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  • Names: Bianca Stanford & George Hopkins
  • Location: Cambridgeshire
  • Franchise: Theatretrain 
  • Date launched the franchise: Cambridge North & Cambridge South (we took over in October 2020) 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing prior to buying your Theatretrain franchise business?
Bianca and George studied at the University of Bedfordshire in Performing Arts and Acting. Bianca was the Acting director at Cambridge South before buying the franchise business together. 

Can you also tell us about Theatretrain? 
Theatretrain is a performing arts school franchise for children aged 4 to 18 years. They operate across the UK, providing high quality training to children of all ages and abilities. We take part in large scale productions in London and the West End as well as performing at local theatres. 

We’re associated with Goldman’s Agency allowing our students the opportunity to audition to be represented by them and work professionally. 

Why did you go down the franchise route? What made you choose performing arts? And why Theatretrain?
We chose this industry as it is one we both grew up in. We both enjoyed our training and university studies so it felt like a very natural transition for us. 

To be honest, we were not looking to buy a franchise specifically, but when the opportunity came up to take on the Cambridge businesses, it seemed like an excellent opportunity. Bianca had been a student since the age of 8 years old and a teacher since graduating university in 2016. We took over during Covid in October 2020. 

Locally to us there are lots of competitive classes and franchises. We knew how fantastic Theatretrain was first hand as a support network and creative hub for young people. 

Other companies felt very impersonal or money orientated and others very poorly run. Theatretrain provides a relationship and personal approach. 

The bonus of being part of a franchise of course, is the access to support and resources you would not have running a business alone.  Websites, merchandising, advertising, child protection, policies, branding, marketing assets, support, knowledge, training and more.

How did you raise the finance?
We used our savings for the deposit and paid off the business privately each month. 

What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?
I had an initial interview with HQ, and then a two day training session to get started with the business and running of our schools. 

Over the years training and upskilling opportunities have been more frequent and diverse from annual franchisee & creative team conferences to monthly marketing online training sessions.  There is always someone available to speak to, and to offer help and support when required.

We have a conference every Summer and gain expertise from those leading in marketing, advertising and out of school clubs. 

How would you describe your day-to-day role as a Theatretrain franchisee.
Bianca is the Company Director and Acting Director. George is the company Director and Centre Manager. There is lots of admin to do now the schools have grown so much. We plan the sessions and spend Saturdays on site with the children and creative team in classes. We use Membermeister as an admin tool but run the businesses admin ourselves during the week. 

Provide information on challenges overcome as well as your key successes to date.
I think my key successes are building the schools to where they were when we took over as franchisees. We took over during Covid which was a huge leap of faith as it was a very uncertain time for all in business. 

During Covid, we switched our classes to online Zoom sessions during lockdown.  They were hard work and amazing at the same time!  It was such a lifeline for all of use though and amazing to still be connected with the students.  We often all talk about it now.

Once lockdown eased, we worked hard as a whole company to ensure we complied with all legislation to keep our children and staff safe whilst being able to operate face to face classes. Again, this was tricky, but the children embraced it and loved being back in class. It is something we still look back on and talk about with fond memories, whilst being hopeful we don’t ever have to go back to that time again!

We went from having three very small classes to four successful or full classes in Cambridge North and five successful or full classes in Cambridge South.  We have done all this through hard work and dedication! We absolutely love it! 

Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?
Becoming a franchisee has totally changed our lives!  Running our own business is challenging but we love working together. We have gone from running two schools whilst working part time jobs to Bianca organising Theatretrain Cambridge full time. We feel a huge level of pride in the schools and each other.  

We are becoming financially sure and are keen to keep growing. 

How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Bianca does her best to keep working on the admin during the week. We run most of our physical classes on the weekend and try to rest on Sundays. We run holiday workshops and will usually have lots of down time in the school holidays as well. 

As with all jobs, there are busy times of the year. We try to organise and schedule admin time, show prep, parent communication appropriately. Bianca schedules admin to times when best suits, and we can take time off over the school holidays together. Working from home for the admin side of things makes the work-life balance more achievable. We’re happy to be flexible and disciplined in organising time.

If you are a multi-unit franchisee, can you tell us why your franchise is ideal for those looking for a scalable opportunity? 
This franchise is great as a multi-unit opportunity as it allows you to work flexibly in each territory. Each franchise will come with a territory and within that you can have multiple schools/classes/sites/workshops/operational days enabling you to really progress and grow the business as much as you want to. 

There are also opportunities to open additional franchises in new territories in which you can apply the same methods to grow your franchise in a new area. 

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?
We’re extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful creative team. Our teachers are freelance professionals but have always stayed with us for an extended period of time and generally only leave due to personal circumstances. We have a fun work/friend relationship. We support each other in providing a highly skilled and creative environment for the students. 

We have team meetings as appropriate. We celebrate their birthdays in class with a small gift from the centre and enjoy a Christmas meal together as our treat.

We pay good hourly rates and ensure to pay their monthly invoices promptly.

The additional classes, workshops, etc. we run gives them extra opportunities to earn more money which they really appreciate, especially in the school holidays when their work naturally drops.

I am very open and honest, so we always have a clear dialogue and as a team we celebrate our work and successes with each other and with the children.

Head Office provide additional training opportunities for staff too which is an added bonus for them. I always ensure that anything extra they do is either paid or doesn’t leave them out of pocket and is ultimately good for their own career development.

Can you tell us about any community involvement, including any local partnerships, incentives or charity work you are involved in? 
We always take part in local summer and winter fairs.  

We offer a discounted price from our weekly sessions to those on low income. 

We’re in the process of becoming Ofsted registered to accept tax-free childcare and Childcare Vouchers. 

As a company we support and raise money for Theodora Children's Charity and Young Minds. 

We also give raffle prizes to local schools fundraising as often as they need them.

We support a local kids’ clothes hub who provide clothing for those in need locally. 

What is the most invaluable piece of advice you could give someone looking to buy their first franchise?
Research your area and community. Chat to other franchisees to see what they learned. To start with it can be tough, profit margins may be low initially, but with your own hard work and the great support from Head Office the business will grow. 

In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?
Someone who is passionate about being a franchisee and who will work hard to provide brilliant classes for potential students in your local area. Be willing to work hard and show great organisation and learn new skills to support your business. Become part of the wider community of company directors and creatives to provide a super product and supportive work environment. 

What are your plans for the future?
To continue to grow our schools and operate extra classes and opportunities. Better streamline the admin process to further improve work-life balance with a smoother booking system for parents.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
We would take on an additional franchise that came available for sale and operate a Friday school.

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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