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COME HOME KIWIS - YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU

by Carlene du Toit & Simon Lord,
last updated 23/07/2009

The government wants to encourage New Zealanders overseas to return home to work. Carlene du Toit and Simon Lord talk to some of those who have heard the call and chosen self-employment through franchising

New Zealanders have always been great travellers, and the big OE has been part of our lives for many years. The urge to see new places, experience different lifestyles and work in different areas has attracted many Kiwis overseas, often for years rather than months. And, of course, to many a mother’s dismay, some have never come home.

In the past few years, however, there seems to have been a change in attitude among many expatriates. As the rest of the world has got busier, more congested, more dangerous, so they have realised that home does have its advantages. In fact, of the estimated 460,000 New Zealanders living overseas, studies suggest that around half now plan to come home eventually and another 25% are still deciding.

In October 2005, the government launched a programme that aimed to make it easy for New Zealanders overseas to find out more about the country, economy and job opportunities here. According to Prime Minister Helen Clark, ‘The key factors people consider when thinking about returning home are lifestyle, friends and family, and work and career. These new initiatives aim to provide information relevant to a decision to return home.’

While the appeal of home is clearly stronger than ever, finding a job which offers the same challenges and rewards as those available in other parts of the world may not be so easy. Unless, of course, you choose to work for yourself. Franchise New Zealand decided to talk to some people who had done just that by buying franchises and find out if the reality lived up to the dream.

Carpenter Turned Builder

Gary Brawley left New Zealand with his British-born wife in 1996 to go and live in England and get to know his in-laws better. A carpenter by trade, he soon found work in the building industry in the field of garage door automation. From there, he moved on to a uniquely European speciality – restoring old manor houses. The couple lived in Devon, where Gary’s wife was assistant in a roadside service station cum restaurant. Last year, they made the decision to come home.

‘In England, we had two adults and three children living in a terraced house with a small garden,’ Gary says. ‘That was a big reason to move. Now we have a five-bedroom house on a quarter acre section in Hastings and all the children attend private schools – something that would have been impossible in the UK.’

The couple’s initial plan was to do spec building, but once he investigated the options more fully Gary decided that a Signature Homes franchise would be a better move. ‘The building industry is relatively closed and it takes time to build up the contacts,’ he says thoughtfully. ‘Having a franchise is a short-cut to networking for contracts and getting those deals. As a franchisee, I don’t need to introduce myself to the market from scratch – I already have a presence by virtue of the franchise I represent. I also have far greater bargaining power and clout than I would have had as an individual working on my own, and the franchisor has been a great help – especially with training and marketing.’

From Teaching In Japan To Coffee In Christchurch

Anyone who has studied in New Zealand knows that you have to pay your way, and Martijn Schouten did it by working part-time while doing his degree in Japanese and English. ‘If you don’t do it that way, you’ll spend the rest of your life paying off student loans,’ he accepts ruefully.
Martijn left New Zealand in April 2001 to spend his last year as a student at the University of Foreign Studies in Kansai. He enjoyed the experience so much he stayed on, teaching English at the school while saving up to start his own business in New Zealand. ‘Japan was amazing,’ he says. ‘The Japanese have a work ethic second to none, and this is something I would like to encourage back home.’

Returning at the end of last year, he immediately started looking for a suitable business opportunity. On the advice of a cousin who had owned several successful Muffin Break franchises, he wanted a business that involved making a product that could be sold on the same day it was made, avoided exports and imports and anything that involved carrying a lot of stock. Together with a business partner, Martijn eventually chose a Robert Harris Café in Hornby Road, Christchurch. How’s it going?

‘Business absolutely boomed over the Christmas period and is still good. All I have to do is follow the systems the franchisor has set in place. I get fantastic support with regard to both the theoretical and practical aspects of the business. For example, I send in weekly reports for analysis to see where and how we can improve our operation and the training and team building opportunities they provide are great.’

As for living in New Zealand again, ‘It's great to be back,’ says Martijn. ‘I appreciate the uniquely relaxed lifestyle New Zealand has to offer even more than before now that I have a somewhat different perspective. I enjoy the fresh air, the trees and above all the space after the more crowded way of life in Japan.’

