From redundancy to franchise fortune

David Charlton is reaping the benefits of his move into franchising. Here the 2011 Minster Franchisee of the year talks about his ongoing success.

It was news of pending redundancy from his role as a Marks & Spencer Regional Finance Manager that catapulted David Charlton into a Minster Cleaning Services franchise 13 years ago.

With both his sons nearing university age, waving goodbye to his career with the high street store proved a tense experience. At home, David had to find a way to bring in the kind of money his well-paid corporate job had provided for 20 years.

David’s turnover is in excess of £1.25m and his sons have graduated with honours. Informed of his redundancy in May 1999, David left work in September and had his franchise up and running before Christmas. He says he had to move quickly or his redundancy money would have dwindled away: “The hardest part was persuading my wife.”

Although he had entertained thoughts of self-employment before and knew a little about franchising, it was the positive experiences of a former colleague that prompted him to take the final leap.

“I’d read an article in The Franchise Magazine about a former colleague who’d experienced redundancy but thought no more about it until the same thing happened to me,” comments David.

Having attended a franchise show with his friend – a Pirtek franchisee – David’s interest was piqued. He began researching opportunities and eventually he had a shortlist of just four franchises.

Armed with all the information he could find, he travelled the length and breadth of the country to undertake two-way interviews with his chosen four. “I was looking for something which I could grow to a meaningful-sized business, but where I could also use my management skills. I decided that Minster was my best bet.”

Minster’s annual network turnover is £30m and many branches boast a sales turnover in excess of £1m a year. Minster knows how to retain talent – its average franchisee has operated the franchise for 11 years.

David, who operates in Liverpool & Wirral, says he had no desire to work within any particular industry when he began researching offerings: “It was all about whether I could grow the business into a management franchise because that’s where my skills were.”

He was attracted to what he considers the sector’s relative ‘recession-resistance’. “I could see us growing the business,” he comments. “I was also attracted by founder Alan Haigh’s infectious natural enthusiasm – that was the final bit that persuaded me.”

To prepare for becoming a Minster franchisee, David shadowed an existing branch’s staff and received dedicated training, including how to administer a branch and manage a payroll.

According to David, the training has significantly improved. As a former Minster working group member for improving training standards and processes he should know. “The training is much more skill-based now, like, for example, our healthcare cleaning course.

“As it has matured, Minster itself has grown in size and the people who are working within in it have grown too.

“Since 2008 the whole economic outlook has changed and, as such, Minster has had to adapt.” David has seen the franchisor’s support function evolve over time – particularly in the matters of finance, where the help is very hands on.

Similarly, it has developed from a traditionally franchisor-led operation into a very open environment that values its franchisee’s input. David says the franchise builds and improves on its processes by referencing the day-to-day experiences of franchisees.

For David, the autonomy to innovate under the umbrella of a tried and tested formula underpins this franchise’s winning combination. He continues: “I certainly don’t want to create the impression that everything’s rosy. It’s a difficult environment out there; along with most industries we still have to fight hard for new business and indeed, hang on to our existing business.

“By investing in people, your people will come along with you…the bit I enjoy most is trying to develop people to come along with the business.

“The ideal franchisee would be personable, as people buy from people they like. Determination, resourcefulness and the will to ‘dig in’ are vital.