Absolute freedom

Independence is something people have always pursued throughout history. It is very much arguable that the confines of capitalism are, to some extent at least, a modern and accepted form of societal imprisonment. It is with enormous excitement and undeniable envy then, that Gareth Samuel discovers the lifestyle of a vehicle-based franchise owner, to be about as close as one can get to independent living.

There has never been a wider range of vehicle-based franchises for prospective investors to ponder over than right now. Whether you are a stressed out white collar employee looking for a change of lifestyle working outdoors, an automotive enthusiast looking for a daily challenge repairing thousands of different makes and models of car, or a savvy entrepreneur looking to make a fortune, ‘man (or woman) and a van’ franchising will be of interest to you.

The TruGreen professional lawn care franchise is a scalable business that helps investors get back to nature working in a customer-facing outdoor environment. Franchise owner Richard Hodson has been the proud owner of his own TruGreen franchise since July 2007 and his lifestyle has completely changed as a direct result of his investment.

Richard says: “My hours of work rise and fall with the seasons; I often work beyond 12 hours a day at busy times, this drops to maybe several hours a day in the quieter times. I appreciate and enjoy the ebb and flow of seasonal work.”

For Richard, investing in a vehicle-based franchise has radically altered his lifestyle for the better; he is now in control of his own working life. As he expresses, working for yourself does not mean working less, but the satisfaction of making a success of a vehicle-based franchise like TruGreen, Snack-in-a-Box or Oven Wizards, knowing that all your hard work will benefit you directly is incomparable.

With many van franchise opportunities, the choice of how far a franchise owner would like to take their business is left down to them. Franchises, such as Revive! and Chemex, offer investors the chance to work from a fully liveried van themselves or take up a management role, whereby they are responsible for the recruitment and training of operatives that will carry out the necessary work in the respective territory.

Clive and Clare Pearson are proud ChipsAway franchise owners and have taken their business to the next level, moving from single-van operatives to managers of a fleet of vehicles. Clare says: “When we first began the business, I would be at home handling the admin and Clive would be on the road. However, within 18 months we had another van in operation and had taken on an employee to help Clive. Now we have three vans and another employee – meaning Clive is less stressed and we can handle the rising demand for our services.”

In terms of market potential and relevance, vehicle-based franchises are sensible business options. Often in the early stages of development, there is no need for expensive office space or costly administration staff – many franchises have centralised administration departments that deal with paperwork such as PAYE and VAT, alleviating this time-consuming task from the investor.

Denzil Evans is a Revive! mobile vehicle repair franchise owner in the Northampton area and is full of praise for the business sector in which he works: “A van-based business does offer a number of advantages: it is a higher profit ratio than most premises-based businesses and a key advantage is that I can go and find work instead of work coming to me. I knew that I wanted to get out and be my own boss instead of being in the office. I finally took the plunge to do this myself and make the big change of being self-employed. Although it has been hard work, I have fully enjoyed the challenge.” Denzil’s freedom and quality of life is much improved from his previous role in the office and he is now making plans to get up to four vans operating in his business.

Mobile service offerings are also increasingly popular with consumers, as a matter of sheer convenience without added cost. When a car collector scratches a priceless classic, a mobile bodywork repair business, such as Revive! or ChipsAway , is often the first port of call. Like the aforementioned brands, many vehicle-based franchises will always have demand because they operate within recession-resilient, necessity markets.

Working for yourself is one of the main appeals of the franchising system and never is this more prevalent with the romantic freedom of the nomadic independent businessman. Phillip Milburn, the new UK Operations Manager of Mr Electric and Aire Serv, believes wholeheartedly in the operational values of vehicle-based franchising – it is, he declares with authority, what keeps Britain going: “I love the idea that it (Mr Electric) is a relatively low-tech business, the way that you still rely on a man who gets up and gets in his van and goes out to deal with a problem. The best thing about that is that it doesn’t go out of fashion. We don’t have to worry about fashions and trends. If the power goes out in the middle of the night you will always need someone to go out and fix it.”

Vehicle-based franchises have arguably made better use of technology than any other operational practice in that now many rely on website leads, instant communication, satellite navigation and automated scheduling networks via mobile devices.

Tim Harris, CEO of ChipsAway, is proud to report that developing the technological profile of the business is changing the way his network operates. He explains: “One technology that we have embraced is the introduction of an online Customer Management System to enable our network to remotely access their online diaries, customer details and manage the enquiries in real time. Accessed from a tablet or smart phone, it’s launch has facilitated better communication with our existing customers and greatly reduced the time franchisees spend on administration, freeing them up to develop their businesses.”

Training provided by vehicle-based franchisors is usually second to none. Because investors become instant operating representatives of the brand in question, it is essential that new franchise owners can complete the required service from day one of operation. One of the main advantages for investors looking at franchising is the relatively low typical investment required. When giants of the franchising world sell units for nearly £500,000, it is welcome relief to see that the right investor can become a FiltaFry Plus territory owner, for example, for not much more than a £20,000 initial investment.

Job satisfaction for vehicle-based franchise owners tends to be comparatively high. As Phillip Milburn pointed out, the idea that it is an individual physically providing a customer with a necessary service is a noble idea in the modern business world of manipulated capital.