TaxAssist Accountants

As TaxAssist Accountants prepares for the number of shop-front offices in its franchise network to double, Stuart Anderson interviews one of the first franchisees to open a high street office and one of the latest wave of franchisees to do likewise

Up and down the country TaxAssist Direct franchisees are preparing to unveil their new brand name: TaxAssist Accountants. 'This new name makes it much clearer to people what we offer to small businesses,' says Director Sarah Robertson.

With approaching 200 branches nationwide, many of which are preparing to open shop-front branded offices, TaxAssist Accountants has introduced the new name to aid its high street recognition. 'In just two years, 22 shop-front offices have opened throughout the UK,' adds Sarah. 'In addition, a further 20 are in the process of opening very shortly.'

One of the latest to open has been the office in Harrogate, launched by brothers-in-law John Robinson and David Underwood. Having operated their franchise since January 2001 from a bespoke office at John's home, the partners opened their shop-front office in February this year and report growth in their business of £5,000 per month.

'We had grown our business to over 300 clients,' John reveals. 'As a small friendly accountancy practice we had reached saturation point. The shop-front office has become a fulcrum for our business, allowing us to increase our fees and profitability, pitch for higher net-worth clients and also establish an immediate high street presence which generates walk-in business.'

From a first year turnover of £15,000, the business has developed quickly generating over £40,000 in year two, £65,000 in year three and £113,000 in year four. 'Also in year four we merged with a local accountant, who brought on board an additional £35,000 of income,' John adds. 'We expect to achieve in the region of £180,000 in year five and are looking to start opening additional shop-front offices in the next three years to consolidate the business at the £300,000 per year level.'

In continuing to build their growth, the partners will be supported by their franchise head office team, upon whom John confirms they still greatly rely. 'From the well researched initial training to the helpdesk and support centre which we've used extensively, there have been some pretty smart systems developed,' he confirms. 'More than anything though, TaxAssist Accountants is headed by some very honest people.'

The decision to launch a shop-front office is being taken by more and more TaxAssist Accountants franchisees who are observing the success of the first wave of openings, such as the Leeds franchise owned by George Mason and William Swift. The first to open after the flagship office in Norwich, the Leeds franchise reports signing 93 walk-in clients over the last two years.

'The shop-front office has had an excellent effect on our business,' reflects George. 'We now enjoy a high profile on a town street opposite HSBC bank and on the same street as another seven financial institutions, which gives us more credibility. The walk-in traffic averages at about £500 per client, and that is ongoing business.'

Originally two separate franchisees operating neighbouring territories, George and William combined their businesses to open their shop-front office. 'We'd worked for the same financial services company previously, and after I'd been made redundant I sought a franchise,' George explains. 'TaxAssist Accountants tied in with my skills, and I am very comfortable with the head office as people - I felt I could trust and work with them straight away. I launched my business in January 2000 and picked up over 40 clients in the first six months.

'Seeing my achievements with TaxAssist Accountants, when William was included in the next round of redundancies, he invested in a franchise territory for himself and we shared office space. When the option of opening a shop-front office came up, it made sense for us to do it together.'

The office has helped the partners to build their business to an annual turnover in excess of £125,000, and they are now targeting growth of at least £30,000 per year.

'The shop-front office is the key to developing brand recognition and moving forward,' adds George. 'Our premises may not be as big as we'd like, but the position is absolutely prime. Up until now we have grown through walk-in business, but we are now focusing on marketing the business and as we grow we plan to open a satellite office nearby to increase our capacity.'