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From Threatretrain employee to franchise owner


  • Name: Paul Clark
  • Location: Cornwall, UK
  • Franchise: Theatretrain Exeter
  • Date launched the franchise: 4 November 2017

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing prior to buying your Theatretrain franchise business?
I am a secondary school maths teacher and shortly after returning from a 6-month teaching secondment in New Zealand, I applied for an acting teacher’s position at Theatretrain Northampton. I worked there for two years before moving up to Staffordshire. Shortly afterwards, I was asked if I would teaching singing at Theatretrain Rugby and did this for 6 months before, once again, becoming the acting teacher when the existing teacher left. I stayed at Rugby for 4 years before I moved down to Devon in 2014. I was then working in a boarding school so time was very limited but, having been involved with organising shows and trips with Theatretrain Rugby, I realised that setting up my own theatre school was the next step. Once I moved out of the boarding school, I finally decided to ‘go for it’ and start up my own theatre school.

Can you also tell us about the franchise you have bought? 
Having researched the area and found that there were not too many local theatre schools in Exeter, I decided this was the best location for my own Theatretrain centre. There had been a school in Exeter a few years prior but it had not lasted long. I was, therefore, starting from scratch. We opened with 7 students in November and rapidly grew to 36 students by January. We then maintained around 40-45 students for a few years before a recent push in advertising has boosted this to nearly 60 students in the main company.

Why did you go down the franchise route? What made you choose performing arts? And why Theatretrain?
Having worked for Theatretrain before, taking a franchise with the company was the next logical step. Having always been involved in the performing arts with young people outside of my regular teaching job meant that a theatre school was an obvious choice.

How did you raise the finance?
I did not have to pay the fee until the end of Year 1 so used the profits from the first year to pay off the finance needed to buy the franchises. This was a good incentive to ensure that my first year was successful.

What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?
There was a 2-day training programme provided prior to opening. I had done some training a few years back (before I moved to Devon) but then repeated this in September 2017 prior to opening. This meant that I was fully up-to-speed with the latest developments within the company. Head Office have always been there to provide support whenever needed as well as information/training given at the Franchisee’s conference and the teacher training sessions.

How would you describe your day-to-day role as a franchisee
Busy! I regularly spend, at least, an hour a day on admin. This can be responding to enquiries, creating and promoting adverts, keeping on top of fee payments, updating accounts, planning shows, emailing parents, etc.

As someone who is an efficient organiser, I really enjoy these aspects of the role as well as the working with the students every week.

Provide information on challenges overcome as well as your key successes to date. 
The biggest challenge was getting the initial numbers to allow the centre to start. Thankfully, this went well and numbers have steadily increased. During the past 5 years, we have already appeared on TV, performed at the Royal Albert Hall, completed three local shows, ran a trip to New York, performed at Disneyland Paris and taken a production of Alice in Wonderland to a youth festival in Switzerland. These activities set us apart from our local competitors as we provide additional experiences for our students over and above the regular weekly classes.

This was highlighted during the Covid pandemic when we instantly switched to online classes. Although a challenge, we made it work, kept the interest of the students with classes and weekly challenges and allowed us to be creative in different ways. We even created a production during this time using Zoom and recording the results. Always striving to be creative and adaptable meant that the lockdown classes were enjoyable for the students. This success of these online classes meant that we maintained healthy numbers when we could re-open our physical classes. Although we lost a lot of the older students, we gained new ones and numbers never dipped below 40 during this time – which I felt was a real success.

Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?
Realising that I can run my own business and am in control of what I do and how I operate has been enjoyable experience. However, whilst I am still teaching full-time does mean that I work more than usual. The great thing is that running the franchise feels more like a hobby than work!

How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I try and keep Sunday’s free for my own time but do often find myself working! However, spending an hour a week every day does mean that I can keep on top of things.

If you are a multi-unit franchisee, can you tell us why your franchise is ideal for those looking for a scalable opportunity? 
The great thing about being a franchisee is the opportunity to expand. Having grown the numbers in the main company to 60, I also added the Junior ensemble (4-5 year olds) and two successful Musical Theatre groups. This has taken the overall numbers within the franchise to around 140 children. The Musical Theatre model is great for my area as a lot of areas do not have the numbers to sustain a Main Company but running a 90-minute musical theatre class is a great way to get students involved and to raise the profile of the business.

If you have staff, how do you retain your best staff and keep morale high and productive; how do you incentivise your staff and recognise success?
Recruiting good staff is always difficult and, in my area, there are very few freelance teachers available. Anyone that is highly experienced in the industry tends to move away from the area to find work. However, I have been very lucky and always managed to find a good teacher for each discipline. I pay them well and because they can also take part in some of the extra experiences that I offer (trips, performances, etc…) it keeps them interested on a creative level. I now have 9 staff members working for me and success is rewarded with pay increases or verbal recognition of the good work they have been doing.

Can you tell us about any community involvement, including any local partnerships, incentives or charity work you are involved in? 
ll of our groups are involved in local community events (Christmas light switch-on, themed town events, etc..) as this helps to raise the profile of the business as well as giving the students further performance opportunities.

What is the most invaluable piece of advice you could give someone looking to buy their first franchise? 
Produce a good business plan for the first three years of operation and research the local competition carefully. If you know who your competitors are, where they operate and how much they charge, then you can target accordingly.

In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?  
Good organisation skills and good communication with all (Head Office, teachers and customers).

What are your plans for the future?
To continue to expand the business locally so as to provide more opportunities for more students. A local theatre has just closed it’s youth company so I am currently looking into ways I can incorporate this into the Theatretrain portfolio. However, I need to look at the VAT threshold before expanding further.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I can’t think of anything I would do differently as it has been a learning journey and you have to make mistakes to move forward.

Interested and want to know more about Theatretrain ?

The Theatretrain profile outlines all aspects of their franchise opportunity and allows you to contact them for further information or to ask a question.

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