By Steve Swann, Northwood
I run a Northwood branch in Stoke-on-Trent. We launched our business in 2006.
Why I chose a Northwood franchise
We looked at various different business opportunities, and the franchise route – when it’s done properly – looked to take about five years off the business plan which was probably the biggest deciding factor.
We looked at various business opportunities through the British Franchise Association, we visited franchise exhibitions, we then started visiting actual businesses, and then we started to look more at the companies behind those businesses. We visited a few, not all in the estate and lettings marketplace, and we steadily channelled that down until we came to the Northwood decision.
We didn’t necessarily want to look into the property marketplace specifically, we looked at the actual business first, then the service afterwards. We didn’t just want to be self-employed, we wanted to be in a position to employ people and it needed to be a potentially profitable business, and it further needed to have a value at the end of the day. The fact that we then felt comfortable working within this industry was a bonus.
I didn’t have prior sales and lettings industry experience before becoming a franchisee
I was originally working with a ceramics company. I’d been there for over 20 years, steadily working through a sales and marketing background through to a directorship level. I got to the stage in my career where it wasn’t going any further and I started to get frustrations and felt that there was more for me to give, and the challenge of opening my own business became very important to me.
The bank was very supportive when helping us finance our business
There’s a certain amount that we invested of our own money – some of that was just from savings, cashing in ISAs, that sort of thing – but the majority came from the backing of the bank. The bank was very supportive and was able to put a sizeable amount of money behind the business. They had confidence in the franchise model.
The training we received from Northwood was invaluable
The backing that we had from Northwood was fantastic. I’m not saying we didn’t know what we were doing in the early days, but we were on a very steep learning curve, and that steep learning curve was made a lot easier having the support and the backing, someone we could phone. Business is a lonely place, and normally the person you would phone is your main competitor, and that’s not much good. So having that franchise network, and having the support of the franchisor, just gave us answers to those questions that you need to ask in business.
Other franchisees are your allies
We regularly speak to other franchisees, sometimes we even go out to dinner with them. It’s not unusual for us to go out for a couple of beers and have a chat – we’ve made some very, very good friends within the network.
Advice I would give to a prospective franchisee
If someone was thinking of becoming a franchisee – do your research. Make sure you’re 100% confident. Franchising is not a till filling exercise. It’s not something that’s a guaranteed success. It’s a business, and in business you have to work very hard. You work as hard as any other business. The nice thing is you’ve got that support, you’ve got that background, you’ve got other offices you can turn to, and you can treat them a little bit like mentors. Before you know it, you’ve become someone else’s mentor.
Some of my most memorable moments
Along the way there’s been many highs and many lows. Last year we were actually voted the number one Northwood branch in the country. That is not necessarily our success, but the team’s success. I feel the highs every time we are able to employ a new member of the team. We employ 14 people in the branch now, and it’s quite a sizeable branch. It was never designed or expected to be the largest, we only wanted to be a little better than our competition.
Expanding can come in many forms
When we looked at the expansion of our branch, we looked at various different ways we could either maximise the return from the existing territory or we could look at opening different branches – perhaps just outside the territory. What we found is that we felt more comfortable in building a much larger central hub-type office within our territory so that we can maximise the return within that, prior to looking at potentially opening any other offices, potential satellite offices or new territory offices.
If I was to describe being a franchisee in three words…
Your own boss.
If you are interested in finding out what it’s like to be a Belvoir franchisee then read our interview with Ben Davies or if you’re interested in what daily life is like as a Nicholas Humphreys franchisee then read our interview with Bhavik Patel.