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Fire and heating retail franchise Blazes has recruited its latest franchise owner to take over its Wakefield branch. After more than six years in Asia Jane Stuart returned to the UK and took over the Wakefield blazes franchise from retiring franchise owners Pam and Graham Bastow.

Jane said: "Hong Kong was fantastic, but it was only meant to be for a couple of years! My husband, Paul, works for a multi-national and was offered the chance to head up their Asian buying operating. I went along for a few years' sabbatical, leaving my job in Urban Development in the North East. Paul's contract kept getting renewed and, before we knew it, we'd been living out there for over six years. I had a number of jobs on a self-employed basis and that's where I got a taste for working for myself.

"When the novelty of life in Hong Kong wore off, Yorkshire started to look very attractive again and we had kept our home here in 'Summer Wine' country. The Blazes showroom came up for sale and that's when our thoughts about taking on a franchise were crystallised. We knew the business was well established and we had been familiar with the showroom before we left the UK.

"When we first decided to come home, we were pretty open-minded about what we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to work for ourselves, and we definitely wanted to come back to this area. We understood the benefits of taking on a franchise, and the fireplace and heating sector interested us, even through we had no experience whatsoever. I was heading back to the UK on a fact finding trip when we heard about the Blazes re-sale, so I decided to look at the business in more detail. Pam and her husband, Graham, were very open and informative about the business, and all the franchise systems meant key information was readily at hand. They showed me all their financials and, when I met the head office team in Burnley, the decision was made. Their experience in the heating sector and in franchising, plus their supportive approach, had given us all the reassurance we needed.

"The first few months have been a bit of a blur. I didn't get started until April this year, only three weeks after moving back permanently. Paul is still in Hong Kong and will be coming back at the end of the year - but I couldn't wait to get started. Owning a business is totally different to anything I've done before, mainly because it is necessary to keep all the plates spinning - from sales, through accounts, to cleaning! I've been lucky to inherit a customer base that goes back several years, as well as some very experienced fitters, and I've recruited a colleague who has a lengthy business track record to help me put solid foundations in place at the start.

"Blazes' franchise induction process, their input, and the encouragement of the head office team have been invaluable. Opportunities in our sector are continuing to develop, despite the economic downturn, and we now sell central heating, as this has become a growth area for Blazes. Due to the current state of the housing market, there's been an upturn in home improvement and the brand is doing much better than last year."

Retiring Blazes Wakefield franchisees Graham & Pam Bastow (right) toast new owner Jane Stuart (right) with colleague Paul Jenkins.


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