Considering a career literally back on the Civvy High Street? What does it take to mind the shop and keep the till ringing?
Former Army Major, Dan Wilkinson currently runs five branches of a pizza delivery and takeaway company in and around Durham. At first glance this might seem a ‘left-field’ career change, switching from commanding troops to making pizzas on the high street. As Dan points out, however, both share one thing in common: people!
“Soldiers come from all walks of life and my 19 year Army career has equipped me with the skills I need to manage the 120 people I now employ across my Papa John’s outlets,” he explains. “This is a big part of the job for me. If they are prepared to show they are responsible, enthusiastic and give their best, I’m always prepared to give them that break, which is a particularly satisfying part of the job.”
Dan’s success proves an important point; don’t ever dismiss the idea of setting up your own high street business simply because you don’t fancy working on the shop floor. As a British Army Major, Dan was in command of a similar number of officers and soldiers, and was responsible for their training, welfare and administration both in camp and while on operations. Any organisational experience you have under your belt from your time in the Armed Forces means you have potentially, the kind of managerial skills needed to run a business rather than serve customers behind the counter.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
You’ve probably heard that the traditional retail sector is in a bad way, with government-appointed “High Street Tsar” Mary Portas in 2013 pointing the blame at soaring rents and rates, out-of-town retail parks, and the Great British public’s increasing preference for online shopping. Critics have so far dismissed government-backed pilot initiatives encouraging a renaissance in town centre retail, although it was always unlikely that a situation, developed over decades could be easily reversed overnight.
So, all doom and gloom? Actually, no. The most recent figures available from the Office for National Statistics (at the time of writing, for February 2014), are encouraging, with the UK’s overall retail sector continuing to show year-on-year growth (3.7%), with an average weekly spend of £6.6 billion (compared with £6.3 billion the previous February). Admittedly, the amount spent online has also increased year-on-year (by almost one eighth; 12.4%), but even some of the smallest shops on the high street now do at least some of their business online too!
Interestingly, according to figures issued by the Federation of Small Businesses this February, a significant proportion (almost half, in fact; 47%) of new retail businesses set up since the economic downturn in 2008 are owned and led by women. Many of these offer the kinds of customer service and experience which are essentially impossible to provide online; which may well explain the rise in the number of nail bars, beauty salons and hairdressers on the High Street — businesses often run by women principally for women.
Setting up your own business requires months of thought, research, planning and work – and that’s before you get anywhere near pulling up the shutter or opening your doors for the first time. While there’s plenty of invaluable support out there (see the list of organisations and websites at the end of the article, for example), your ultimate success or failure will be down to whether you can offer a service that a sufficient number of people want, so you can make a living from it!
Given all the risks and uncertainties, it’s no wonder that many people opt to buy into an established brand and a proven business model, becoming a franchisee. As a franchisee, you’re still working for yourself, but you’re not doing so alone, and that can make all the difference, as Dan Wilkinson – a Papa John’s franchisee — knows well.
“I was able to open five stores so quickly as I was fortunate enough to be able take advantage of some of the special franchisee incentive deals that Papa John’s offers,” Dan says. “This, combined with some private equity backing from people close to me who have also bought into the fantastic Papa John’s concept, will allow me to reach my goal of owning up to 20 stores.”
‘HARD WORK, BUT I LOVE IT!’
“I think if I had to describe the success factors of running multiple Papa John’s outlets I would say that firstly the people management is key,” Dan adds. “However, it is also essential the operation is absolutely consistent in its processes and staff training. Financial management and marketing are also critical ingredients and employing best practice and economies of scale across the portfolio is necessary.
“Papa John’s has enabled me to capitalise on my operational skills and the people management experience I gained in the Forces,” he says. “There is no doubt that it’s hard work but I love it! At our recent Durham store opening we organised a ‘pizza party’ giving away 200 free pizzas, balloons and an iPad. The queue was down the street! The buzz and atmosphere was amazing, all the staff were enthusiastic about the launch and we had a great time. I am excited about the future and opening more stores in the very near future!”
Significantly, many franchisors are well aware of the qualities the likes of Dan can bring to their brand. Just ask Anthony Round, Papa John’s business development manager: “Dan’s operational background gained from a successful 19-year career in the Army, plus his excellent leadership skills, makes him well placed to drive the success of multiple Papa John’s.”