Franchising For The Whole Family

It’s not just the younger generation who are tempted to return to Godzone. John Fitzpatrick, an engineer by profession, worked in local government in Australia in the early 90s. He managed the town council of Forster, three hours north of Sydney with a budget of $30 million and a staff of 300. The town boasts such magnificent scenery that it is known as ‘God’s waiting room’, yet the Fitzpatricks were relieved when the contract came to an end. ‘Doing a job like that in a small town was like living in a goldfish bowl 24/7,’ says his wife Patricia. ‘John couldn’t cough without drawing attention to himself.’

The couple couldn’t wait to return to their children in New Zealand, the youngest of whom was 18 when they left. Looking for something to do, they came across Mamuska The Cheesecake Shop – a franchise they knew well from Australia but which was struggling to grow beyond its first outlet here. The couple decided to take on the master franchise for the Upper North Island.

‘I must admit I thought it would be a cosy little job to keep me from getting bored,’ John smiles. ‘Instead, it has grown like Topsy. We’ve opened 11 franchises from our Auckland base with four more to come on stream before August. It hasn’t always been easy and I’m slightly surprised to say I’m loving every moment of the challenge. What’s especially thrilling is that I have not only Patricia but all three boys on board with me – one is a franchisee himself in Tauranga, one manages our own shop in Hamilton and the third runs our franchise support function. Not only are we back with our kids, but we’re in business together as a family.’

Come Home And Bring The Wife

Damien Dougherty worked as a painter and decorator in Ranfurly before deciding to embark upon his overseas travels. In 1993 he left for Great Keppel Island, moving on to Perth and then the UK. In 1998 he went on a snowboarding holiday to Aspen Colorado with the intention of staying for three months. He was there for six years…

The painting business Damien started there did very well. ‘There were lots of wealthy people with homes of up to 20,000ft² requiring my services,’ he smiles. There were other attractions, too – Damien met his wife Jean, who comes from Alabama, in Aspen and their first child was born there. However, Aspen began to lose its lustre as the little family could not afford to live in the town and had to commute 12 miles to and from work every day. The ice and snow started getting to them now that they had a young child and, four weeks after their second daughter was born, they left ‘for the grass, the beaches and the great lifestyle of New Zealand.’

Jean is thrilled to be part of Damien’s ‘big, warm family here – they are just such good people and our kids Alexandria and Finley have blossomed with so much affection showered on them. The country as a whole is so beautiful and we are very happy in our lovely house in Christchurch,’ she enthuses. ‘We are living the kind of life we would never have been able to afford in Aspen, or anywhere else for that matter.’

Part of the attraction is that Jean has been able to stay at home with the children instead of going out to work at this crucial time in their young lives. Instead, the couple have bought a Jumping J-Jay's franchise to make up for the lack of a second income. Jumping J-Jays provides bouncing castles for birthday parties and other functions. Of course, it’s weekend business so Jean is able to do the accounting and bookings during the week while Damien operates J-Jays over weekends. So far the business is paying its way but the Doughertys are expecting great things – the business promises ‘a full-time income from a part-time job’ and founder John Newton was named Australia’s Franchisor of the Year in both 2003 and 2004.

Perfect Fit

Brett Meehan and his wife Karrin also turned their back on high earnings in the US to return to New Zealand. Both qualified physiotherapists, they left for the UK in 1995 with the intention of seeing as much of Europe as they could by working as locums. Having spent every cent they made doing that, they then set off to Illinois with the intention of saving enough US dollars to return home and buy a house.

‘Family back in NZ was the big pull, and we also found ourselves yearning for the great outdoors,’ recalls Brett. ‘Coming home was wonderful and after all the snow and ice of Illinois where people are virtually house-bound from mid-November to mid-March, we just can’t get enough of the sunshine in Nelson.’

The only disappointment, they say, was the drop in salary levels. ‘We decided we didn’t want to go backwards financially so we bought a Shoe Clinic franchise.’ Shoe Clinic is a New Zealand-owned specialist running and walking footwear chain which uses high-tech computerised systems to fit shoes that are right for each individual. It was an obvious fit for two physiotherapists, too. ‘We might have known little about retailing, but the franchisors provide excellent support. They help co-ordinate stock levels and guide us on product orders, enabling us to focus on running and growing our business efficiently. It was the right decision.’

