Neil Witney is a partner agent running stores in Eastleigh, Havant and Newport on the Isle of Wight.
What did you do before and what prompted the desire to change your career path?
I’d always been in and around the telecoms businesses, but I thought to myself: “I’m 42, I’ve doing this (regional manager) a while, I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and I’ve still not really made my mark.” At the level I was, to go from regional manager to the next step, you have to wait until someone retires, really. But I couldn’t wait any longer.
I’d looked at franchises before, but when I saw Vodafone I knew it was the perfect thing for me. It was ideal, an industry that I understood and loved, but with a world-class brand behind me… I thought: “this is exactly what I need”. I knew that with the drive and desire I have, if I was running my own company I’d make a success of it. I’d give it a thousand per cent, make the money I want to and change my life for the better. For me, franchising was the opportunity to take the next step up – and beyond!
The last five months has been brilliant for me, and for my family, and has given me more time at home, which is important – your work-life balance is key. Before, I spent a lot of time away, whereas now, if my son’s got something happening at school I can go along – it’s that flexibility now that I have in my life.
What makes Vodafone different is not only the brand but also the people within that brand, in those stores, and I think I’ve got a good insight into how to get the best out of those people… with franchising it’s all about people, and getting the best out of them.
How was the process of getting on board, what training and support is made available?
It was thorough! I had a number of assessments, I gave a presentation and met senior people... it could be nerve racking, but they want you to do well, because if you’re a good fit then people here are rooting for you... they see your potential and give you the tools to get through it. That kind of support comes because it’s a partner programme, with the emphasis on ‘partner’ – they support you through and through.
It was the best thing to be told: “we want you to be a partner agent for our brand”. I felt on top of the world – and I still do! I’m still proud to talk about it with my family and friends. It makes me feel good every day.
For the training, I spent time in a company store for about two weeks, full time. The team and the manager treated me just like I was one of their guys so they showed me what they did and all the systems, how it operates, so that gave me the insight into the business.
When you get your stores, you can keep the existing management and staff. I chose to, so rather than run it myself, I could help to build and grow them. At my Isle of Wight store in the first month I was there every single day, so that I could learn – and that gave me a much better understanding of the business and how to help it going forward. I think now that I’ve taken on more stores, I’ve learned from so many different people – and that’s really, really helped.
I went on a course yesterday for sales training and when I got the invite, I thought: “What am I doing? I’m the franchisee, why do I need to go on sales training?” But it’s Vodafone’s way of saying “We invest in our managers, in our teams, to go on this training… you’re part of our team... we want you to go on it so that you’re experiencing exactly what sales teams are going through. It took me back 10-12 years! It was great stuff and has given me some ideas that I can take back with me to my team and say “look, why don’t we do this?” or “we could be doing this, or that, much better!” They still keep you fully involved in any courses that come around...
How has life changed?
I’m much less stressed! My wife says so! My work-life balance is a lot better – as a regional manager I used to have 18 or so stores to look after, now I have three and have store managers in place, but I help the stores grow...
I can now spend time with my six-year old plus I have older children in Wales that I want to see as often as possible and I can do that now. It is a life-changing decision.
The real career highlight for me has been Isle of Wight finishing number one in the entire company from a ranking point of view – that’s what fills me with joy!
Would you recommend it to other people?
Yes! One hundred per cent! People phone me, they contact me on LinkedIn, I had to close my account because of the number of people asking me about the franchise! Me and Siobhan were in a campaign for the partner agent programme, one that was all over the internet and social media. We were inundated with calls from friends and colleagues that we’d known from years ago... I think it’s important for people to see just how great it is!
What sets Vodafone apart?
It offers the opportunity for management-level professionals to take that next step in their career and the support to set up their own business. And from Vodafone’s point of view, they want you to succeed... they really do listen and help with your concerns.
The way Vodafone do it is a great scheme. They still own and control stock, but we’re partners. It works really well... they’ve taken the best parts of franchising in the telecoms industry, put it together and thrown it out there.
What investment is involved?
There’s no franchise fee, but you have to demonstrate that you’ve the funds to pay yourself and keep going in the initial start up period. As long as you satisfy them that you can pay the bills, rent and salaries then you are ‘good to go’. So it’s within reach of many people.
What makes a good Vodafone franchisee?
You’ll need to have a bit of personality, some business experience – not necessarily in telecoms, but in management, be outgoing, positive about things and how you can genuinely effect change – if you don’t think you can, then it’s probably not for you but if you believe you can, then go and do it! If you’re the right person and have those qualities, then you’ll succeed. Anybody can do this, if they’re focused, passionate, great with people, a great leader and willing to get stuck in – because I do, every day. And of course you’ll be somebody who’ll follow the model, because Vodafone know what they’re doing, they’ve thought it through… you don’t need to deviate from that plan – it will work if you follow the rules.
What’s your plan for the future?
