I signed up to the franchise agreement in July 2009 but we didn’t actually open until December. We’re 13 months in now.
Beforehand I was marketing for another franchise who weren’t in great shape, and they made me redundant in July 2008 just when the whole job market fell off a cliff. I spent 14 months searching for senior marketing positions, trying to get back into corporate life, but couldn’t find anything in an uncertain market.
It was through a guy I knew in Pack and Send’s UK head office that I got wind of the franchise opportunity, which had recently come over from Australia. I originally got in touch with them to see if they needed any help with marketing – just on a part-time basis – but at that stage they were still in the throes of setting up so it was too early to start marketing.
But I started looking at it as a business concept and it seemed like a really good idea. There wasn’t anything like it in the UK and the financials seemed to stack up, so I went for it – simple as that!
On a good day I can do the commute in 40 minutes; on a bad day it takes me an hour and a half. I live a fair distance from the centre of Leeds. I normally get up at 6:30/6:45, official hours are 8:30am to 5:30pm, so we tend to be here untill about 6pm, and I get home at 6:30/7pm.
I’ve got two guys who work for me. Today, one guy is on the road to pick some things up to transport to London tomorrow.
We’ve also got 40 large pictures to send to Prague that all need packaging into a crate, there’s a six-foot model ship destined for Canada, silverware for Australia and a double bed, TV and a large picture London-bound tomorrow.
When we first started, I used to be involved in every aspect of the store, but my time is now better spent running and driving the business whilst the others take care of the regular tasks
Our days vary a lot; there’s no set timetable.
Actually, there is a kind of routine, but it’s concentrated in the morning. We’ll switch all the systems on, check our emails and enquiries and deal with those we can handle straightaway. We’ve got tracking to do on shipments that have left. A lot of work is on the computers really, but it can also involve building crates, scheduling and packing work, or working on local sales initiatives... it’s non-stop really!
I try and duck out of pickups and local deliveries. When we first started, I used to be involved in every aspect of the store, but my time is now better spent running and driving the business franchise whilst the others take care of the regular tasks. My father does the accounts for me, which is a big help.
Like a lot of people in retailing, I just grab a bite to eat whenever we get a quiet moment.
The early days of the business were hard work. After three or four months, we could have a couple of days where the phone didn’t ring, no enquiries came through, and it seemed horribly quiet. I thought to myself: “Gosh, what am I doing in this business? It’s not going to work.”
Those were the times when you had to pick yourself up and focus on the marketing. I picked certain business sectors, and it could be as crude as getting out in my car and then walking round handing out business cards and leaflets.
That’s the hardest bit: where you’ve got a pot of cash to start with and you have to try to generate enough sales to start putting money in the bank before the pot empties. This is the challenge with any business start-up, though, which is why it is so important to plan carefully.
There are two things I enjoy about running my own business. The first is being my own boss.
I’ve always worked in a corporate environment, getting embroiled in company politics, whereas now I’m my own man. I’m divorced with two children, so I’ve got the flexibility to sneak a couple of hours from work to watch the kids play rugby or to pick them up from school, which is nice.
On the other hand the freedom is scary: no one else is going to make it happen for you. There’s no huge organisation to hide behind if something goes wrong. I’ve got to pay the wages and meet the rent bill each month so I have to be focused on delivering the business.
The other enjoyable aspect is the nature of the Pack & Send business: you just never know what’s going to come through the door next! At the start of each period you think: “How are we going to hit the targets for this month?”
But then 10 minutes later the phone rings, it’s an order worth thousands of pounds to send a container to Australia, and you’re buzzing about how much you are up on last month.
The franchise business fits in with my personal life, but running the store is made easier because I’ve got a couple of good guys working with me. Pete, my number two, who’s been with me from the start, is capable of running the store without me.
I went to Reading this week to give a presentation to prospective franchisees and was out of the office for two days, but it wasn’t a problem as he knows the business well and can handle virtually any customer request.
We open Saturday mornings and, as it tends to be fairly quiet, Pete and I alternate as to who goes in, so I can look after my kids some Saturdays. If Pete comes in I’ll give him a morning off during the week to compensate.
It works really well as he doesn’t have any family commitments, so he’s pretty flexible, which is quite handy. I still play rugby on Saturdays, and on Sundays I try to switch off. I close on Sundays, otherwise you can burn yourself out.
I wind down after a day’s work with a good glass of wine. I have training two evenings a week and have the boys on a Wednesday night. Monday night I see my girlfriend and Friday night, if I haven’t got the boys, I go to the pub; if I have the boys we chill out together.
The only thing I wish is that I lived a little bit closer to the store because the morning commute is pretty much dead time. I’d ideally like to be here at 7:30/8am planning and sorting things out, but that means getting up at stupid o’clock everyday and I want a life as well.
My relationship with the Pack and Send UK Team is excellent. One of us is in touch with them every day discussing various things and I catch up with Mike, the Chief Exec, once a week. They’ve been very helpful and I think that we’ve a good relationship, partly because I was their first franchisee.
They have the time for a chinwag about how things are going because they want to get feedback from the ‘frontline’ – and there’s only a few other stores! As the network grows, I’m sure the relationship will change, but I hope there will still be time for our chats.
In the early days I was fairly dependent on them, but we’re more autonomous now. These days when we speak to them, it’s to engage in a bit of banter or to compare ourselves with other stores.
We’re now at the stage where we can compete on generating the most revenue in a particular month, and we’ve had a couple of months where we’ve triumphed over everyone. A bit of competition is always healthy, likewise friendly banter. The store in Southampton reckons they can beat us, but I told him yesterday: “No chance!”
Ultimately it will be worthwhile looking at a second store as Pete would be capable of running this store in the long term
Just over a third of our clients find us through internet searches, be it Yell or Google. Just over 20% of custom is won by virtue of our high-street visibility.
We’ve got a pretty big storefront – three double windows wide and two-storey with big billboards on the sides and front – and we’re on a busy road heading into Leeds. We’ve also got plenty of parking space at the front, so it’s handy for people to pop in.
Another 20% is repeat business – previous customers who return for another job. The rest of our business comes from my networking efforts, visiting auction houses, antique and art dealers, etcetera.
We have always had an aggressive business plan. We wanted to get this store up and running and now it’s trading successfully we are making a bit of profit.
Ultimately it will be worthwhile looking at a second store as Pete would be capable of running this store in the long term. I’d have to be careful about expansion, though, because it’s the type of business where customer service is particularly important, and an employee is less likely to give the same level of care as a franchisee who has risked his own capital.
They maybe won’t go that extra mile. As with most small businesses, finding great staff has been one of the hardest tasks so far.
From a development point of view, I’ve been adept at developing and networking this area because I know it so well. If we were to set up a second store, I’ve got to consider where we’d locate and how we’d replicate the approach to marketing.
If I were able to set up another store tomorrow I’d like to consider another City, like Manchester. I will never know anywhere else as well as Leeds though, so with this in mind, I’d look to employ somebody with local knowledge and contacts and bring them in almost as a partner. I’d oversee both stores still and flit between the two.
However, it’s still early days and I need to focus on getting one working successfully. Fortunately, we’re well on the right track, but there’s a long way to go.