WINZ To The Rescue

Of course, along with the pleasures of returning home our interviewees have mentioned the downsides too. Taxation rates, salary levels, superannuation schemes, grocery bills and the high cost of consumer goods all came in for mention and seemed to come as a nasty surprise for some who had got used to different conditions overseas. However, as Martijn Schouten comments, ‘getting into a good franchise is one of the few ways to counteract these negatives.’

For Mark Wilson, that has certainly been the case. Mark left his job managing the bar in an RSA in Dunedin in 1995 because, he says ‘the introduction of the 1994 Employment Act lopped $5,000 off my annual wages.’ Mark had heard people sing the praises of Perth with its temperature of 30°C every day, so off he went and had no trouble finding work at the Royal Perth Yacht Club.

But in May last year, illness in the family brought him to the realisation that home was where he wanted to be. Back in the country, though, Mark was disillusioned by the drop in salary he had to accept. After working for three months for half of what he had earned overseas, he started asking himself: ‘What is the point?’ He decided that the only way to solve the problem was by having his own business, but he didn't have enough money to buy one.

Mark approached Work and Income New Zealand for their assistance. ‘They were fantastic,’ he says. ‘I attended their one week business course, on the strength of which I applied for a grant consisting of an initial lump sum of $5,000 with $3,000 more to be paid out over a period of time. It was just enough for the deposit on a Crest Commercial Cleaning franchise.’ It proved to be a wise choice.

‘This has been the answer for me,’ Mark says happily. ‘I do the actual work and my franchisor arranges the contracts. They do almost all my book work for me, even collecting my payments. I only spend about an hour every two months on admin, which frees me up to do the work and earn the money. In fact, I have done so well out of my franchise I have even been able to invest in property – something I would never have thought possible a few months ago.’

From Corporate Man To Entrepreneur

While New Zealand might have its drawbacks for those used to high salaries overseas, it also has its opportunities. It was this latter factor that attracted Stuart Deeks back to the country just four years ago, with the master franchise agreement for Esquires Coffee Houses in his pocket. Since then, in partnership with his brother Lewis he has opened 23 franchises throughout the country and is now looking for a partner to help expand the business into Australia.

Stuart originally left New Zealand in 1990 to take up a position as business development manager of DHL in Saudi Arabia. From there he spent some time at Polaroid, finally moving to London where he worked for soft drink manufacturer Nicholls International. It was in London that he first fell in love with Esquires coffee, and when he decided the time had come to return home with his wife and baby daughter he took the brand with him. A fast mover, he nevertheless took the time to perfect the concept in Auckland with three company stores before commencing franchising. Used to working at the highest level, he gathered a top team of advisors around him which immediately paid off when star All Black Carlos Spencer became one of his first franchisees. The publicity value was immense, and the franchise hasn’t looked back since.

‘For those with overseas experience, the business opportunities are there in New Zealand if you look for them,’ Stuart says. ‘Not all concepts would transfer as well as Esquires has, and I think that many overseas companies don’t appreciate the small and fragmented nature of the market here, but that’s the point – only a Kiwi can really understand New Zealand. It’s not necessary to think small, either. We already have a lot of stores here and now we’ve got Australia in our sights too. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again.’

Bring Back The Kiwis

As part of last year’s initiatives, the government launched a new website www.newzealandnow.info which is specifically aimed at informing Kiwis overseas about the various opportunities available to them in New Zealand. Franchising is clearly an attractive option to many, and for that reason this article will be posted on the government website as well as on our own, see elsewhere on this site for details of over 175 different franchise opportunities. Grieving families please note and forward these addresses to your loved ones.

New Zealand Now also contains valuable information on such topics as tax policy for returning residents, the paid parental leave scheme and even a list comparing the prices of everyday items here and in the UK (we’re doing pretty well on Big Macs, petrol and congestion charges but wine and milk are surprisingly expensive– blame the EU). And with a falling dollar, overseas earnings are going to go further soon.

As Helen Clark said at the launch, ‘Skilled New Zealanders are going to be in demand offshore. That means it’s important that we take new initiatives to make sure that our expats know more about the opportunities back home.’ Franchising offers perhaps the widest range of opportunities of all – and enables people to fulfil the dream not just of coming home to Godzone but of running their own business too.

This article was published in Franchise New Zealand magazine Volume 15 Issue 1 

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