Question: what’s the biggest headache for most franchisees?
Homecare & Property Maintenance, Lettings & Property
Answer: the mountain of administration that comes with self-employment.
It is not, however, a headache for franchisees at the country’s premier gas and electrical safety inspection company. At gas-elec, the company’s bespoke bureau facility does the paperwork for its franchisees, leaving them free to get on with the lucrative ‘hands on’ business of carrying out inspections and repairs across the country. It is a major reason why the company has enjoyed year on year growth since its inception in 1996. Another reason is the huge growth in gas-elec’s core market.
A recession-proof business
The franchise was launched to meet the legislation-driven demand for gas and electrical safety inspections in the private rental sector. In 1996 only 11% of homes were rented; today it’s 18% - that’s 4.6 million homes. And in five years’ time, it’s predicted that 23% of homes will be privately rented. Since the ‘recession’ began five years ago, gas-elec’s core market has grown by a massive 48%.
Huge demand for gas or electrically-qualified people
gas-elec engineers provide dual-fuel gas and electrical safety checks, boiler servicing and associated remedials in rented properties, small commercial businesses and private homes. More than 100 safety inspection franchisees based in 18 regional offices carry out more than 100,000 inspections every year.
First-rate franchisor support is the bedrock of the gas-elec success story which is why most of gas-elec’s franchisees are on their second or third five-year franchise term. In the past two years, 41 of 45 franchisees renewed their franchise agreements; a dozen are on their third five-year term.
gas-elec’s first-ever franchisee, Gerry McGuiness, has just embarked on his 16th year. ‘Over the years, the market place for what we do has grown enormously; more people than ever seem to be renting now, and demand for safety inspections in my area has meant that my income has grown almost year-on-year,’ says Gerry. He attributes much of his business success to client retention – the service provided by him and gas-elec ensures that leading agents rarely switch providers, so Gerry has clients who have been with him for years. It’s a business ethic that’s paid off in more ways than one; Gerry’s income over the years has grown and grown:
‘Back in 1996, gas-elec told me I could earn £40,000 a year – I did that in Year One and I have always earned more than that. So I think you could say I am a very happy man!’
gas-elec Bureau Services
GBS is part of the support structure that franchisees see as the most important. It is run by a head office team who carry out all the invoicing, payment collection, VAT and debt collection, leaving regional management franchisees free to advertise and market the business and safety inspection franchisees to actually carry out the work.
Bespoke IT systems
gas-elec’s regional management franchisees rely on its exclusive ‘e-cis’, a web-based bespoke IT system. Jay Sachania, Head of e-services, is responsible for ensuring the system is providing what the network needs. Jay, five years with gas-elec, spends most of his time educating and supporting the franchise network in the ever-evolving world of IT. Harlow-based Safety inspection franchisee Dean Martin, who has renewed his franchise for a second five-year term, says: ‘If I ever win the lottery, Jay Sachania is coming with me! Whenever I have a computer problem, Jay sorts it. Usually I work alone, but people in franchise support and in my regional office are at the end of the phone, ready and willing to support me.’
Jay Sachania explains: ‘When we take on a new franchisee I train them to use the e-cis system. I set up their computer equipment – I can do that remotely from head office - and the IT equipment we supply them as part of their package is set up in-house before it is allocated. I act as an interface between our franchisees and IT development; we can tailor the system to any special requirements to suit their business needs.’
‘A superb piece of kit’
‘e-cis is a superb piece of kit,’ says Dee Curl; she and husband Richard are regional management franchisees running gas-elec in the south and south-west. ‘Without it, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Our franchisor has been open-minded enough to produce something that puts us in the forefront of the market and head office encourages us to come up with ideas for on-going improvements. e-cis allows any form of reporting so I can see exactly how my business is going, any problems, and how I can maximise sales. It even allows head office to pick up on areas where we may be falling down so they can alert us.’
Marketing on the Web
gas-elec’s Website Developer is Daniel Lambert. Having recently launched gas-elec’s new website, Daniel is also responsible for the company’s presence on Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In. By creating social networks, as well as pay per clicks and web optimisation, Daniel ensures that a wide section of the market knows about the new products and services. ‘All these elements of web marketing drive sales to our regional offices and our engineers; we can monitor where leads come from and at what cost per lead.’
A shoulder to lean on
gas-elec’s technical support is second-to-none. David McVicker has been with the company for 14 years, mainly as a Safety Inspection franchisee, but now as the network’s Quality and Technical Auditor (gas). He supports the franchisees if they have technical queries they cannot resolve or they just need the support of his vast experience. ‘When people start, they can sometimes be quite slow and methodical,’ he says. ‘I help them build their experience and confidence so that jobs go more smoothly and they can move on to the next one quicker.’
David visits all 100 gas engineers in the network at least once a year, carrying out audits in the field. He ensures test equipment is regularly calibrated and that they are carrying out inspections in accordance with Gas Safe requirements. He also deals with the complaints that inevitably occur when a company carries out upwards of 100,000 inspections every year.
Engineer Mick Eldridge in Bridgend, Glamorgan, really rates David McVicker’s experience and skills. ‘It’s very difficult keeping up to date with Gas Safe regulations and technical developments, but David keeps the network informed by alerting us on email of any changes we should be aware of, so we don’t miss anything. He recently audited me; it went well, it’s quite relaxed and you feel comfortable, you can talk to him if you have a problem, so the audit helps us. One of my colleagues recently had a complaint against himself, but it was really a spat between the tenant and the landlord, and David helped him through it.’
New product development
gas-elec’s franchisees benefit from on-going product development and new opportunities for sales, such as Floodcheck, a leak prevention device, and installation of inspection hatches for boiler flues that cannot be inspected because they are concealed behind walls or ceilings.
The latest is the Green Deal, and overseeing the company’s registration as a Green Deal Installer is Operations Director Michael O’Flynn. Electrical Engineer Michael has been with gas-elec 12 years, providing training, plus technical, electrical auditing and systems support to the network.
First port of call
Franchise Director Carol Otway, who has been with gas-elec 12 years, takes great pride in the growth of the network and the fact that she has a real rapport with the franchisees, all of whom she knows personally. Long-term franchisees bring great stability to the gas-elec network, as do the regular regional meetings and annual national conference. ‘I feel a real sense of pride when I see dozens of gas-elec vans out in the car park at the conferences and it’s great seeing all the franchisees together, networking and being part of a franchise that’s stood the test of time. We have a great support team and gas-elec gives franchisees exactly what it ‘says on the tin’; it makes all the hard work worthwhile.’
Rapport with franchisees
The first person any would-be gas-elec franchisee speaks to would probably be Jay Green, Head of Franchise Administration, who has been with the company for 8 years. Jay spends half his time on recruitment and the other half on making sure existing franchisees have the right insurance, equipment, uniform and the myriad of items that make up the total franchise package.
The qualifications you need
gas-elec is a highly technical business and the whole company is dedicated to customer safety. Safety Inspection franchisees must be gas engineers with min CCN1 + appliances, or fully-qualified and experienced electricians. Regional management franchisees need to be experienced business people with strong sales and marketing skills.
Try before you buy
Regular free open days for prospective franchisees run throughout the year at gas-elec’s head office near Heathrow. These involve a short presentation, a chance to meet franchise staff, take away financial forecasts and join the company for lunch.
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