Snap-on Tools’ UK MD, Byron Miltz, shares his journey and explains what it takes to succeed in the UK’s number-one franchise organisation…
Snap-on Tools is officially the number-one franchise in the UK. The brand finished first in the 2023 Elite Franchise top 100 having also secured the top spot in 2020. Under the leadership of Byron Miltz, the automotive tool giant is certainly not resting on its laurels.
The $4.5bn firm boasts more than 55,000 SKUs in its product line, which includes hand tools and tool storage solutions, diagnostic equipment information and management systems, and “under-car” shop implements like hydraulic lifts and tire changers. It markets its products and brands in more than 130 countries and employs around 12,900 support staff, known as associates, worldwide.
Unusually for the tool giant, UK Managing Director, Byron Miltz, did not come to management having previously owned a Snap-on franchise. Something which is often the case for the Snap-on management team.
“I started in 2008, right at a time when the company had gone through some restructuring of the field organisation. Typically, Snap-on had always been a legacy business – people stay forever, which is amazing. But the process highlighted an opportunity to bring in talent from outside with new ideas and thought processes. Snap-on actually went and looked for some sales and management team leaders from different industries and sectors, which is where I came in.
“At the time, I was Director of Training and Development for a manufacturing company, but the approach was perfect timing for me and I jumped at the opportunity.”
Miltz had no prior experience of the model, but saw it as an opportunity to add new thinking into proceedings.
“I simply explained to anybody that I ever worked with, don't take the fact that I haven't been a franchisee in this organisation as anything but an opportunity to think about things differently. I didn’t carry any baggage of the way things ‘used to be’ and was only looking through a lens of ‘what can we do?’”
Miltz began as a sales developer in Massachusetts, leading a group of 30 franchisees, expanding to 70 as Business Manager before moving into a regional sales role supporting 434 franchises until he eventually came to the UK as MD in December 2022. “I was as excited as I could possibly be about coming over to the brand in the UK,” he recalls.
Having been an intrinsic part of the business in the US, he noticed the expected differences, but mostly similarities with UK operations.
“At the end of the day, our franchisees stand in front of a customer, selling a tool to provide a solution. It doesn't matter where you stand on the globe or what language you speak, that process is exactly the same.
“The people have the same drive, the same passion and the same dedication that they do in America – it’s no different. There are cultural differences, which is to be expected when you’re living in another country, but from a Snap-on standpoint it wasn't any different, which was really surprising.
“To me, that demonstrates that the core values and the culture of the brand are so strong, globally, that we’re attracting that same level of individual with those intrinsic qualities the world over.”
Globally the franchise has more than 4,700 franchisees with 400-plus in the UK, 70-plus in Europe and a small number in South Africa.
Having been buffeted by the pandemic, Miltz feels the UK market is once again full of opportunity. His plan now is to concentrate on supporting franchisees achieve sustainable growth.
“I had the concept of a vision when I got here but I didn't quite know what it was going to look like,” he explains. “Now, I’m able to articulate it clearly and that is, creating an environment where sustainable growth is constantly being achieved. That was my vision, the grand statement, but the technicalities weren’t in place when I arrived.
“Now, the specifics have been filled in and the strategy is working well. One thing I did always know was that statement is driven towards the franchisees. Creating an environment where franchisees feel confident in their ability to flourish and their growth is consistent – everything else falls into place. As a brand, Snap-on has always defined itself by the success of its franchisees.
“I like to think I’ve been able to create a new feeling within the UK organisation; inject some fresh energy and positivity, strengthen relationships and forge new ones within the network. All of which is definitely having an impact.”
Miltz likes to examine the individual motivations of franchisees to want to operate their own business and achieve their own financial goals. He believes those stories, that are unique to each franchisee, are the real driving force behind their (and Snap-on’s) success.
“I ask every single new franchise this question – the why? Why are you interested in doing this? And I get the same two answers every single time like clockwork. ‘To be my own boss’ and ‘financial freedom or financial security’. So, I say, great, I'm glad you gave me those but I could have gotten that from anybody. I want to talk about the second one which is the financial aspect of this opportunity. What is it in your life that you personally feel this is going to get you, that you wouldn't be able to normally?
“People will tell you it’s being their own boss and financial security. I don't think that's what attracts them. What attracts them is a very personal goal that they want to achieve through franchising. And that's the kind of drive that it takes to be a franchisee.”
For those who choose franchising, Miltz believes that, although Snap-on offers continual support and guidance, much of the onus for success is on the individual business owner.
“If you’re not doing well in sales, you have look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘you're not doing well, you need to do better.’ There's no one else that is going to tell you that. When you're spending too much time goofing around talking to your customers about stuff that's not related to your business, you need the HR Manager – that's you! – to tell you that you need to be more focused on your work and that what you're doing is taking away from your ability to reach your business goals.
“That's hard for people to do. It’s so hard for people to look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘you're not doing well, you need to step up your game’. You have to be willing to have those conversations with yourself and to listen when your franchisor, your support team, points those things out to you.
“Sometimes we do a review and we say to franchisees, if you were looking to expand would you hire yourself? Just to try and frame the situation and it’s a great way to monitor your own performance. Would you hire you? This is not about blame, it’s a way to help look at things objectively. It’s never us against them, and it shouldn’t ever be in any franchise system. Start with the end in mind and work out the pathway in partnership with your franchisor to get you there.
“Running your own business is hard,” he continues, “It is a lot of work and a lot of hours. I don’t think people come in not thinking that but transitioning from having a job to running a business is no small feat. Owning a business is not having a job and I do think some people don’t fully appreciate that sometimes.”
But clearly, for those willing to take that on board, the opportunity is there as franchisees continue to leverage all the benefits of being their own boss.