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Franchisee discusses inspiring approach to franchising for International Women's Day


  • Name: Huriyya Durrani
  • Location: Southampton
  • Franchise: Heavenly Desserts
  • Date launched the franchise: September 2021

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing prior to buying your Heavenly Desserts franchise business?

For the 10-12 years prior to becoming a franchisee, I worked in logistics for various companies as a supply chain manager or project manager in the field of AI technology and software. I’ve always been interested in controlling the future systems that we implement. I also worked in customer service, so I have that HR experience too.

I never really imagined that I’d dive into the jungle of entrepreneurship, but I’ve always had a real passion for people, and have enjoyed managing teams in leadership roles. During Covid, my husband and I had time to think about what we wanted from life, and we decided that we wanted to open a business together. Since then, the soft skills around people and leadership have translated to business really well.

In terms of my personal life, I had my second child three weeks ago and I’ve been a working mum since 2018, and I find that being a franchisee really allows me to be flexible with my time – I would never consider going back to a 9-5 now!

Please tell us about Heavenly Desserts

Heavenly Desserts is an international premium dessert franchise with exceptional customer service, a lovely ambience and a clear brand message – all desserts are “made with love”, and that’s something that really resonated with me as someone who puts so much time, energy and passion into my work.

Why did you go down the franchise route? What made you choose the dessert industry? And why Heavenly Desserts?

I felt the franchise model offered the perfect balance of support from a head office that you can rely on, that would take away some of the burdens of starting a new business, and already had a solid blueprint of success in place. On the other hand, it also provides the opportunity to be autonomous and make decisions about your restaurant, as every Heavenly Desserts is slightly different to the next.

The Heavenly Desserts model specifically really clicked for both me and my husband. The technology systems they had in place made it a really attractive option due to my career background. Dessert has always been my favourite part of the meal as an avid baker and cook, so the F&B industry was a logical step. Having spoken to other franchisees involved in Heavenly Desserts, I got a sense that they felt happy and supported, whereas I’d heard less positive feedback from friends in other franchise businesses.

On a wider level, I also wanted to be able to create jobs for others in society as well as growing my own capabilities, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to go down this route! I’m so glad that I did.

How did you raise the finance?

We were in a fortunate position of having personal savings from both mine and my husband’s careers. Once we knew we wanted to open a business all we had to do was find the right fit for us.

What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?

Our area manager Nicholas Gemmel was an incredible support from day one and allowed me to navigate smoothly through the start of our Heavenly Desserts venture, but also through my own journey as a businesswoman. He was always someone we could rely on night or day, from questions around staff, to store promotions and more. We are so grateful to him for the initial support and now that the torch has been passed to Wesley Williams, he’s an equally rock-solid person in our lives who we know will be our sounding board as we look to achieve our future goals.

The best thing for us is that the head office team is really easy to access, and the managing directors Yousif Aslam and Mohammed Imran are always there for us – even responding to and resolving issues for us themselves when needed.

All of our staff are trained in the same way from the get-go through our Flow HR software, and this is supplemented by ad-hoc training sessions along the way. We also have quarterly meetings to discuss our goals and progress, and we do feel that Heavenly Desserts has an exceptional blueprint for training and support.

How would you describe your day-to-day role as a franchisee

At the beginning, I was very physically involved in every part of the job day-to-day – kitchen, service, admin, you name it. However, now that we’ve set up a really strong team, it allows me to focus on sales, expanding my network, and providing services to the local community.

My general routine is based around childcare and the local community, as Southampton itself tends to come alive at 2pm. This means I have from 6am-2pm with my family, and the rest of the day is spent working. I love being in-store and amongst the team, but we have an inventory system in place and lots of our accounting is automated, which means I can analyse our figures easily from home.

We also regularly pilot new software for head office before it gets rolled out across the estate, including the Heavenly Desserts app. We’re often in contact with Chris Conaghan, business and operational development manager at the brand, and really enjoy being able to shape the future processes at the company alongside him.

Provide information on challenges overcome as well as your key successes to date.

Our main challenge has been around increasing sales amid the storm of uncertainty. With the cost of living crisis and many global catastrophes since we launched in 2021, the hospitality industry has been dealt a huge blow. We were particularly alarmed when we saw six stores on our road close down in November 2022 due to rising energy and rent costs, and we didn't like this stress trickling down to our staff.

