by Simon Lord
last updated 26/01/2021
by Simon Lord
last updated 26/01/2021
When you lose your job, is buying a business a good option? Simon Lord talks to four people who decided to invest in themselves.
Six weeks ago, John Eban left the Christchurch company he has worked with for 42 years. At the age of 61, he hadn’t planned for this to happen, but Covid-19 hit many companies hard – and none more so than the travel and tourism sector.
‘There had been several rounds of voluntary and forced redundancies, and it had become a pretty unpleasant environment,’ John says. ‘I was an engineer and I’d always been passionate about what I did, but now I was pretty disillusioned, to be honest. Then I saw an advert for a franchise called Pukeko Rental Management and thought, “I like the look of that!” I have no experience in rental management whatsoever, but I’d always thought if I won Lotto I would buy a few properties and run them myself, so this appealed.’ John talked to the franchisor, agreed an exit plan with his employer, took a deep breath and walked out of the door for the last time.
John reckons that buying a franchise was the perfect option for someone in his position. ‘Because this is a new business with no established clients, it offered a relatively cheap buy-in. It won’t make money straight away, I realise that, but the redundancy will see me through the set-up period. There will be a fair bit of work required to build it up, but I’ll get a lot of training and support to help me do that. A franchise allows you to work for yourself in your own business with the added security of a safety net. There are people to talk to and help guide you in the right direction.’
That guidance matters to people in John’s position. ‘On the face of it, what I was doing in engineering was so specialised that you don’t think of being able to do anything else, which makes it very daunting to start again. But what I’ve realised is that, actually, I’ve had a lot of training and got a lot of skills that are transferable into other areas: project management, leadership, time and resource management … 10 or 15 years ago, I might not have had all those skills, but now I’ve realised they are perfect for running my own business.’
The one area that John realises is a big gap for him is sales – something of a vital area when it comes to building a business. ‘If you’d told me a few months ago that I would need to do sales, I’d have gone screaming out of the room,’ he says, frankly. ‘But Pukeko has an online training course which is absolutely fantastic – it’s very, very helpful and I’m learning so much from that and from David Pearse (Pukeko’s founder) and the other franchisees that it’s been nowhere near as daunting as I thought. Everyone is so willing to share.
‘I did my first interview with a prospective client last week and rather than being a bag of nerves I went in full of confidence because I knew what I was talking about. They obviously thought so, too, because they signed up!’ So John has a 100 percent conversion record? He laughs. ‘I hadn’t thought of that – yes I do! What a great start.’
You’re not starting from zero
Peter Mahon understands exactly where John is coming from. He was an engineer in the same industry, but six years ago he was recovering from minor surgery when he received a call from his boss summoning him to a meeting. Surprised, he rang a colleague who told him, ‘I’ve just been made redundant!’ so Peter wasn’t too shocked when he received the same news.
‘At first, it really affected my self-esteem,’ says Peter. ‘Not only did my employer not want me any more but, at the age of 57, it’s not easy to find another job. My wife and I had financial commitments so we started trimming costs, cancelling our Sky TV subscription, that sort of thing. In my younger years I could get a job doing pretty much anything I wanted, but now I found myself having to take on a pretty mundane role just to pay the bills.’
Like many other people, Peter considered the option of self-employment. ‘I had been self-employed in the past, but not very successfully,’ he admits. ‘I was good at what I did, but I didn’t have the systems and processes that you need to run a business properly so I got into a bit of a mess. I didn’t fancy trying to do it all again and starting from zero. But with a franchise, you’re not starting from zero – that’s the whole point.’
Peter had a friend who was a Jim’s Mowing franchisee. ‘I’d seen him doing well over the years and that had given me some insights into the value and discipline a good franchise could provide. Jim’s also has a division that provides testing and tagging services for electrical equipment in workplaces, and I thought that sounded like me.’
Too stubborn to give up
There was no redundancy package to finance Peter’s business, ‘So we took a big gamble. My wife was still working for a bank, but had the option to cash out her retirement package early, so that was what we did. We bought a Jim’s Test & Tag territory close to home, and I promised my wife that I would work 8 hours every day : if I only had 6 hours work, I would spend the other two hours marketing for new clients, even if that meant walking the streets. And that was what I did.’
Peter says the other message that kept him going in the early days was from their accountant. ‘He said at our first meeting, “Peter, if you’re not going to work at it and give it 100 percent, don’t waste my time.” It was the best advice I ever got.
‘Some of my initial customers weren’t exactly A-class clients, but I was too stubborn to give up, and I soon forged ahead. 18 months after I started as a franchisee, we bought the Jim’s Test & Tag franchisor business for the Waikato. By then we had a history of success so were able to borrow the necessary funding from the bank, and we never looked back. These days, I help others make the transition just like I did.’
Peter understands only too well the fear and uncertainty that comes with redundancy – but, he says, it can also be a great opportunity. ‘It’s easy to get into a rut in a job, to stay just so that you will get paid, or work until it’s time to retire. Well, redundancy shakes you out of that and makes it easier to step out and take on a new challenge because you’re not risking your salary any more – there’s going to be no more money coming into your account next month, so what are you going to do instead? It forces you to step back and re-assess things.’
His role as a regional franchisor has given Peter some clear insights on what people need to succeed as franchisees.
