Gayan Weerakkody was a former BP forecourt manager in London before investing in a franchise at greeting card company Card Connection. Here, he discusses what the learnt about the process of taking on a franchise and gives advice to other would-be franchisees.
How did you find out about the franchise and what were you doing before?
For several years, I worked as a BP forecourt manager in London and the local Card Connection franchisee used to supply us with greetings cards for sale in the store on a regular basis. The franchisee would visit regularly and merchandise the display and supply new and seasonal designs. I always liked the quality of the cards and the variety of the range. I had been considering starting my own business for a while and realised if a big company like BP trusted Card Connection as a supplier, investing in a franchise could be a potential option for myself and my family.
Procedurally, what were the steps you went through to get set up?
I undertook some basic research, including talking to the local Card Connection franchisee to see how the franchise worked. Basically, franchisees supply retailers within their territory with greetings cards on a consignment basis. This means retailers only pay for what they sell and so no ‘hard sell’ is involved. Franchisees visit retailers regularly to merchandise displays and ensure they are looking fresh and appealing to consumers.
I was impressed with the business model and the profit margins and decided to move forward with investing in a franchise. Initially, this involved completing an application form and then having an interview at the company’s head office in Farnham in Surrey. I met with the managing director and he was very open, explaining everything I might need to know and answering all my questions honestly. I also found out that Card Connection’s head office manages a 100-strong national account network of retail customers, which Card Connection franchisees supply to, in addition to independent retailers.
The franchised territory that was for sale was in Oxford and so I spoke to the franchisee and made an offer on the business. Once this was accepted, I paid a deposit to hold the area while I undertook training and then a five week handover working alongside the outgoing franchisee. This enabled me to meet all the retail customers and get to know how to run the franchise on a day-to-day basis. I now run the franchise with my wife Anjana. Working together means we play to each other’s strengths and we can still be flexible to look after our young family.
3. How did you raise money?
A loan from my parents enabled me to make investing in a franchise possible.
4. How did you go about marketing?
Because we were buying a resale territory, we were stepping right into an established business with an existing customer base. Therefore, we actually haven’t needed to do any marketing at all. Since we started up in May this year, we have been able to open some new retail accounts but these have all come through recommendation from existing retail clients.
5. How did you grow your turnover?
The previous franchisee had run the territory for more than 20 years! Therefore, all the processes that were in place were already streamlined and established. We simply followed the franchise manual and the training! However, we have been able to grow the turnover. This is due to focusing on the best-selling cards and ensuring stores have fresh new designs and that stock is merchandised regularly. We supply some small villages and if everyone in the area got the same birthday card, customers would soon start shopping elsewhere! I think it’s about trying to see things from a customer’s point of view.
6. Any challenges/particularly interesting anecdotes you would like to share about the whole franchise opportunity?
The main challenge so far has been relocating the whole family from London to Didcot at the same time as starting a business. We currently rent a property and so space for stock is a little tight. We currently use the garage which means the van has to be parked on the roadside overnight! However, in the future this is something we hope to address when we can buy a new family home.
7. What advice would you give to others thinking of investing in a franchise?
I think when you run any business keeping it simple and consistent is key. This helps keep customers happy! If you follow a routine it becomes automatic, you get faster and more efficient.
I also strongly believe in trying to achieve a good work-life balance. It is no good running a profitable business if you have to work seven days per week for ten hours per day. You will quickly become fed up and burn out. It is better to work harder and be more efficient for five days per week then have time to be with your family during days off. Therefore, my advice is to factor in time for rest and holidays – this is what can keep you motivated and continuing to provide a great service.
As soon as I had completed the purchase of my Card Connection franchise I took the family on holiday for a fortnight! A few people wondered if that was the right thing to do but it meant we started the new business fresh and ready to make a difference.