I want to grow – My plan has always been to be the most successful franchisee in Vodafone. I say to my team – it’s not about the money, it’s about the recognition. I want to lift my teams. For instance, my Isle of Wight store... when it was in the retail estate, it was ranked one of the bottom in the company. But their morale has been elevated so much by ending first in the entire company – over places like Oxford Street! I just want to be the most successful franchisee in the business! And if I can get more stores in more locations, I’ll take them!
Siobhan Mallaghan Lives in Bishops Stortford where she has a Vodafone store, as well as others in Ely and Wisbech. Siobhan was one of the very first partner agents.
How did you get into being a partner agent?
Vodafone were piloting a franchise scheme originally with 10 stores earmarked and put out the message that if you were interested you should let them know... I went through the interview process – it was a lot like The Apprentice! It was really, really fun... a brilliant process... I knew as soon as they announced it that I wanted to do it.
It was instinctive for me. It looked like a fantastic opportunity, someone is offering you the chance to have your own business, have your own staff, be as innovative as you like, but under a massive global brand – why wouldn’t you? – it was a no brainer. I’ve been a manager, I’ve been a sales advisor, I’ve been an assistant manager, I’ve run my own business before, so I’ve had experience with all that, too. It was an obvious move for me to take the next step.
What qualities does a Vodafone franchisee need to be successful?
Have a strong work ethic and follow the model. Be motivated, know how to lead a team, inspire, take every opportunity that you can and be a people person because that’s what you need to be – your people are your team and your customers are what your business is about and without them you haven’t got a business, so look after them!
How has Vodafone supported you?
I went on a Franchise Finance course, which delved into great detail on the bookkeeping and financial side of things. Vodafone also do all the training – including sales training – that me and my team can go on, it’s completely open – anything new that comes out, we get the training and support on it from the brand.
Would you recommend franchising with Vodafone to others?
Absolutely! It’s amazing, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else! This is it now – onward and upwards! I couldn’t be happier! In fact, a personal highlight for me is that friends of mine have also become franchisees, having seen what I’ve done, so that’s really rewarding. It’s nice to see them do really well.
Ryan Rubertazzi is head of commercial operations and franchising at Vodafone.
Vodafone is a household name – but do you think it’s widely known that it’s possible to invest in and partner with the brand?
Exhibiting at the National Franchise Exhibition in Birmingham in October 2018 was one of the first times we had ever actively pushed out our franchise opportunity externally. We were approached by many attendees on the day who were surprised to discover we were franchising and excited to find out more. I don’t think many people are aware that 80 per cent of our global estate is already franchised – the UK was actually one of the last countries to launch!
When we initially rolled out the opportunity we approached store managers and their teams who already work in our stores and asked if they’d be interested in stepping up and becoming a partner agent. We opened our very first franchise store in August 2017. Now we are keen to push the opportunity out to external entrepreneurs to see what fresh eyes and new ideas they bring to Vodafone.
What are you looking for in partner agents? Whatever experience you have, our franchise model equips our partner agents with the training and skills they need to be able to run a successful business. We are looking for hands-on, committed, driven and hard-working entrepreneurs to join our network.
What investment level, and return, is involved?
Our franchise model is different in the sense that we do not ask for any upfront fees from our partner agents. All we ask is that they can demonstrate that they have access to enough funds to be able to pay the operational costs of their store for the first three months. We give them a fully stocked, fully staffed store and we pay them a commission payment on a monthly basis, our partner agents can make between £45,000 and £100,000 depending on how many stores they take, but of course this is uncapped, the more commitment they put in, the more they are likely to earn.
What support comes with the business?
With over 20 years of experience, we’ve got running our stores pretty much down to a ‘T’ which means we have ready-built, set and proven successful processes. Partner agents take over existing stores – refurbished in the last six years, providing an improved, consistent customer experience – with a fully trained, experienced team of staff, so they can pretty much hit the ground running from day one.
We provide partner agents with in-depth training on various aspects of running a business including business plan, financial projections, and how to monitor performance. They also spend one month with a fellow partner agent or store manager in store where they will learn everything they need to know about the day-to-day running of a Vodafone store.
As for ongoing support, our local regional managers assist them with looking at the performance of their business and setting targets. Continuous training is provided to the partner agent and their team whilst online forums keep all teams up to date with any changes and announcements.
What makes Vodafone stand out in the marketplace (as a business opportunity)?
Other companies in the telecoms industry have previously provided franchise opportunities but at the moment, as far as I’m aware, Vodafone is the only telecoms company in the UK actively seeking new franchisees.
I think what makes us stand out in the franchise industry is that when people ask us “how much is it?” we can say “nothing”. This comes at quite a surprise to most, but here at Vodafone we want the opportunity to be open to anyone; we just want passionate, driven and committed entrepreneurs who want to succeed.
What are the future plans for the network?
We plan to pass over a significant proportion of our existing stores to partner agents, our focus will then be to provide them with the support they need so they can build their businesses and reach their objectives. We also have plans to open further stores within the UK in the coming years. As of November 2018, we’ve franchised 16 per cent of our 410 stores in the UK so there are still plenty of territories up for discussion.