Zak Patel started his career flogging leather jackets on a market stall in Leeds, returning home to hone his sales technique on his sporting brothers and sisters. He later channeled that ambition into running his own mobile phone shop franchise in the days when “the technology was simpler but your phone never used to blow up on you” before becoming one of O2’s first British franchisees.
His latest project, which saw the entrepreneur launch a programme to help blind people get the most from mobile technology, has just earned him the judges’ special award at the bfa HSBC Franchisee of the Year Awards 2016.
Congrats on winning the judges’ special award for Project iCare. Can you tell us about how you came to develop the initiative?
It all started when an employee sadly lost his sight. We were in a tough position and wanted to find a way to put all his skills and industry experience. We didn’t want to lose him from our team. Speaking to him about how he was coping, it became clear that people with visual impairments weren’t always getting the right information when they came into a mobile-phone shop and I started to understand just how daunting it can be for them. There was a huge lack of awareness about all the incredible apps and solutions that can make life easier for the blind.
What did you do next?
We were in a unique position. We had somebody on our team who understood what being blind felt like but also knew the technology inside out. Together, we developed Project iCare, a programme that helps blind people use mobile technology better. As well as working with charities, we’ve made sure all our floor staff have been trained in how to cater to customers with visual impairments and suggest technology based on their needs.
What’s been the feedback?
It’s been great. I remember one older gentleman coming into our shop; he was still using a phone he’d bought in 2002. We set him up with a new phone and showed him how he could send messages to his grandchildren for the first time by speaking into the handset. He was thrilled.
Why is this important to you?
From a personal standpoint, my grandma lost her sight as a result of diabetes. So I saw how difficult it was. I also wanted to help my employee, who lost his sight at the worst time possible just after getting married and buying a home. Imagine losing as much as 80% of your eyesight” – it’s a devastating situation. If Project iCare can make even a small percentage of a blind person’s life better then I’m happy. And although we never created the programme to make money, it makes business sense because you’re attracting more customers.
What’s your hope for the future?
My wish is that every single mobile-phone shop in England starts addressing the needs of blind people so that coming into a shop is a consistently good experience for them.