Name: Adam Thomson
Franchise Area: Mid Scotland
Year business started: 2021
Members of Staff: 2
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing prior to buying a franchise business?
Having taught in China for over 10 years, I moved back to Scotland in 2014 to take up a position at my local university teaching Economics. It was a rewarding experience – studying the world economy during such a turbulent time, working with students from all walks of life from all over the world, whilst keeping up-to-date with the business environment in my local area, which has stood me in good stead for understanding the challenges of small business in Scotland.
Can you also tell us about the franchise you have bought?
Drain Doctor appealed to me because it is an instantly recognisable brand, with decades of hard work invested in its reputation for professionalism and integrity. I wanted to bring this service to Central Scotland, where it had not previously been represented. There were franchises quite close by, who immediately made me feel welcomed and were always available for help and advice when needed.
Why did you go down the franchise route? What made you choose your industry? And why did you choose your franchise?
Franchises offer the best of both worlds, giving you the freedom to make your own decisions that affect your future, whilst providing you with the support of experts who know the industry inside out. That hard earned expertise is something I have relied upon during my first year, and no doubt will still be calling upon long into the future.
Drainage and plumbing are essential services. They are also transparent when you take the customer through the process and clearly explain how you are going to tackle any challenges they face. I got a lot of wonderful feedback from students and parents in my previous career, but nothing compared to the gratitude of customers when you restore their drains to working order! It makes you feel really good to be able to help people when they urgently require it.
This was the first franchise I considered. It just leapt out at me. I obviously went on to compare it to many more, but none of the others seemed to match up. So, I guess I didn’t choose this franchise – it chose me.
How did you raise the finance?
I had money to invest and this seemed to be the right opportunity. I supplemented it with a business loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland which Drain Doctor supported me with through template business plans and financial models for me to put my application together.
What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?
I travelled to Drain Doctor HQ in Brackley for a week of training on the management side of running a franchise last summer. This gave me a good grounding on the various aspects of running such a business, from finance, to marketing, recruitment, and business development. There was a lot to take in, but it was all laid out methodically for us, and we benefitted from meeting other franchisees at a similar point in their journey.
A couple of months later and I was back at Brackley to get some ‘hands-on’ education, alongside my newly recruited engineer. After this we were both fully accredited by the relevant bodies for high pressure jetting and CCTV camera surveys – highly important strings to our bows.
Encouragement and support in every aspect of the business has been available since the very start, which is reassuring when starting a new venture.
How would you describe your day-to-day role as a franchisee?
No day is the same. Every day is a learning day. Be it involves visiting our commercial customers, both current and prospective or working with our engineers, or getting to grips with the paperwork to keep it up-to-date. New opportunities and new avenues are always presenting themselves that need to be explored. There are not enough hours in the day…
Provide information on challenges overcome as well as your key successes to date. Please also detail the steps you have taken to manage the business during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The learning curve has been massive, but since I find the industry interesting, I have always been keen to learn. ‘Getting my hands dirty’ was an experience I did not think I would enjoy, but I did! Being able to help people is very fulfilling. We have strict Covid procedures that remain in force to this day. It reassures our customers that we take their welfare seriously, and if we are seen to be thorough with this, they will trust us to be thorough in all aspects of our dealings with them.
Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?
It has. I have far more control over my work life now. Whilst that responsibility could be daunting for some, I find it reassuring. You don’t have anyone else to blame for bad decisions, so you only have yourself to blame for any mistakes you make.
Operating a franchise means you have to wear many hats. You cannot possibly be good at everything, so it is important to recognise when to delegate. For example, VAT returns to an accountant, debt collection to a family member. It still leaves so much variety for you in any given day. Getting out of the office and visiting a site is always a good way to break up a day.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
In the first year you don’t. After that the processes you implement give you routines and an ability to find time for your family, hobbies etc. If you don’t find time for yourself outside of work, your work will suffer, so it is important to achieve that balance.
If you are a multi-unit franchisee, can you tell us why your franchise is ideal for those looking for a scalable opportunity? (including how the progression was made from single to multi-unit, benefits of being a multi-unit etc)
How do you retain your best staff and keep morale high and productive; how do you incentivise your staff and recognise success?
Take an interest in them and take the time to identify what motivates them. Money itself does not necessarily motivate – it is what they can do with that money that people focus on. So, if they are saving up for a mortgage, foreign holiday, or just digging themselves out of debt you can relate their bonus to stages working towards achieving those goals. When you find an honest, efficient, reliable employee who has good attention to detail and customer facing skills they are worth their weight in gold. Showing them that they have a long-term future in the company, and that they have a chance to progress and have their opinions listened to is the foundation of a long-term relationship.
What is the most invaluable piece of advice you could give someone looking to buy their first franchise?
Do your due diligence, and then trust your gut instinct. Cheapest is rarely the best, so look at the support on offer before you partner with a franchisor. Then when you commit…fully commit. Trying to hedge your bets usually means you end up doing a number of things poorly, so focus on doing one job well.
In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?
Hard work, luck and tenacity. Don’t ignore problems hoping they will go away, tackle them head on and see if you can make opportunities out of them. You never know where a new contact will take you, so taking the time to listen to customers and suppliers can unearth so much new business. It always surprises me how many opportunities you discover by striking up a conversation with someone when you have got a few spare minutes. If this comes naturally to you, great. If not, work at it!
What are your plans for the future?
I want Drain Doctor to be the market leader in my territory. That means building up a fleet and building up a reputation for quality and reliability. I live in a rural location so there are a few opportunities I have identified that are different from those available in cities. I just have to do my homework and learn as much as possible about the market as I can before expanding in these areas. The more services I can provide, when they complement my core business, the more successful I will be.
If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would probably get ‘hands on’ earlier, not as a source of revenue for the business, but to give me a better understanding of the industry and the challenges my staff face. I think I undervalued the service we provide in the first few months, so more market research on pricing would have been of benefit.
Starting a franchise is exciting, and a little bit frightening. It is a hell of a ride and one that I enjoy. As I firmly believe we learn from our mistakes I don’t think there is much else I would change. It is the decisions I make today that are important to my company’s future.