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Fantastic Services always aims to live up to its name

Written by Martin Morris on Wednesday, 04 November 2020. Posted in Interviews

Co-founder Anton Skarlatov explains how his company goes about achieving this.

Fantastic Services always aims to live up to its name

Co-founder Anton Skarlatov explains how his company goes about achieving this.

With 50000 customers reached each month through digital and offline marketing/PR strategies, Fantastic Services could never be accused of not having scale. Factor-in its myriad of home cleaning/maintenance services (100),  including Cleaning, Gardening, Removals, Handyman and Pest Control (all under the Fantastic banner); as well as My Plumber (acquired in 2019) - and the words ‘one-stop shopping’ readily spring to mind.

Tracing its origins back to 2009 when co-founder Anton Skarlatov was already running a cleaning business and fellow co-founder Rune Sovndahl needed a cleaner - both quickly realised they shared a vision and could deliver home services in a much better way by working together.

The two then set-up the One Stop Shop - the aim being to build something simple, yet deliver the best possible service for all clients and cleaning crews involved. It’s a philosophy the pair now refers to as the ‘360 degrees of happiness’.

By vocation Skarlatov always had a bias towards maths and computing. “That’s why my next step was to get a degree in Microelectronics. I was good at it, but I felt something was missing, so I changed my course to Corporate Finance,” he says.

But he adds: “Years after successfully running companies and three years after establishing Fantastic Services, I felt the urge to improve my managing and leadership skills.”

That led to him applying to the Birkbeck, University of London - this time choosing the course he felt best suited him - namely Interpersonal and business communication. As he puts it: “This programme opened new horizons; it gave me a vision on how to grow and (eventually) successfully lead a company with 500 people in-house and over 530 franchisees.”

Skarlatov’s passion for business meanwhile started at a very early age - sourcing products and re-selling them for profit while at elementary school.

“I would involve all the children in the neighbourhood to collect the products and then offer them on the nearest market. Back then, I didn’t think of it as a business per se, rather as a way to earn some money,” says Skarlatov.

What later proved to be formative though, as he moved into the commercial world, was his uncle (then running a merchant company) giving him his first business book; Richard Branson’s autobiography. “This book opened my mind further towards business,” he adds.

Running successful businesses is one thing but Skarlatov, like many others, was hit hard by the 2007/2008 global economic crisis - a substantial portion of his then business disappearing into the ether. It was a painful experience he learned from.

“In 2008, I was running a small, 3-year-old company with about 25 employees. My biggest client back then was Lehman Brothers.

Remembering it as if it were yesterday Skarlatov adds: “It was in October. I went home, I switched on the TV and the news presenter shot the golden goose - Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy.

“There was a huge financial crisis coming our way. The next day, the office was so quiet; there were no calls at all. At this moment, I realised I would never put all my eggs in one basket again,” he further notes. 

Lesson learned, Skarlatov and co-founder Rune Sovndahl set-up Fantastic Services - the main focus being to attract mostly domestic customers. It was a strategy that would prove to be propitious years later when COVID-19 hit.

“During the lockdown period, when all offices and business buildings shut down, we kept operating with nearly 70% capacity, thanks to the large domestic customer base we had built over the last decade,” says Skarlatov. 

Since then Skarlatov and Sovndahl have rigidly stuck to what they call their ‘Copenhagen Agreement’ - that is to invest 80% of all profits made back into the business.

Though sticking to this arrangement wasn’t, by Skarlatov’s own admission, easy in the first three or four years, what kept them going was that they didn’t want to run a company that misses half of the opportunities, because its owners drive expensive cars and live in fancy properties.

“The 20/80 system has also helped us prioritise our investments, based on service performance. We agreed on a system to re-invest most of our money into the most profitable services,” Skarlatov adds.

Skarlatov and Sovndahl actually met at a dinner party, “just like couples do”. The comparison is a deliberate one, given Skarlatov believes business partnerships are like marriages and the company symbolises the child. “You have to take care of your kid, grow and nourish it together. And just like in a marriage - divorces can be very expensive, hurtful and without any winners,” says Skarlatov.

“I and Rune have had moments full of love and months of not talking to each other, but the one thing that always keeps us together is the upbringing of our child named Fantastic Services,” he adds.

Today, the partnership is stronger than ever with a shared commitment in terms of mission, intentions and goals. “To have a healthy and productive partnership has tremendously helped us run the company towards success,” says Skarlatov. 

If the personal bond between Skarlatov and Sovndahl is a seemingly unbreakable one, so the same can be applied to the business itself regarding the impact of COVID-19, which, according to Skarlatov “(has) determined that Fantastic Services is here to stay.”

As he puts it: “Due to the pandemic, we had to scrap some of the most essential developments we were working on. Luckily, this hasn’t hurt the business. On the contrary - it only made us more focussed on what’s important and led us to a new level of excellence.

“The coronavirus outbreak forced us to rapidly develop and launch new, more lucrative sub-services, which turned out to be a great success,” he notes. 