I consider our resilience one of our main successes, and I’m proud to say that we remained strong, didn’t lose faith in our abilities and managed to ride the storm. In January 2023, we saw a shift in mindset with more customers coming back. Hospitality is so hit and miss, but you just need to stay consistent and do the best you can to move forwards.

Another key success for me is that we have a really low staff turnover, showing that we’re giving the right support to our team. One of our staff members recently told me he wanted to work for us for the rest of his life – and that’s a real source of pride for me.

Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?

It definitely has changed my life for the better and helped me to grow. The 9-5 wasn’t doing enough for me mentally, and becoming a franchisee meant that I could become a business owner myself as well as growing my skillset with the tested tools and training from head office. It also allows me to be flexible around my children and work from anywhere, so it’s the perfect combination for me.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

The management team of my restaurant are my backbone and I’m so grateful for them – they are the key to my work-life balance and give me my sanity. They are so dedicated, hardworking and are united behind a common goal, which allows me to put my trust in them.

I feel I’ve achieved a really good balance between working from home and being in-store when the personal touch is needed. At the end of the day, my restaurant is my baby, so I want to be in-store as much as possible around my children.

Are you a multi-unit franchisee?

We’re considering another Heavenly Desserts restaurant when the time and place works, but my pregnancy has been my focus in recent months. Watch this space once I’m back from maternity leave!

If you have staff, how do you retain your best staff and keep morale high and productive?

Every employee is different with unique needs, styles and skillsets. It's important to understand that you need to tailor your approach, and give the right emotional, mental and skills-based support. I prioritise a heavy personal touch as well as creating an environment of respect for one another.

We are in a very different time to our parents’ generation, and millennials and Gen Z workers get a really bad reputation. In reality, their needs are just different, and with the right amount of reassurance and re-enforcement, they’re brilliant workers.

We also have professional motivators such as employee of the month and performance-based incentives. For example, if we hit our quarterly target then we organise team building activities, such as paintballing and bowling. I regularly assess the effectiveness of the incentives in place as I don’t just want to offer things if they don’t work, I want to make sure it resonates.

Can you tell us about any community involvement, including any local partnerships, incentives or charity work you are involved in? 

We have a really good relationship with a local flower shop, so every Saturday they decorate the restaurant with fresh flowers and a few big bouquets with some business cards. We often run collaborative discounts when buying from both stores, and Valentine’s Day was quite successful!

Charity work is very close to my heart being part of my faith, and we donate a portion of our profits to an orphanage in Pakistan, where my second-grade teacher works to support local children.

The University of Southampton’s Sikh Society and South Asian Society have also reached out to us for partnerships in the past, and student-led partnerships are something that I'm keen to develop next.

What is the most invaluable piece of advice you could give someone looking to buy their first franchise?

Firstly, business is all about people, and franchising is no exception. It’s very important to understand that before starting out, but also to have a genuine passion for what you’re selling so that you’re able to ride the storm when times are tough.

Specifically for women looking to go into franchising, I would say that you are the multi-taskers of the world, so be the go-getter that you want to be. Don’t think of yourself as any less than a man in the world of business and don’t hold yourself back.

In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?

Success can mean different things, but success for me is when I see a loyal customer coming back for the tenth time to have their favourite dessert. We also do see regular customers from cruise ships as we’re based by a port, so the fact that we’re growing international recognition and that people remember the specific names of our products is a huge marker of success for me.

Success can also be measured in the growth of a fantastic team, and staff retention is an important sign of a successful business.

I think the ultimate success for me would be if one of my children were to say that they wanted to follow in my footsteps and become a business owner. My grandma has always been my idol as she was a first-generation Pakistani woman to own a boutique in Chicago, and now it’s my goal to be that role model in my family.

What are your plans for the future?

After getting my feet back on the ground after having my child, my plan is simple: growth. In any way. This could be opening a new restaurant, or growing my skills personally – so long as it’s going in the right direction!

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would take a much more hands on approach during the process of opening the restaurant, right from that initial contact with the builders. Your whole investment depends on the build, so I would have used this as an opportunity to learn more.

Interested and want to know more about Heavenly Desserts?

The Heavenly Desserts 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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