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Diversifying business interests


Many such people choose the franchise route into running their own business because it seems an easier first step than setting up their own business from scratch. However, Martin Smith from Edinburgh seems to have taken the reverse approach. “I’d been running my own courier delivery business for nearly 10 years when I decided to take up a Jani-King franchise,” admits Martin.

Martin explains that he wanted to diversify his business interests because the margins in the courier industry are not as good as they were. His courier business runs itself now, and, with an operations manager and senior driver leading the team, he is able, almost, to take a back seat. Martin found he was bored, with too much time on his hands. “There is only so much daytime TV you can watch before your brain turns to pulp!” he jokes.

So Martin decided he needed to find another business outlet which he could run alongside the courier concern. Martin felt that going with a franchise for his second business would offer the best utilisation of his available time. He researched franchising for about 18 months before coming across Jani King.

Whilst a number of people are put off by the idea of working in the cleaning sector, once again Martin went against the trend. “I was looking for an industry that wasn’t just a fad,” he reveals. “Whilst cleaning isn’t the most glamorous sector, there’s truth in the old saying “Where there’s muck there’s money!” After Martin had looked at a variety of companies in the sector, he chose Jani-King because it was large, professionally-run and seemed to have all the attributes he needed.

Getting Started

Martin has realistic expectations about his Jani-King business, given that he can allocate to it about 70% of his work-time. He wanted to build up a reasonable level of turnover and set himself a profit target from his original investment. When he started the franchise in February 2005, growth was slower than he expected, but he reached his target within 18 months and is now turning over £20,000 per month.

Another of Martin’s aims was to reach a point where he would be only managing the business rather than doing any of the cleaning himself. He believes he is almost there, having put in place a team of 20 part-time cleaners, two supervisors and one mobile cleaner. This leaves Martin free to focus on making customer visits, building relationships and checking quality. He is also at the end of the phone should any issues arise.

Like many Jani-King franchisees, Martin agrees that it’s important to know how to do the cleaning work yourself, rather than trying to delegate everything right from the start. “You can’t be fussy about getting your hands dirty,” the straight-talking Scot declares. “You need to be prepared to put your hand down a toilet, otherwise you’re in the wrong business!” The plus side of hands-on involvement is that Martin knows exactly how long it takes to clean each of his customers’ premises. “It means I can tell the cleaners – “Yes it IS possible to do the job in that time” when they complain I’m pushing them too hard,” he reveals.

Support from Jani-King

When you ask Martin what the differences are between running his own courier business and running his Jani-King franchise he admits “Not much!” Then he continues, “Profit margins are lower than with your own business, but then you get training and other help provided, so there are trade-offs.” For example, Jani-King gives its franchisees administration and accounting support through its Financial Management System. “They do regular reviews of your business and analyse how you are doing,” enthuses Martin. “They can pinpoint where you are falling down – it’s like having your own management accountant, something no small business could afford by itself.”

Martin also finds the Jani-King network of franchisees a good place to turn to when he has a problem. “I just pick up the phone and ask them if they’ve ever had that particular issue,” declares Martin. “The answer is always “Yes” and you get some really good tips in the process.”

Martin feels he came into the business “with eyes wide open”. As a seasoned businessman, he hasn’t expected Jani-King to nurse him through growing his business, unlike some, more novice, franchisees. “I came into this thinking I would do it on my own, with just a bit of guidance,” he discloses. However, Martin knows that the Jani-King head office team is there for him and he does ask them for help when he needs it. He also found their initial training programme invaluable.

Work Hard or Work Clever?

“Anyone who thinks a franchise is an instant route to success, with no hard work involved, is wrong,” claims Martin. “You’ve got to put the effort in.” He explains that he was prepared to write off three years of hard work in order to achieve his aims, and now, two years down the line, he feels he is just about there.

Martin works long hours – about 55 per week – but he doesn’t think of these as “ridiculous”. This includes the work he does for his courier business, so he is spending just under 40 hours a week on Jani-King – not bad for a turnover of around a quarter of a million a year!

Martin’s hands-on working day is finished around 10.00 am, leaving him the rest of the day to fit in back-office duties such as recruitment (which he sees as a constant process), administration, and wages. “I’m not a workaholic,” says Martin, “I know I can work hard if I need to, but I prefer to work clever”.

Now he has spare time to spend with his family (he and his wife have three girls aged between 2 and 15), and to indulge his sporting passions. Martin was a keen footballer until recently when his legs decided they had had enough. Now he plays tennis and enjoys football from the sidelines, supporting either his local team, Hibernian, or the Scottish national side.

Customer is King

Martin Smith’s background is in sales, and that is apparent when he lists his success in bringing in his own cleaning contracts. Although more than 50% of Martin’s clients have come from Jani-King’s central sales force, he has a much higher than average success percentage from his own endeavours.

Martin has currently around 30 clients, including Tenpin, Monsoon, River Island, Bellhaven Pubs, Oasis, Avis. More recently, he brought in a new contract himself for a top US retailer, Brook Brothers of New York, which has just set up a flagship store in Edinburgh’s most prestigious shopping venue, George Street.

Apart from his business experience, sales is clearly the one skill Martin has brought to his Jani-King franchise from his previous working life. He has always been in the service industry and believes in demonstrating to customers that he cares about them by giving them a high level of service.

Where to Now?

Although Martin is well on his way to achieving his initial objectives for the business, he still has further aims for the future. “I’d like to continue to grow, but at a controlled rate,” he clarifies. “I don’t want to double the business in the next three months and end up working all hours and getting stressed.” Saying that, it’s hard to imagine Martin Smith getting stressed. He describes himself as “a very laid-back person” who can take an objective view of what’s happening in his business life.

“I’d like to maintain my existing level of management in the business, whilst seeing it grow,” continues Martin. “I have the best profit margins in Jani-King UK, and it’s my aim to keep these margins whilst building my turnover steadily.” Martin knows that to grow the business he will need to invest further in it, but he has that planned and knows exactly what percentage of his turnover will need to be ploughed back. “As long as I can retire by the time I’m 55 – or before is possible – then I’ll be happy!” laughs Martin. With his track record to date, he seems to be right on course to hit or even exceed that goal.