With its headquarters in the UK, as well as offices in the USA, Australia and Bulgaria, Fantastic Services ticks the necessary box in terms of its international credentials.

But Skarlatov is quick to point out that what makes it a truly international company are its visions and goals.

“We’re in the middle of a colossal global expansion, currently negotiating with Master franchise candidates in five new countries. I believe that’s just the beginning. Our goal is to expand our franchise to 40 countries in the next five years,” he says.

For would-be franchisees with Fantastic Services; Skarlatov stresses the personal approach to each candidate.

“Our dedicated franchise advisors discuss the opportunity with the candidates, explain our franchise model and encourage them to ask questions,” says Skarlatov.

“I also have personal meetings with all potential Area Development and Master franchisees. They come to our office and are introduced to the whole senior team. For me, it’s very important to make sure we all share the same vision,” he adds.

In order to build a strong network, all franchise partners need to have the right attitude and ambition for growth. “Our plan is to help 1000 franchisees build a business worth over £1,000,000,” says Skarlatov.

Assuming the would-be franchisee is accepted the obvious question is what makes for a successful one.

“The best part of our business model is that anyone can be successful,” according to Skarlatov.

“How we measure success is a different story. I would say that with the Fantastic Services franchise, everyone can reach their personal goals and there’s only one way to do so - just by following the system.”

Regarding costs, all Area Developers and Master franchisees acquire a territory that has the potential to grow and it can only increase its value with the years passing by, according to Skarlatov.

An Area Development Franchise, for example, has an initial investment from £15,000, according to the company.

Putting some meat on the bones, however, Skarlatov adds:  “The marketing spend at Fantastic Services has a very high ROI and each £1 brings a minimum of £1.10 back.

“This has always been a strategy in marketing. Also, we would never let a franchisee pay thousands of pounds for a TV ad and get no return. Instead, we would help them find the most efficient advertising channel. Using our advanced software can measure each channel’s success rate by monitoring the interactions between a customer and our brand. “

Attesting to the company’s success are the 350+ UK franchisees (530 globally); as well as 500+ in-house employees supporting the franchisees daily - these including 48 IT specialist gurus and 80 marketing experts.

“They’re all united by the same mission – to help our franchisees grow their business. I don’t think there are many franchisors in the world, which have such big and strong office support,” says Skarlatov. 

And, as he wryly notes: “Reaching 1000 franchisees with million-pound businesses needs heavy investment, after all.”

Of course, running a successful business is invariably a function of providing needed leadership. And on an ongoing basis.

While acknowledging his interpersonal business and business communication degree has helped him find the right tools to “lead, empower and bring the best out of people” Skarlatov also says his experience has provided him with his most valuable lesson. “Once you have a clear mission, things begin to come into focus and the success is granted. Leadership is an easy game when you know where you’re going and you successfully intercommunicate your direction to others,” he says.

Given the disposition of the market in which Fantastic Services operates Skarlatov doesn’t subscribe to the theory of competitors necessarily being threats. In fact, while the property-maintenance market, for example, is quite big “there’s no established leader we can compete with,” says Skarlatov.

“I’m glad to see many of our developments implemented by other companies later on. This can only prove our great power and leadership in innovation, technology, marketing and sales,” he adds.

For Skarlatov though, understanding the client’s needs is essential. “A customer seeks one thing and that’s simplicity. Every single technology development we make moves us closer and closer to our goal - to make each customer's life simpler,” he says.

Beyond making life simpler for customers, however, Skarlatov stresses the need - both in-house and externally - for everyone to be treated equally.

“While many franchise companies are still trying to find their hierarchical way, we’ve made sure everyone has the same chance to grow and develop both professionally and personally.”

That means promising franchisees a proven, profitable and pain-free partnership; and for employees the freedom to grow together in a ‘unique culture of empowerment’ as Skarlatov puts it. 

Yet it’s more than simply making promises, it’s about keeping them too!

Taking a five-year view Skarlatov is eventually aiming for 200,000 active members and 1,000,000 bookings per month.

“This is all part of our Area Development and Master franchise one-page plan. This plan keeps our long-term focus synced up with daily decision making across all departments,” he says.

Moreover, the company has been profitable from day one and without the need for external capital; underlining the company’s ‘significant business strength’ as Skarlatov puts it.

In the meantime, there is always room for improvement and as Skarlatov sees it ‘improvement has to start from the top’

“Fine-tuning leadership skills is one of the most important business investments you’ll ever make, because the best leader is not the one who does great things but the one who gets people to do great things.”

Indeed, Skarlatov and Sovndhal have never stopped learning; attending seminars and working with coaches “to improve our self-development and personalities.

“Part of our plan is bringing the 4P’s into our long-term strategy, where the Planet, People, Profit and Prosperity work hand in hand,” he says.

It’s a formula that should prove successful in the long-run.

About the Author

Martin Morris

Martin Morris has more than 30 years of experience writing about topics for national and trade papers, ranging from banking and investment through to energy and computer security. Technology is transforming the financial landscape and it is my job, I believe, to both engage with and inform readers about the rapid changes that are underway there and elsewhere.

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