Stephen got the life he always wanted

Stephen Heslop hasn’t looked back since swapping his high-powered job in the food industry for life as a franchise owner for The Alternative Board (TAB) in Edinburgh and Fife.

Before he became The Alternative Board (TAB) first franchise owner in Scotland, early in 2011, Stephen Heslop had enjoyed a very successful career in the food industry – most recently as Chief Executive of the Real Good Food Plc, a £234 million turnover food and manufacturing group.

Despite having an executive title and salary to match, Stephen’s life lacked flexibility and a sense of being part of his local business community until he discovered TAB’s franchise opportunity.

“I had been in the corporate world for a lot of years, during which I worked very long hours and my life wasn’t mine,” explains Stephen. “I was ready for a lifestyle change.”

His business background had already taught Stephen that franchising was one of the safest ways to ‘be your own boss’, so he looked at a number of business opportunities before opting for TAB.

“The TAB proposition is very powerful,” says Stephen. “I believe in the rule that you should never go into business with people that you don’t like and I found Paul Dickinson, TAB’s Managing Director, and Jo Clarkson, Operations Director, to be very credible and professional.

“Furthermore, TAB recruits only capable people, so the brand will remain robust.”
TAB franchise owners facilitate and chair monthly peer board meetings of business owners and Managing Directors of privately owned companies.

These peer advisory boards usually consist of six to eight members from non-competing businesses. Meeting monthly, TAB Board members operate in a confidential ‘think tank’ atmosphere, where they can present challenges and opportunities for season, practical advice from other members and the franchise owner.

Following the initial training in his territory, Stephen has enjoyed ongoing field support and personal coaching from TAB, which has helped him adjust to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) culture.

“My big surprise was finding out how much benefit SME business owners could get from some of the tools and processes larger organisations just take for granted in helping them to keep control of their businesses,” adds Stephen.

“Also, while they recognise that they need help with their businesses, many of them often don’t see the value of outside help – our advantage is that we are talking about real-world advice from other business owners rather than ‘theoretical’ advice from consultants who have not experienced life at the sharp end.”

Stephen’s challenge is to build his TAB franchise and he is receiving a helping hand from an unusual source – the tough economic climate.

The current downturn has been working in his and other TAB franchise owners’ favour as it means that many business owners are looking for new sources of business assistance and support.

“The people who come to our taster boards can see the overall benefits that TAB offers, including peer advice and one-to-one business coaching,” he says.

“My role is to help them identify the specific benefits that TAB can bring to their unique business and situation.”

Having successfully made the switch from corporate to SME, Stephen has noticed both business worlds have some things in common.

“Whether you are running a big or small business,” he says, “make sure you deliver what the customer wants: be customer-focused and aim to create value for the people with who you are dealing.”

The initial investment for a TAB franchise is £50,000 + VAT, which includes the franchise fee, initial and ongoing training, and working capital.

Reported by Fraser McKay