Breaking the mould

EnviroVent is in the ventilation systems business. Richard Cage, Head of Sales Domestic/Franchise, explains how the company breaks the mould in more ways than one.

Breaking the mould

EnviroVent is in the
ventilation systems business. Richard Cage, Head of Sales Domestic/Franchise,
explains how the company breaks the mould in more ways than one.

Leaving school in 1982 at the age of 16 – and with unemployment topping 3m – opportunities beyond short-term youth employment schemes were, unsurprisingly, limited for Richard Cage.  Yet every cloud has a silver lining and for Cage, ending up working in a local family-owned business selling carpets and furniture was to prove formative. 

Now hooked on sales, Cage took his experience to Whitbread Take Home at the age of 19. Quickly recognising his advantage over other candidates applying with zero sales experience, he seized his opportunity, winning team and individual sales incentives, including a holiday to Kenya.

“I think my time at Whitbread was fundamental in getting me to where I am today in my career.

“Working for them at 19 years old afforded me some incredible insight and opportunity for learning,” says Cage.

He adds: “Whitbread’s training was second to none, up there with some of the world’s top FMGCs like Proctor and Gamble, Mars and Coca-Cola. Their training and processes gave me the bedrock to move my business knowledge, sales and leadership skills forward from there.”

Over the subsequent three decades, Cage gained experience in a variety of companies, including working for blue-chip organisations such as UPS.

He also spent nine years as a senior manager with international franchisor, The Original Poster Company (OPC), developing new markets and coaching the international management teams for success. 

Later honing his skills – this time as a franchisee with global coaching giant, ActionCOACH – Cage joined EnviroVent in 2016; initially as Franchise Manager, later as Head of Domestic Sales.

“I was taken by OPC to work with a team of franchisees in the south and in my mind, whilst I understood the business was a franchise, I didn’t really think, given my objectives for growth, it would be that much different to working with a sales team in a purely corporate environment,” says Cage.

“It boiled down (or so I thought) to sales leadership, which I knew and loved and was good at. Very quickly, the reality of working with franchisees and the nuances of franchising became apparent and I found myself becoming a huge advocate and incredibly passionate about the industry – so much so that I can’t ever see myself leaving now,” he adds.

Having worked on both sides of the franchising divide Cage appreciated the need to step up a level when working with franchisees. “They are, obviously, by nature more entrepreneurial with varied skill sets and backgrounds that can be nurtured and leveraged for everyone’s benefit. The relationship you have with them, compared to an employed sales team, is far more dynamic and more rewarding as a result of that.”

Established in 1987 (by Frank Farmer) under the name Yorkshire Condensation Solutions,  EnviroVent today is the UK’s market leader in home ventilation systems – designing, manufacturing and installing systems that provide solutions to condensation and mould, as well as improving indoor air quality – problems that impact an estimated one in five UK homes and have potential health consequences.

Unsurprisingly, franchisees are central to EnviroVent’s operations. “As the face of the business, franchisees offer a full turnkey solution from manufacture in our North Yorkshire factory right through to installation by our own team of qualified NICEIC engineers,” says Cage.

“Daily operations include managing local marketing strategies, booking appointments and surveying properties to then recommend a guaranteed solution to condensation, mould and indoor air quality issues.”

But he adds: “Franchise owners don’t need to install the products, so no technical or electrical experience is required. We offer a full money-back guarantee, which helps franchisees to inspire trust and confidence in the products and service. Quite literally: if we don’t solve your condensation, mould and damp issues, we’ll give you your money back.”

EnviroVent’s business model has evolved over time from a purely domestic focus into a more commercial offering involving working with, and within, complementary industries and services such as letting agents, window companies, damp proofers, surveyors etc.

“We’ve introduced a product ladder that has allowed us to deal with a more commercial, higher volume client base, not just with domestic customers, as was originally the case,” says Cage.

“It’s given the franchise another string to its bow and allows franchisees more opportunity to grow their businesses, scale their investment and see a greater return on their investment,” he adds.

When it comes to would-be franchisees, suitable prospects (after an initial discussion) are invited to attend a discovery day at head office in Harrogate. There, a more in-depth look at the franchise model is provided, as well as allowing the company to assess a candidate’s suitability one-to-one.

