The franchising bug

Richard Pakey discusses his own journey from optician to business advisor, and franchisee to franchisor

The franchising bug

As a young adult, my business experience began with Vision Express, the well-known dispensing opticians. Nowadays, there are in excess of 500 Vision Express stores across the UK, located in high streets and shopping malls.

Even at an early age, I could see how business owners with Vision Express were all following a successful system. They paid a fee, were suitably trained, and learned business skills from experts based at head office. I enjoyed my time there but, being young, always had ideas above my station.

Since then my life has transitioned from a lonely business owner, to being a co-owner of the largest franchising consultancy firm (Lime Licensing) in the UK. I joined Lime Licensing in 2017 and, after running our east of England office in Cambridgeshire, acquired a 50% stake in the company. This is my story and how I learned to become a business owner, franchisee and then franchisor.

The Australian influence

It was only when I travelled to Australia did I fully understand the power of franchising. I was over there for seven months and during my trip Down Under I noticed that franchising was a lot more popular than it was in the UK. But I didn’t know why. Even this drive-through ‘shack’ which sold coffees, I later discovered, was a franchise. It was called ‘Muzz Buzz’ and I wondered whether this could catch-on back in the UK.

Now, many years later, it is happening back home with the likes of Starbucks expanding across the country. This drive-thru format has really taken off in the UK, with many such businesses becoming franchises too.

Back in the UK

Having returned from Australia, it was time to get down to some serious work. My chosen profession was that of an optometrist and it was time to get some experience. While studying to become an optician, I also worked full-time and endured some long journeys travelling to and from my place of employment.

I worked in an independent practice – where I learned about business – and after qualifying 22 years ago, I then purchased the company where I’d been working. I then opened another optician business and you won’t mind me saying it was mighty tough.

At this stage there was no franchising model for me to follow. No head office team to contact when times became difficult. It was all trial and error, with high risk and low rewards. I was dealing with clients during the day and doing administrative duties in the evening. Thankfully, I made a success of it, but it wasn’t easy.

I finally reached the ‘other side’ and was even asked by other business owners if I could help and advise them. These men and women were skilled clinicians, but not business people. And this is when the concept of franchising re-emerged: The task of helping others to copy what I had done.

The next step

By training others to develop successful businesses was the first step towards franchising. However, these opticians, and later dentists and vets, owned fiercely independent businesses of their own. But this experience did prepare me for the world of franchising, which was just around the corner.

A guy called Andy explained what I needed to do and I was all ears. And it was my privilege to become a franchisee in his consultancy business called Lime Licensing Group. Many years further down the line, and Andy is now my business partner.

Becoming a franchisee

Every new business partner needs to be trained by a franchisor and their dedicated head office team. All franchisees agree to use the franchisor’s tried and tested system when starting their own businesses. Yet this was very different to my former life of investing first, then hoping for a great outcome: But whether by luck or by judgement, my investments tended to work.

But when I became a franchisee I needed to show more constraint and remain faithful to the franchisor. A number of years later I was offered the opportunity to become an equity partner, so jumped at the chance. This was the next step on my journey to transition from ‘Franchisee to Franchisor’.

From Franchisee to Franchisor

Lime Licensing was growing nicely under Andy’s stewardship and I’d learned a lot from his solid operational expertise. Andy had founded Lime Licensing in 2012, following a successful career as a multi-brand franchisor. The company helps brand owners to develop franchise systems and to recruit business partners, mainly in the UK and North America. But it was now time for me to step up and become a franchisor.

My work with LL covers several dozen companies. I now help other businesses to either become first time franchisors, or simply find more franchisees. We have regional offices across the UK and have spread our wings internationally too.

As a company, Lime Licensing is keen to expand overseas, to countries such as Australia, United States, Canada and Europe. But that particular story is still unfolding and a long way from being complete. Hopefully, I’ll have a sequel to write in a few years’ time!

Richard Pakey
Richard Pakey