced by young people trying to get their first step on the career ladder.

“Two fifths of adults unemployed are now under 25, so more and more of those with initiative and determination are looking to start their own business. Franchising is the obvious route, enabling them to tap into the business know-how and industry expertise of an experienced, approachable management team, who provide training and the ongoing support they need to make a success of their chosen business. Our potential franchise owners look for something they can afford and enjoy doing, which will provide them with a decent, regular income.”

Autosheen franchise owners also benefit from access to a portfolio of national account customers and are trained to offer unique lucrative specialist services, which can generate additional income streams, and are particularly helpful when franchise owners are just starting out and looking to break into their local market.

Speeding ahead

Although a far cry from car valeting, a Snack-in-the-Box franchise offers many of the same benefits. Part of the SnackTime group, which is the third largest vending company in the UK with over 30,000 customers, Snack-in-the-Box franchise owners visit customers – usually on a weekly basis – to replenish and service their vending machines.

Unusually, 75 per cent of a Snack-in-the-Box franchise owner’s territory is already established by the franchisor, so franchise owners have a ready-made business to step into, with customers to serve from the outset.

According to Marketing Manager Helen Taylor, Snack-in-the-Box suits those who have spent most of their working lives in a non-office based role.

“It takes a certain type of person to be happy spending their working day in a vehicle by themselves without the regular contact of work colleagues,” she says. “The main contact with people a franchise owner gets is at their customer sites, and this is one of the main reasons we encourage our franchise owners to develop good relationships with their customers. Typical backgrounds of our franchise owners are ex-military, ex-Police, transport and distribution drivers, as well as those with a sales background used to visiting customers every day.”

Helen cites association with big brands such as Mars, Walkers and Britvic as a key benefit for Snack-in-the-Box franchise owners, as well as the flexibility and freedom that comes with working from home.

“One of the main reasons behind wanting to work for yourself is to enjoy a better work/life balance,” she points out.

“In that regard, a vehicle-based franchise is ideal – the flexible working hours allow franchise owners to plan their work commitments around their family life – although, of course, a Snack-in-theBox franchise is still very much a franchise that requires full-time input, dedication and hard work – just like any other new business.”

Steering growth

Where most Snack-in-the-Box franchise owners are sole traders or work with partners, other vehicle-based franchises offer the opportunity to build larger management businesses, with extra vehicles, premises and staff.

“Not all vehicle-based franchises are about practical skills,” states Stan Knights, Sales Director of Chemex UK. “Although our franchise owners deliver products to their customers, their primary role is as a consultant, visiting customers’ premises, evaluating cleaning and hygiene requirements and providing specialist advice in areas such as infection control.”

Most Chemex franchise owners have white-collar backgrounds and fall into an older age bracket. “Some are former Armed Forces or have retired from the Police, but many others are Managers, some of whom have been made redundant, have sufficient funds to invest and are looking to run an effective, profitable business,” Stan confirms.

“Customer relationships are key to their success and our franchise owners often have had many years of dealing with people before they join us.

“There’s nothing manual or repetitive about being a Chemex franchise owner; the day-to-day work is both stimulating and interesting, and the customer accounts franchise owners develop tend to be long-term, so job satisfaction is high and that’s what makes us different!”

Although the majority of the network are single ‘man and a van’ businesses, around 10 per cent of Chemex franchise owners have developed substantial management franchises with multiple vehicles.

“There’s no requirement for premises, as stock holding isn’t an issue,” Stan explains. “Our products are ordered on a regular basis for customers, and we make weekly deliveries to franchise owners.”

Accelerating demand

Automotive paintwork repair franchise ChipsAway, like Chemex, is a vehicle-based franchise that lends itself to expansion into a larger, more sophisticated management business.

Although, a significant number of the nationwide network of franchise owners already run more than one vehicle or have additional employees, at present approximately only 10 per cent of franchise owners have scaled up to operating a ChipsAway CarCare Centre (fixed base workshop).

However, Recruitment Director Steve Tarbard estimates that for around 50 per cent of the network, opening a CarCare Centre is a strong aspiration.

“The ‘man and a van’ franchise owner is still the backbone of our business,” Steve confirms. “On the other hand, for an increasing number of franchise owners, the mobile workshop is a gateway to a much larger enterprise.

“Starting with a vehicle-based franchise is affordable and is an excellent way of building a loyal customer base. Customer service is at the heart of our business model and the convenience of taking our service directly to the customer sets us apart from traditional body shops.”

ChipsAway has invested heavily in recent years on high profile national advertising, including TV campaigns and Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising on Google. This has had the effect of increasing brand awareness among motorists and generating unprecedented numbers of new business leads; the knock on effect, unsurprisingly, has also been to increase enquiries from potential franchise owners.

“People want to be associated with a strong brand and a track record of success,” Steve declares. “They also recognise that national brand advertising will help their business succeed by driving new customer enquiries, which gives them the confidence to aim high!”

Changing gear

Poised to make a splash in the UK marketplace is Cleaning Doctor. Well-established in Northern Ireland, the company now has its sights set on expansion on the mainland. According to founder William Little, the franchise has up to 229 territories on offer, with 11 already in operation across England and Scotland.

Based on experience spanning 26 years in the cleaning sector and 13 years as a sole trader, William is a great believer in marketing and the power of branding.

“The liveried vehicle is highly visible in a franchise owner’s territory, it looks reassuringly professional and encourages potential customers to make contact,” he explains. “Franchise owners report that when they are parked up delivering a service, neighbours often approach and ask for a job to be booked into the diary. Essentially, vehicle-based franchise owners benefit from their own in-built mobile advertising site.”

William adds that while many small businesses are feeling the pain of recession, with climbing energy costs, high rents and rising rates – mobile service providers are not.

Although he recognises that vehicle-based businesses have to contend with high fuel costs, these are by and large incurred by the business owner being busy.

“In short, costs go up when franchise owners have customers to visit,” he says. “They drive to, from and between jobs. Unlike shops, for example, where you pay the overhead costs even if you’ve not seen a customer all day, for mobile businesses, those costs go up when you’re busy and down when you’re not.

“Basically, there’s never been a better time to choose a vehicle-based franchise!”

Written by Megan Dunmore