It’s never nice to be let go by an employer but for those who have since turned to franchising, redundancy has proven a blessing in disguise
While it may have gone unnoticed by some outside the sector, franchising proved to be remarkably resilient during the recession; its contribution to the UK economy grew by 20% over five years as the overall economy shrunk by 2.5%. Central to this was the decision of many people to turn to franchising after being made redundant.
It’s hardly surprising that franchising is such a popular career move for people who have been let go from their previous job. “The benefit to buying into a franchise is that the franchisor has made all of the mistakes already and now has a successful, proven business format,” says Kelly Blackmore-Lee, head of compliance and finance at the British Franchise Association. “It means your route to market is a lot quicker than it would be if you went into business by yourself.”
But it’s not just the safety net provided by franchising that is so attractive to people who have been made redundant. They also have access to a pot of money that probably wasn’t available when they first considered striking out on their own. “Those who have been made redundant have often got a bit of entrepreneurial spirit but perhaps they haven’t had a cash injection or that equity available to them before,” says Blackmore-Lee. “Redundancy is therefore appealing to them, especially if they’ve decided they don’t want to go back into paid employment.”
So, while redundancy can be a difficult experience, it can also hand people a chance to start afresh. And as the following stories demonstrate, franchising is proving the perfect tonic for many seeking a new lease of life.
Getting down to business
In May 2010, Terry Houghton was made redundant from the paper company he’d served as operations director for 17 years. By this time, he had clocked up almost 30 years in manufacturing and, after a short period of reflection, he decided it was time to leave the world of employment. “I turned 50 pretty much on the day I was made redundant so I took three months to think about things,” he says. “I went for a couple of interviews but I didn’t have a lot of respect for the people interviewing me so I thought, ‘This is not for me.’”
He started to consider franchising while at a franchise exhibition in Manchester. “I thought franchising was Domino’s and car cleaning companies but I found out you can also do consultancy or coaching through a franchise,” he says.
And it was upon visiting Business Doctors’ HQ that Houghton found his calling. “I went to see them and just thought it was ideal,” he says. “The problem with other consultancy or coaching franchises was that it was almost like having a job. The thing I liked about Business Doctors was that you’ve got a process but you’re not forced down a path. Small businesses don’t want a formula applying to them; they want somebody to go in, understand their problems and help find a solution to them.”
Houghton has since expanded his Business Doctors franchise from a local office serving 7,000 businesses to a regional franchise covering Merseyside – something he believes he couldn’t have achieved on his own. “It would have taken me a couple of years to get anywhere close to being as established as I was in the first nine to 12 months,” he says.
While Houghton admits that adapting to business ownership is a steep learning curve, he would happily recommend franchising to other people who find themselves redundant and seeking an escape from the nine to five. “I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” he says. “There’s a bit more freedom over how you spend your time than being employed so I would encourage anyone to go and have a good look at it.”
The great outdoors
Having been made redundant from insurance giant Zurich in June 2014, Paul Crocker tried to find work as a contractor – but with little success. “I went for five or six interviews and nobody told me I didn’t have the ability to do the job so I came to the conclusion that it was my age,” says Crocker. The final straw came in November at an interview with a high-profile insurer in London. “I asked ‘what happens next?’ and the guy told me they had already offered someone the role,” says Crocker. “I was absolutely speechless but it made my mind up: it was time to go it alone and do something I really loved.”
Fortunately for Crocker, he found a franchise that aligned perfectly with his personal interests in the shape of Ed’s Garden Maintenance. “Gardening has been a passion for me all my life and Ed’s fitted the bill,” he says. “Being an auditor, I had 101 questions when I went to the open day but they had answers to all of them. So I thought, ‘This is something that I can actually buy into.’”
Crocker had ultimately stumbled across a venture he’d enjoy but that also had the potential to deliver some healthy profits. “I realised that if I was successful and grew my business over five years, I’d be 60 and I could sell it on again,” he explains. “So I not only saw it as an investment but also as an opportunity for me to follow something that I love doing.”
Six months in and Crocker says things are “going very well”. And, while he admits to having some reservations at the start, these have all but disappeared. “One of my fears was that Ed’s is primarily based in and around London and the South Coast,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘Does that model work in Swindon?’ but it does.”
As far as Crocker is concerned, the challenges that come with self-employment have been offset by the support of the Ed’s franchise team. However, he advises that anyone considering franchising should look for something that they’ll actually enjoy. “You will probably work a hell of a lot more hours than you would when you were employed so it helps if you’re doing something that you actually love doing,” he says.
Down with the kids
Leaving the police to run a nursery may not sound like the most conventional career move but it’s worked out pretty well for Susie Bearne. Having taken voluntary redundancy from the force in 2011, Bearne has spent the last four years as director of Banana Moon Day Nursery in Lower Sundon, Bedfordshire, after buying into the business as its first ever franchisee.
With her redundancy coming at the same time as a divorce, one can hardly blame Bearne for not rushing into anything too soon. “I had two young children, I’d been put at risk, I was getting divorced and you kind of sit there with a million and one ideas,” she says.
One of the ideas was opening a nursery but starting from scratch wasn’t really an option for Bearne. “It was in the ‘too difficult’ pile,” she explains. Her sister suggested that franchising could be the ideal solution because she could fund it with the money from her redundancy and divorce while enjoying the help and support of an existing business.
After taking a look at nursery franchises online, Bearne plumped for Banana Moon. “I got loads of brochures and when Banana Moon came through the door, I just knew that was the one,” she says. “Their brochure was colourful, it was bright, it was professional, it wasn’t overloaded with information. It was just simple: this is what we do, this is how we do it. And I thought I could do that.”
Four years later, Bearne remains delighted with her decision to set up a nursery with Banana Moon. “I have learnt so much. No two days are the same and I don’t regret it at all,” she says. However, she’s under no illusions about the amount of work it’s taken to make it a success. “It’s weird when you realise you don’t have an HR department or a finance department so suddenly you’re responsible for everything,” she adds. “It is massively daunting and it’s a lot of hard work [but] the support of the franchisor is always there, which is really reassuring.”
As Bearne concludes, this support is crucial for someone who has been made redundant. “Franchising does give you a certain freedom,” she says. “It actually gives you more choice but with the cushion of support – and that support is essential for me.”