Mandie Davis is changing the way children learn languages through song and dance with her franchise Les Puces
Mandie Davis, founder of Les Puces, the french teaching franchise, has just returned from Morocco. The British embassy there is hoping to help her create partnerships with schools to expand the company’s services to the country and introduced her to the nation’s minister of education. This is the first foreign opportunity for Les Puces since its conception and Davis couldn’t be more chuffed. “It was a hectic few days,” she says, adding that she’s now fuelled with renewed enthusiasm to capitalise on her new contacts. “This visit was a breakthrough because it was really well-received and I’ve got five or six contacts who, including the minister of education, all seemed really keen.”
Davis knows networking is important as she has spearheaded many companies. Her entrepreneurial journey began in the 1980s when she used to train women to use computers. She’s also launched a non-profit organisation in Germany helping German and British families connect. Davis even had a vegan catering business and taught English to French children during her time in France between 2008 and 2012. However, she never nourished these ideas enough to turn them into full-fledged businesses. “Les Puces is like my first grown-up company and the first limited company, [so] I’m a bit more serious now,” she admits.
Having launched the company in January 2015, it wasn’t an easy ride for Davis despite her business background. When she was toying with the idea to launch Les Puces, she didn’t get the feedback she expected. “People thought I was absolutely crazy when I gave up a pretty good job to do this,” she recalls. “But in the early days there were things that were important to me which meant spending time with my children and having a bit of freedom in my life but I suppose those things can come across as being quite selfish.” However, she persevered. “I think it’s inevitable in the early days that people will always try and put you down,” she says. “So you have to really hold on to that one day when you’ll become a well-known and established brand, then nobody will say ‘That’s not a good idea.’”
And that wasn’t the only obstacle she had to deal with. The struggle was in everything – from finding funding to ensuring a strong cashflow. Having used her savings, Davis didn’t have a lot of money to spend and that proved heavy on the pocket. “When we first started we had empty halls and sometimes just one or two children in each class,” she remembers. “That in itself is an expense because you’re paying for venues. Even if you get one child who signs up, you’re paying for the venue and the teacher and that one child isn’t covering either of the costs.” As a result, it got difficult to plan ahead and allocate budgets.
Due to financial hurdles, Davis leveraged social media and gave out leaflets to attract more clients. And she believes while it might seem unproductive in the beginning, it’s imperative to be persistent. “I remember giving a leaflet out to one lady and she said ‘I’ve seen this on Facebook and have had a leaflet through my door too,’” Davis states, noting it was this meeting which finally made the woman sign up. “It’s just keeping at it. People have got to see what you’re offering three, four, five times.”
And the company has grown since then. But looking ahead, she needed a sustainable way to scale Les Puces. “I’ve grown it as much as I can on my own and I can’t get my turnover any bigger because there physically aren’t enough hours in the day,” she says. That’s when she started regarding franchising as a potential option. “I realised that franchising, although it gives away a lot of the profit to a franchisee, means we can grow the business faster. You take less profit but you get more franchisees and then we all grow together and hopefully we all profit.”
However, Davis took her time before starting to franchise as she initially considered franchising to be “unethical.” “I was quite anti [franchise] to start with and I looked at a lot of different ways of growing the business,” she says. “I thought some of the contracts were very severe. And just the sort of control the franchisor can have over a franchisee at first glance – I wouldn’t want to put myself in that position.” And this is why she wanted to ensure both herself and potential franchisees won from signing up to the franchise model. “I tried to create a business model that’s good for everyone,” she adds. “We’re not here to get maximum profit from our franchisees.” And she then started franchising in January 2018.
To get franchising right, Davis believes finding the right franchisees is crucial. While many applied, she’s picky when recruiting. “For me personally, it’s quite difficult to find the right person so I’m very aware that you don’t want to say yes to everybody and so you have to really think even though somebody might want to be a franchisee with you,” she advises. “For a small company, that’s a massive boost to your ego and financially. But if you’re not really sure in your heart that you can work with that person, then that’s quite a difficult decision to make.”
Potential Les Puces franchisees must have a few characteristics. While speaking French isn’t important, possessing business know-how is. “They’ve got to have a drive and energy and understand running a business is exhausting,” Davis says. “They’ve got to be autonomous because although there will be the support, just getting up in the morning and making yourself go out and contact schools is really important.”
Once recruited, the franchisee receives a lot of help. It starts with a four-day training course about everything from running a business to ensuring they can attract more clients. Davis even includes a wardrobe styling session for the franchisees to help them “grow as a person.” “Because I’m sure for many people it might be the first time they’d become a director of a company,” she says. “It’s all about the person as well so the training day isn’t just like ‘We do it like this,’ it’s about helping them grow into that role.” Knowing how important it is to invest time and resources, Davis prefers to go slow and steady. And that’s why with one franchisee at the moment, she’s looking to grow the network by adding only two more in 2019.
Since launching, Davis claims Les Puces’ turnover has increased by 100% each year and she’s also bullish about doing so this year. Apart from these financial goals, she aims to take the company to more international locations and spread the joy of learning languages.
Davis’ main goal is to fulfil the company’s raison d’être which is honing children’s language skills around the world. “Eventually I would like children in France to be able to video link with children in the UK or children in Morocco and they can sing the versions of the songs in the language that they have learnt,” she concludes. “I want it to be open and easy for children to communicate because, for me, communication is the bottom line to building bridges and links and to making the world just a nicer place to be in.”