Guidance for franchisees:
Hands-on franchising for practical people

If you have practical hands-on skills, enjoy meeting new people and getting out and about, expand your horizon with a franchise in the services sector. Rachel Spaul reports

So you've decided you want to invest in a franchise. You're a practical person, good with your hands, and enjoy meeting customers and providing a quality service. Travelling between jobs isn't a problem; in fact you quite enjoy it. You're fed up with employment politics and want to be your own boss with flexible working hours and variety. If this sounds like you, a 'service' franchise may be just the type of business opportunity you've been looking for.

The services sector is a substantial contributor to franchising and encompasses businesses such as Agency Express (agency board contractor), Aussie Pet Mobile (dog grooming), Cookerburra (oven cleaning), PlumbLocal (plumbing), SUMO (ground penetrating radar), Sweets For Life (distribution), TruGreen (lawn care) and Waterless Detailers (valeting). Whilst the majority of service franchises are 'job' franchises, where the franchisee actually delivers the service to the customer, many franchisors now also provide the opportunity to expand the business by taking on employees, or offer fully managed start-up packages.

Apart from those franchisors offering management packages, franchises from this sector tend to require a lower investment, as they are usually home-based, man-in-van businesses. Opportunities within this sector require investments ranging from a few thousand Euros, up to €65,000+ for a commercial cleaning franchise. However, it is rarely recommended to take on any franchise requiring an investment under €15,000 because this may imply inadequate central funds for training and support.

The majority of service franchises do not require their franchisees to possess specific industry experience or knowledge, but you will still need high levels of determination, dedication and commitment to making your business a success. By paying a franchise fee, you will be buying a format for doing business, but it is not a licence to print money. Whilst the franchisor will provide training and support, you are your own boss and the business will succeed or fail by your own efforts. Agency Express, a specialist estate agency board contractor, looks for three main qualities in its franchisees: the ability to get along with people, basic DIY skills, and an enjoyment of driving. Founder Stephen Watson explains: 'The business is basically fairly simple and is much in demand by estate agencies and auctioneering companies both in the UK and Ireland. Franchisees erect, maintain and remove estate agents 'For Sale' and 'To Let' boards.'

An England-based company with over 90 franchisees operating over 125 vehicles and working on behalf of over 20 per cent of all UK estate agency offices, Agency Express is expanding its operation into Ireland. 'Our research shows that there is the potential for 15 franchises within the Republic of Ireland and a further five in Northern Ireland,' adds Watson.

TruGreen, part of the ServiceMaster Group, provides lawn care services to homeowners and commercial customers. The company does not ask that its franchisees have specific experience within this field, but they must be committed to the business and motivated, with the ability to adopt and follow the system, good administration and supervisory skills. Additional skills such as accounting, selling, risk management, supervision, technical details, time management, and organisational skills are taught on the training course.

TruGreen franchisees are trained to offer a full range of services aimed at improving poor lawns and maintaining them in first-class condition. As a fully trained lawn specialist, they can diagnose and remedy a host of lawn ailments and deal with granular fertiliser application, mechanical operations such as aeration and scarification, moss control and eradication, weed control, pest and insect control, turfing, seeding, renovation and top dressing, and can offer consultancy and advice.

Like many franchises within this sector, TruGreen franchisees run their business from home and travel between jobs in a fully liveried van. However, franchisees are only recruited if it is their intention to grow a substantial multi-employee business. Most service franchises have built in growth paths whereby the franchisee can grow the business by employing staff and putting additional vans on the road but it is becoming increasingly popular to only award franchises to people with multi-van ambitions.

Established Irish franchisor, Cleaning Doctor offers a number of opportunities for franchisees to grow the type of business they want to suit their ambitions. The company offers three packages: Cleaning Doctor - carpet, curtain and upholstery cleaning; Cleaning Doctor - floor restoration and contract cleaning services; and Clean Team - home cleaning services. 'We are passionate about our franchise operation and about giving our franchisees the opportunity to maximise their potential,' comments Founder William Little. 'The majority of our territories are large enough to support a multi-team, multi-vehicle operation.'

Cleaning Doctor is very particular about the type of franchisees they are looking for: 'During our selection process we quickly establish that the potential franchisee is prepared to get involved in a hands-on business. We insist that franchisees are totally involved in the actual work, whether it is cleaning a suite of furniture, sanding a wooden floor, or cleaning the inside of a shower cubicle. We teach franchisees to be professional cleaners first, and then we teach them how to run the business.' Franchisees must be prepared to give 100 per cent commitment to their franchise. They must enjoy a hands-on business, be totally honest, sincere, enthusiastic and ready to follow a proven system.

If physical work is not your thing there's any number of delivery and distribution franchises available. Sweets for Life for instance, which is currently launching its franchise in Ireland, involves placing boxes of high quality confectionery in places of work, where people make their choice from the different varieties on offer and place the money in an honesty box. Snack-in-the-Box is a very well-known brand in the world of franchising. Its franchisees similarly distribute boxes of snacks to places of work.

Before making any investment it is vital that you thoroughly investigate the opportunity. Little advises: 'We always clarify the amount of work that is expected in order to be successful, and also the importance of the franchisee's willingness to follow the franchise system. We say that getting into franchising is like getting married; select the wrong partner and it could end in failure, but select the right partner and it could be a very successful relationship with many happy days and great financial rewards. We encourage enquirers to speak to existing franchisees. The health of a franchise network can easily be gauged by an enquirer talking to franchisees.'

Watson agrees: 'Speak to existing franchisees, but make sure you choose which ones and not the franchisor. Also make sure that you visit the franchisor's head office and meet the support staff. Make sure that your potential franchisor is a member of the British Franchise Association or the Irish Franchise Association (IFA) and take legal advice from a specialist franchise lawyer.'

The IFA also strongly encourages potential franchisees to speak with as many existing franchisees as possible. 'It is important that you are systematic in the search for a franchise and do not rush into the first franchise that comes along,' advises John Green, IFA Chairman. 'Even though you may be in a hurry to start a business because of redundancy or job insecurity, if you do not get the selection right you could end up in a worse position than when you started.' Get it right however and it could be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship.