The franchisee found his confidence again after using his redundancy money to become his own boss
When Phil Davidson worked his way up from fixing broken windscreens into a management role, he found himself strangely out of place in an office environment and missed working with his hands. “It was like Groundhog Day every day,” he recalls. “I felt so lethargic and I’d totally lost my fitness.” But Davidson’s office life screeched to a halt in 2014 when he got the news that he was going to be made redundant after ten years in the same job. And while he knew that he’d been handed an opportunity to try something different, it was still a blow. “I’m a proud person and I was used to turning up to my kids’ football matches in my suit with my company car,” he says. “I’d never been out of work and found it hard being constantly asked what I was going to do next.”
To make matters worse, Davidson had no experience of being a jobseeker, no formal qualifications and no clue how to even create a CV. After an accident ended his military career at the age of just 22, he got his job at Auto Windscreens after walking in the door and simply asking for it. Every role since then has been a side-step or promotion. “I started just trawling all the job sites and looking for work, which at 43 doesn’t feel very nice,” he says. It didn’t help that Davidson lived in Prestatyn: a small seaside town in north Wales where the majority of jobs are seasonal or require professional experience. It was slim pickings.
So when he heard through his brother about a colleague’s dad who’d been made redundant and then bought a franchise from Ovenu, the oven-cleaning service, something clicked. It wasn’t because he particularly loved cleaning ovens – in fact Davidson had never cleaned one in his life. But the idea of restoring something to its original state, getting out on the road and meeting people was tempting. Brimming with excitement, Davidson travelled to Wokingham to have a cup of tea with Rik Hellewell, the company’s founder and managing director. “Chatting to Rik in that head-office unit, I felt like a 20-year-old again,” he says. “The only difference was that instead of windscreens, we were talking ovens.”
But before signing on the dotted line, Davidson did a bit more investigating. He got his father-in-law, a retired lawyer, to look over the documentation and tried to work out how much business he could get around Prestatyn. “I just asked parents at the school gates if they’d consider paying someone to clean their oven and lots of people said they would,” he says. Davidson figured that while Prestatyn might not be a bustling metropolis, everyone had an oven and a lot of those ovens would be crying out for a good scrub.
Armed with his findings and feeling a gut instinct that he’d found the right course, there was still one hurdle: cash. “After speaking to other franchisees, I realised I needed to spend the bulk of my redundancy money on a decent van rather than getting a Del Boy job, so I needed to raise extra funds to cover the other costs,” he explains. His first port of call was his local bank but Davidson was left unimpressed. “After spending the best part of an hour going through my business plan and my projected income for the next few years they turned me down and suggested I take out a personal loan with a ridiculous interest rate,” he says. “I was disgusted to be honest: I didn’t feel like they’d bothered to get to know me.” But Davidson didn’t let that put him off and he secured a personal loan with a private company instead, becoming Ovenu’s franchisee for north Wales in May 2014.
After being trained in everything from taking an oven door off properly to setting his prices, Davidson returned home, got down on his hands and knees and tackled his own oven for the first time – to his wife’s great delight. Cleaning other people’s ovens, though, has taken some adjusting to. “In the early days I would feel physically sick because of the state of some of the ovens,” he says. “I remember one that was just swimming in grease – the owner had obviously just cooked her Sunday lunch – and it made my stomach turn.” But with time Davidson got used to being elbow deep in muck and started to see an unexpected benefit from all his scrubbing: the appearance of some muscle definition. “Within six months my waist had shrunk from 36 to 32 inches and I found muscles I never knew I had,” he recalls. “People were saying ‘bloody hell Phil, you’re looking good’.”
Davidson also appreciated having clear guidelines, which perhaps stems from his background in the military. “At the start, I was given a manual – a book of words – and I would literally read from the script whenever someone phoned up to make an enquiry,” he says. Having a support network in place has helped him drum up demand too, which the franchisee admits can be a downside. “It can be a bit difficult having to always look for new business but we’re given a lot of advice on things like using Facebook and flyering,” he says.
Three years after buying his franchise, Davidson now enjoys a far healthier work-life balance – often finishing the day at 2pm or booking jobs around camping trips he wants to do. And while he admits that there are some wider economic uncertainties affecting the industry, they're not casting a shade on his ambitions in the slightest. “I can see myself growing the business, taking on my first employee and even selling it to them eventually,” he says. “After all, almost everyone has a dirty oven in their kitchen.”