Martin Roberts, former CEO of a worldwide transportation company, and his wife Carole have been Mail Boxes Etc. franchisees for almost nine years, during which time their business has grown significantly.
Based at their Plymouth distribution franchise store, they serve a large area of the West Country.
“In fact, we are the only Mail Boxes Etc. store in Devon and Cornwall. We are now well known for the specialist pack and ship service we have developed for the auction houses and art galleries throughout the two counties. This area of our business has trebled in recent years,” Carole explained.
It’s a far cry from their former life when they had lived and worked in countries all over the world, from Europe to USA and from Africa to the Middle East. Martin was European Director for an American business based in the USA when he was offered the CEO job based in the UK.
Martin and Carole decided to make the move back home, excited about the prospect of being closer to family and friends and in the hope that being based in the UK would mean less business travel for Martin and more time at home.
Back in Surrey, it did not take long for the previous relentless pattern to emerge. Martin describes it as: “Planes, hotels, offices, M25, repeated over and over again.”
“It began to pall and I really felt I didn’t want to do it anymore. One hotel is like another, so are offices, no matter where you are in the world. We wanted to escape from the corporate rat race and the frustrations of the M25. We’d also reached a point when we wanted to control our own destiny a little more,” Martin said.
“We’d had a great time, lived in some lovely places and enjoyed a good lifestyle. We’d had a lot of fun too back in the 1980’s setting up what was to become a global airline engineering logistic business, when logistic was a term only used in the armed forces, together with aircraft part distribution stores for The Boeing Airplane Company to support their worldwide fleet of planes. The Airline Logistics business was instrumental in supporting airlines around the world with their engineering parts, particularly when they went technical (broke down) away from base,” Martin continued.
“We loved the West Country so we packed up and moved down to Plymouth, to be near the sea and Dartmoor. We didn’t particularly want to work again but when we decided to send our children to independent schools we realised we needed to boost our income,” Martin explained.
When the Roberts started thinking about a business of their own, they were attracted to MBE, a company they already knew from living in America. “We were advised to use them in preference to the US post office because they provided a great all round service. We were so impressed we thought we might like to be part of it someday”, Carole said.
“Having run businesses in the past, it wasn’t difficult for us to understand the value of branding, identity and corporate muscle in ensuring the right cost. Therefore the franchise licence fee and on-going contribution were acceptable overheads,” Carole and Martin commented.
Martin left his job in November 2002 and by the following February he and Carole had bought their MBE store. Now in their ninth year of business and still working harmoniously together, the Roberts attribute their successful relationship to deciding from the beginning that each should have separate areas of responsibility.
Martin is a great networker and marketer, exploring new opportunities, meeting local business people and generally promoting the centre’s services and facilities. He is also very involved in packing and shipping, while Carole handles book-keeping and admin and looks after customers and oversees the print side of the business, assisted by two full-time staff.
Before buying their store, Carole’s career included working in banking and general admin and she had been a sales manager for Virgin where she was responsible for a team of 15 people.
Carole said: “Martin and I do work very well together, as a team, because we both know what we have to do. Our most recent year end results demonstrate how effective this approach has been since our turnover has increased eight-fold.”
Martin commented: “The overall growth of the business has been good and we are particularly pleased about packing and shipping, where we feel we can really add value, which is very interesting and enjoyable as well as lucrative. People sometimes come in thinking we’re an art gallery when we have as many of 60 or 70 pictures in here at one time.”
They added: “We are continuing to work hard but really enjoy what we do, confident that we are building a saleable asset to sell on for our retirement. Neither of us would ever want to work for anyone else or rejoin the rat race again.”