Included is a tour of the manufacturing plant, with product demonstrations and facts and figures detailed. From there, successful prospects will need to undertake due diligence and prepare a business plan, according to Cage.

“We signpost to trusted industry contacts for legal and finances, but we expect people to show initiative too. I’m a big believer in the fact that you can’t just ‘buy’ a franchise, you have to demonstrate that as well as the finances, you’ve got the right skills, are driven to make it work and that you’re a good fit for the brand. Franchises are awarded on that basis,” says Cage.

Qualities looked for include commercial mindedness, as well as sales and/or marketing experience. Meanwhile, lead generation and presentation skills are a huge advantage.

“Whilst most franchisees will start out as owner-operator, we’re looking for those individuals who really want to harness the opportunity to grow a management-style business, so experience of management with a strong desire to be their own boss and the skills to lead a team are ideal,” he adds.

Cage offers simple yet valuable advice to franchisees – the first being to visit the franchisor in their support office and meet the team that will be supporting you as a franchisee.

Also, engage with existing franchisees, including those who may be struggling. “They’re all running the same model so 99% of the time it’s down to personality, attitude and skill set. What can you take away from your observations?” says Cage.

Equally obvious – assuming your skill set aligns with that of the franchisor – are you prepared to make a long-term commitment? 

Within the company Cage sees himself as a communicator and an advocate for openness and transparency. “We have an open-door policy when it comes to communication across the business and that’s not just me, it extends right up to our MD.”

Key, however, is striking the right balance, given a business can’t be run by a committee. 

“I believe that robust systems and processes are hugely important to any business, but even more so in the franchise industry – ‘systemise the routine and humanise the exception’ is a philosophy I’ve always followed, and it works,” says Cage.

Arguably, EnviroVent could be regarded as an ‘essential business’ under the Government’s (not totally clear) current COVID-19 lockdown guidelines. Yet, exercising caution, the company ceased all face-to-face customer contact; effective March 24th. As Cage puts it: “The safety and health of our clients, our franchisees and their families is paramount, which is why we’ve taken the decision that we have.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is well placed since it manufactures its own products and stock availability hasn’t been an issue. Indeed, it ramped up production a few weeks before lockdown on the expectation of staff absences.

Consequently, Cage is confident the company can hit the ground running when normalcy returns. “When the lockdown does end, our entire network is going to be in a very strong position to capitalise on the demand, which we already know is going to come.”

For franchisees however, lockdown has meant adapting to new practices, such as completing questionnaires with customers, undertaking video surveys of people’s homes and offering simple advice until social distancing measures have been relaxed.

This ties in with EnviroVent’s core values, namely: ‘seize the opportunity’, ‘keep it simple’, ‘make it happen’, ‘show you care’ and ‘in it together’. They form part of a much larger value and principle structure described as ‘our picture of health’ – an in-house creation with input from every member of the business.

This principle works on defining the company’s ‘desired state’ and then working back through all layers of the business to lay out what values and behaviours would lead to that, according to Cage.

In practice it also means a bi-monthly leadership meeting where departmental heads discuss their ‘pictures of health’ and how they’re contributing to the overall picture. More recently, measuring NPS and ENPS scores (a metric used to determine employee engagement and loyalty towards a business) has been part of this process, says Cage.

Key day-to-day issues for the company include sustainability and environmental impact, meaning cutting energy consumption and the use of plastic. Already, 80% of materials used in its packaging are recycled and the company works with a number of suppliers who do the same.

With £33million in turnover last year Cage’s goal is £44million by 2024 – a realisable target as indoor air quality moves up the political-social agenda and the company continues offering its bespoke service from manufacture and free on-site survey through to installation and ongoing servicing.

Cage isn’t resting on his laurels though, having learnt from past mistakes, and is now positioning the company to provide a range to service lower margin, regular, higher volume business.

Product innovation isn’t being left behind either with mobile app technology having been incorporated into the company’s ATMOS range of loft-mounted PIV (Positive Input Ventilation) units.

“Customers want ,and expect, integration with their handheld devices and increasingly demand flexibility and control over all aspects of their environment. Franchisees benefit from what is another distinct USP in the EnviroVent arsenal,” says Cage.

Self evidently the building bricks for future growth are in place. Now it’s simply a question of riding out the current storm before normalcy returns.

Martin Morris
Martin Morris