In early 2017 Simon Darlaston became the second franchisor in three years to become a Sandler Training franchisee. Formerly overseeing European franchise development for The Little Gym, Simon joined ex-WPA franchise director Berkeley Harris in Sandler’s global sales and management consultancy network.
To call that a remarkable endorsement of Sandler’s business, while true, would be an understatement; the duo were both very senior franchisors, with an oversight across the entire UK franchise sector and an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of the opportunities on offer.
For Berkeley, who was also the deputy chair of the British Franchise Association, personal insight into the powerful effect of Sandler’s techniques added to his franchising knowhow.
“With 110 franchisees at one time and hundreds of head office staff, I had sales trainers, motivational speakers and the like queuing at the WPA door,” he says. “Someone said to me one time, ‘you have to come and see this sales trainer’. I thought, really, a sales trainer? But they were adamant this one was different, and I knew how good Sandler was, so I got him in.
“The guy, who has since retired, was phenomenal. I bit into Sandler from there and started training some of their stuff internally with [Sandler franchisors] Shaun and Fiona’s permission. The approach fitted what we did superbly. We’d been growing steadily at 2-3%, but after using some of the Sandler techniques we jumped to 10% growth and our retention rate went from 89% to 93%. We thought we had a good consultative approach before, but this was another level.”
As he approached his 12th year at WPA, Berkeley started thinking about a new challenge. “I had other options and some interesting conversations with other franchisors, but I knew Sandler was the right choice. I went to see Shaun and Fiona and asked them to show me more. It didn’t take me long to decide.
“Seeing the power of the model first-hand makes it such a pleasure for me now, whether I’m coaching or training, because I know it works. It’s a great perspective to have and comes in very handy with clients! The management behavioural training in particular is very close to my heart and so different to other offerings.”
A sporting chance
For Simon, the personal touch was equally important, but in a different way.
He explains: “I was overseeing the franchise growth strategy for The Little Gym across Europe, based in Harrogate but travelling back and forth to the company’s head office in Brussels. I have two kids and travelling a lot and spending time away from home wasn’t ideal.
“I wanted to set up my own business and do something that meant something to me, to be in charge of my own destiny and make my own decisions. I knew of Sandler from the wider franchise world and I’d always been impressed. I knew it was the right opportunity for me, especially because I knew I could use my previous sporting background to great effect in the business.”
Simon’s sporting journey saw him start out in professional football (“Like many others, I took a hard fall – I can’t blame an injury, I just wasn’t good enough!”) before moving to the US after completing his sports degree, which led to him working for Major League Soccer in a regional management and sales role.
It’s a passion that’s never left him, and one he’s now bringing to his business in spades.
“I think people generally like to learn from the lessons that sport can offer,” says Simon. “It’s exciting to be able to help people grow and develop in their sales and management roles using some of the lessons learnt from both Sandler and the world of sport.
“If you look at the fundamentals of how Sandler helps people grow personally as well as professionally, you’ll find the same traits in a top sportsperson. There was a really clear link that I saw between the two.
“Like any elite sports coach or manager, for business owners one of the things Sandler can do is to help them to treat their people like superstars, giving their staff the best chance to succeed in the day to day world that they’re in.
“It excites me – over the last 20 years I’ve enjoyed taking what I learned from the world of sport and dropping it into the world of business. Sandler gives me the perfect platform to take this to another level.”