‘Look, a franchise will give you a brand, a reputation, training and a system to follow, all from day one, but what you do with it is up to you. If you buy a franchise because you want a job without a boss, you probably won’t do very well. You need to be your own boss and be prepared to make critical decisions. If you meander round you might make a living, but if you take ownership you can do extremely well. I tell people who enquire about a Jim’s Test & Tag franchise:
- Go out and look at other franchises;
- Write down the pros and cons of each one;
- Don’t go into it blindly – take advice.
‘I won’t accept people if they haven’t opened their eyes first,’ Peter says bluntly. ‘Every franchise has its own culture, systems and is made up of different people. That means some franchises may be a better choice than others. Choose one that you think plays to your strengths – not the one that you think might make the most money.’
The need to earn
When Fiza Rahinmann lost his Auckland sales job, his biggest concern was how he could support his wife and family. That was at the time of the last big crisis, the GFC in 2008. ‘I had been on a good commission-based package with the electrical retailers Hill & Stewart, and the redundancy gave me a bit of money but I didn’t know what to do with it – I just knew I had to earn $80,000 a year somehow, fast.’
Fiza had always had a dream of owning a business, and now he had the capital to get started, but what could he do? ‘I did lots of research and decided that commercial cleaning was my best option, so I went to talk to CrestClean. It was a proven business, which was reassuring; there was guaranteed work, which I needed; and I discovered that I could earn what I wanted to earn, as long as I was prepared to put the work in.
‘I did wonder if I could do it myself without the need to pay franchise fees, but I didn’t have any experience, didn’t know how potential customers would react to an unknown name, and I didn’t want to take the risk. The franchise would provide everything I needed. Within two months, I was in business for myself. I pushed myself hard in the beginning and got to $200,000 turnover within 5 years. That enabled me to pay off the loans and invest in some properties, and now I’ve downsized it a little to allow me to spend more time with my family, do cultural and charity work, and carry out renovations – because the business is mostly evening work, I had free time during the day to do a course at MIT and gain a carpentry qualification.
‘The funny thing is that when I first joined CrestClean, my friends laughed at me. They said being a cleaner was probably the lowest job you could get, and that it wasn’t a boy’s job. Having seen how well I have done, some of the same people are coming back to me saying “How can we do it too?”
‘I have my own business, I set my own time, I spend time with my family every morning and evening, and I have my weekends clear. It’s a great feeling.’
Not just a number any more
When Alistair McCormick was young, he worked for a company that made concrete posts. ‘It did pretty well and the owner offered to sell it to me, but I knew I didn’t have the business sense to run it properly.’ It would be many years before Alistair eventually started his own business and, when he did, he chose to do it with the support of a good franchise behind him.
‘By then, I’d been made redundant on four different occasions – the last after 14 years at Fisher & Paykel in Dunedin, where I had been a team leader,’ recalls Alistair. ‘It made me realise that, as a worker, you’re just a number, but if you want a future, you have to be prepared to get off your arse and do something for yourself.’
Alistair had a friend who was a CrestClean franchisee and decided that could work for him, too. ‘There were lots of things I didn’t know, like how GST works, for example, but the franchise offered training, systems to follow and support both at the beginning and as you grew. In business, you’ve got to have a mentor, someone who cares about you and wants to help you succeed, and that’s what a franchise provides.’
Redundancy has been a good thing for me
With four young children, and a mortgage to pay, Alistair and his wife Mary threw themselves into their work, determined to succeed. ‘There were certainly some sleepless nights in the early days, wondering if we had done the right thing, and other times when we’d watch people with jobs go home at 5 o’clock when we were just starting, but we knew this was a long term thing – we weren’t just going to try it out for a couple of years and then give up. We started off with a turnover of just $30,000 and grew it to $200,000. I grew with the business, getting extra qualifications in carpet cleaning and floor resurfacing, as well as pure water window cleaning.
‘We’ve worked hard to get where we are today, but we’ve made a lot of money and been able to afford to do things we otherwise couldn’t have done. We’ve also built a substantial business and, when the time comes in a few years’ time, we’ll be able to sell that for a good sum.
‘You know, if I hadn’t been made redundant, I’d still be at Fisher & Paykel and I’d never have done all this – redundancy has been a good thing for me. Yes, there have been ups and downs, good things and bad along the way, but that’s life. I’ve learned a lot and it’s been very satisfying.’
I’m in control
While Peter, Fiza and Alistair can all look back on their decision to buy a franchise after enjoying many years of success, John Eban is still in the early stages. Even so, he has no doubts about leaving the company where he worked for so many years. ‘I haven’t thought about the place in the last six weeks at all!’ he smiles. ‘That’s telling me I made the right decision.’
And Peter Mahon sums it all up. ‘When people learn that I’m a licensed aircraft engineer, they look at me in amazement, wondering why I’m doing Jim’s Test & Tag. I tell them I’m doing something I enjoy, I own my own business, I’m earning more than I used to, and the only person who can make me redundant now is me. I’m in control of my own life and I love it.’
If you have the opportunity to take redundancy and like the thought of owning your own business, find out more. Here are four articles that may help:
Time to be your own boss? We look at the pros and cons of buying a franchise for people facing redundancy.
Your Buyers Guide – Part-time, full-time, indoors, outdoors, courier or café: whatever type of business you’re interested in, there’s a franchise to suit.
Find the Right Franchise – A handy step-by-step guide to choosing the franchise that best suits your own needs and abilities.
250 Questions to Ask Your Franchisor – A comprehensive list to help you evaluate both the franchise opportunity and the franchisor.
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