The UK Franchise Directory has an exclusive interview with Michael Graham, Managing Director of Chemex International, talking about starting your own franchise business.
What made you get into franchising? How did you find out about it?
Some 25 years ago I became a Sales Executive for a company called Guardsman, who sold warranties for spills and stains on furniture. After a year or so of expanding the business, they bought Safeclean from Desmond Cook, ex-bfa Director and all round great man, to clean all the warranty claims that were generated. I was given the role of looking after the franchise with Desmond, helping mentor me for a six-month stretch until he had successfully passed the business over. Sad to say Desmond suffered a fatal heart attack some 10 days after the sale was completed. Therefore I started to run a franchise with no help, 50 franchisees who didn’t want to be owned by Guardsman and a brief to radically update the equipment package, sales structure and recruitment pattern!
What is it about the franchising model that lends itself well to your business model?
The supply of cleaning, hygiene and infection control products has been the traditional domain of the janitorial supplier using a brochure or web site and delivering the purchased goods to the back door. However over the last 20 years legislation and regulation has put a great deal of pressure on small suppliers and the businesses they supply in terms of compliance costs. Chemex, through its HQ, can ensure that each franchisee approaches the market as an expert able to supply highly concentrated and therefore cost effective products to the market. Furthermore we can keep them fully updated with the ever changing needs generated by Government ensuring that our customers reputations are protected. Customers love our product range but more importantly they come to rely on our franchisees for help and advice on a wide range of business needs thus creating long-term business relationships.
What unique challenges does your franchise business face?
Ironically it’s probably 'focus'. When you look at the sheer number of businesses out there that need our product you need to focus on those areas that bring the greatest gains but the least risk. Our model bases itself on 100 customers ordering each and every month and if the focus is correctly aligned that can be £200k turnover for a franchisee with the prospect of further growth beyond the single van.
In your opinion, is opening a franchise in a recession a challenge or is it a safer way of starting a business?
First and foremost, recession or boom is an irrelevance for a solid business model; people who want to succeed and are willing to work hard do well in both. Having been a franchisee and franchisor, I can only encourage those who are thinking of starting a business to weigh up the risks of deploying a tried and tested model against something that has no history or presence in their chosen market. The facts are clearly in favour of the franchise.
However this isn’t Disneyland it’s not always happy smiles and endless sun. Not everyone has the fortitude, enthusiasm, personal commitment or energy to build a decent business. A good recruitment process will help both parties understand if this has a chance to succeed. Being refused a franchise is the cheapest business advice you would ever receive! However, if you are selected, the franchisor is relying on you to fulfil the potential they saw and will put time, money and effort into helping you do so. Therefore it has to be the best way forward.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into your particular franchise sector?
There are many 'man and van' businesses out there so it’s important to understand what they can produce for you and the skills you will need to maximise them. Many models base themselves on a single skill (cleaning, repairs etc.) and are more than capable of helping people who fundamentally want to replace a job. If that is what you want, be honest with yourself and start to look at those types of opportunity.
However, if you want more, then you have to examine the basics of the model, understand the key elements, the growth patterns, the frequency of repeat business, the average order values, the costs and the skills you need to maximise the opportunity. One key fundamental that every potential franchisee needs to understand is that you will become the sales and marketing arm of your chosen business. Therefore it’s important that whether you repair cars, deliver fruit and veg or supply cleaning products you feel comfortable in promoting your new venture and embrace the chance of highlighting the advantages that you can bring every single time you get the opportunity.