The old cliché if you want something done, do it yourself has justified many a successful business idea.
Bruce Greig did just that when he quit his job as a management consultant in London to create 0800 Handyman in June 2001 after spending three days waiting for various plumbers to fit a new sink in his kitchen.
The business went from strength to strength by adopting the simple rules of charging a reasonable price for basic electrical, plumbing and decorating tasks.
Calling the customer “love” and drinking endless cups of tea is a sackable offence. This year Handyman expects to turn over £1.5m with a profit of £50,000.
But no man is an island. A year into trading the business caught the eye of Jim Zockoll, founder of the Dyno-Rod drain cleaning business, who invested £10,000 and lent his support to expand operations nationwide through franchising deals.
Mr Greig recruited nine Handyman franchisees in nine weeks. However, getting other franchisees has since proved difficult. This year Mr Greig hoped to add another 20 franchises but has so far agreed a deal with only one.
“The sort of person we want is someone who has entrepreneurial character but not so entrepreneurial that they will feel restricted by the franchise,” Mr Greig explains. “Those that work well are those that think it would be a good idea to be a handyman.”
Franchisees pay a set fee of £16,000 for back office software licences, two weeks of training, 0800 Handyman marketing materials and staff uniforms. They are also expected to have another £14,000 for working capital to get the franchise started, and they pay 10 per cent of their revenues to Mr Greig.
He says IT managers, lawyers and facilities managers tend to make good franchisees. “They must have some level of experience on the job. They don’t have to be a handyman but they have to know a bit about DIY. One of the guys working for us was a former vice-president of the Bank of Hawaii.”
It is not for everyone, Mr Greig admits, including himself. “I wouldn’t make a very good franchisee for instance, because I would always be pushing against the rules and would want to do things differently.”
All of Handyman’s existing franchisees have come about through press coverage of the company, driven by media interest in the lack of decent tradespeople.
Mr Greig has spent about £15,000 on public relations. But he admits that such investment is an inexact science. “It is quite hard to control PR. It depends what interesting stories are out there.”
Trying the more direct route of advertising for franchisees in local newspapers has produced lots of inquiries but no good candidates, Mr Greig admits.
However, he has ruled out advertising in the franchising trade press. “For reasons that I don’t really understand, the typical franchisee that you get by advertising in a title such as Franchisees World doesn’t really work for us.”
The most obvious route would be for Mr Greig to spend a sum about 10 times the size of his PR budget on an official franchise recruitment programme.
There are a few big franchisee shows in the UK each year that he could try, but Mr Greig is sceptical about the potential returns from what is a considerable undertaking. “You have to have people manning stalls and weeks of preparation,” he says. “It is a big commitment of people’s time, and other franchise holders have told me it is not worth doing unless you do it properly.”
His doubts about the cost-effectiveness of franchisee exhibitions may also be related to his relationship with risk.
“I am generally very risk-averse and don’t spend any money on activities that I am not reasonably certain will work,” he says.
Franchisees must be prepared to do the legwork needed to pull in residential customers but they also get a fair amount of custom from Handyman’s existing corporate clients, especially estate agents.
Mr Greig recently agreed a national contract for local Handyman franchises to do work required by outlets of the off-licence chain Unwins. That this deal got signed at all was a stroke of luck, Mr Greig admits, since Handyman was doing a job in the offices of the private equity firm that owns Unwins when its chairman was over for a meeting.
Mr Greig now has a pipeline of warm contacts in other companies for similar deals. The problem, however, is often talking the language of the key people that can agree such contracts. “I can do fine if I am talking to the chairman of the company, but if I am talking to the estates manager, I don’t know what to say,” Mr Greig explains.
Given all the options, Mr Greig has not given up on the power of the press. “The very appearance of this article may solve the problem,” he says.
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