Signs, sealed, delivered

Nick Dawes was the first franchise owner in the Signs Express network, which now has over 70 centres throughout the UK and Ireland. Now, more than 20 years on, Nick speaks to The Franchise Magazine about his future career in franchising and what owning a Signs Express business has meant to him.

Before setting up Signs Express Ipswich, Nick worked in retail management, but knew when it was time for a change. “I met (founders) Frank Eliel and David Corbett at an exhibition in 1992 and their credibility just shone through,” recalls Nick. “They had a successful pilot up and running, operated in a nice clean environment and offered a positive product, something that people want and need.

“Now, years later, I have a wife, two kids, a nice house, a holiday home in France and average four holidays a year. Of course, I’ve had to work hard to get to where I am now, and it can be a bit of a juggling act balancing work and family life, but there comes a point where things shift.”

Nick says that one of the most rewarding aspects of his business is seeing customers return year after year: “Initially the most rewarding thing about running your own business is the excitement of building something. Over the years, you can look back at what you’ve done; some of your customers may have also become friends. I have a great team and have seen the people around me grow.”

Investing in a Signs Express franchise has helped Nick to enjoy a better quality of life. He adds: “My favourite place to get away from it all is our holiday home near Alpe d’Huez in France. It is a complete change of scenery and skiing is very relaxing. We usually go there as a family over Easter, in the summer and at Christmas. Then in January, we’ll have a ‘boy’s trip’ for my friends, colleagues and business associates. This year there were 18 of us.”

However, as with any job, it can’t always be about holidays in the Alps: “Of course there are times when things can get a bit stressful, but I find that my half hour drive home really helps with that. If I lived five minutes away, I’d probably be carrying the day’s events with me when I got in. I exercise as much as I can and do other things with my spare time, not just slump in front of the TV. I have a gym at home and try to use it three times per week.”

The flexibility that comes with being a franchise owner has been of real benefit to Nick over the past 20 years, especially since he and his wife had children: “Fortunately having my own business means I can be flexible when the family needs me. I don’t work on Wednesday afternoons, so I can pick up the kids from school, take them to clubs and cook dinner for my wife and so on. Being a 9am-5pm employee would mean I wouldn’t be able to do that.”

“I certainly feel as though, now, I have a good work/life balance. There are times when that might have to go out of the window; like if a major contract comes up and needs the extra hours putting in, then I’ll be there.”

Nick believes, that after two decades in the business, the key to success is credibility: “People have got to believe in you and trust that you can come up with the goods. In the next five to ten years, I’m hoping to move my business forward and possibly open another centre elsewhere.”