Franchising – All You Need Is A Van

Franchising isn’t all about huge fast food chains with big premises, high staffing costs (and a massive initial outlay). All you really need is a head on your shoulders and a van. Here’s how…


Man and a Van’ – surely the simplest business set up of all time. A van full of kit, a man and his skills, driving round, doing the business. That’s it. This stripped down business model has proven highly successful for countless first time franchisees and amongst them Service-leavers.


The usual man and a van model is based around a simple job that needs specific skills to get done, usually with minimal staff using specialist kit and is mobile enough to go from site to site. The skills required can be as simple as cleaning wheelie bins or gardening up to automotive repairs and the like. The choices for franchisees looking to start small in this way are endless.


Former Royal Engineers Corporal, Andy Darby, told Civvy Street about his own story, saying: “Before I left (the Forces) I’d already decided that I was going to work for myself in some way, shape or form. I had pretty limited knowledge of what exactly was available but franchising was top of my list anyway. Before I left I went to a franchise exhibition, originally intending to look at something like the windscreen repair companies I’d seen floating around.


I happened across ChipsAway; they had a pretty good stand up there. I changed my mind when I saw those guys.”


Franchising suits ex-Service personnel very well. The usual scenario is that an individual might leave with a lump sum in their pocket whilst still being of an age where retirement (and state pension) certainly isn’t an option. What they need is a suitable place to invest their cash and a way to make some money once they’ve resettled. Starting up a business is a possibility but at the same time, it’s no secret that in a time of economic uncertainty it may not be the best move. A franchise, on the other hand has plenty going for it.


The franchise has everything that a business strives for, and that’s the point. If a new start survives it’s sapling years it still has to develop a brand identity that will attract customers and be able to compete in a harsh economic season, such as the one we currently find ourselves in. To be specific, a franchise brand will already be well known (and trusted to supply a product or service well and as a good value proposition) helping enormously with drumming up trade and freeing the franchisee from having to ‘sell’ the idea of switching supplier to you by outlining unique selling points and so on.


Finding and converting business leads is part of the franchising role, since your business, within the franchise, cannot grow without them, but brands become brands through knowing their markets and will pass such knowledge on to you. Your franchisor has seen the best and worst of the market and will not only be able to show you how to convert the leads but may also have the clout to advertise in the press or on television, just as ChipsAway do. Part of the fees payable to the franchisor go into a pot for exactly this type of ongoing purpose.


For a man in a van franchise, the lion’s share of the outlay is for the vehicle. This is usually leased, as you would a shop premises, although it’s far cheaper. The cost of a van will depend on the make and model as well as the kit (and/or stock it carries). Franchisors will be able to give you an idea of specific numbers on application but certainly it’s a popular move with ex-Forces people so you can be confident that there’ll be an opportunity in the sector suitable for your own budget. If your lump sum doesn’t quite cover it, some franchisors or banks will lend you the remainder of the start-up capital. (The fact that you are ex-Services and have a brand name behind you will be favoured by the banks and if funding is available from the franchisor, this will tether them to aiding your success!). “I think at the time, with franchising, there was such a vast number of them out there – some of them quite cheap and some of them extremely expensive,” remembers Andy, adding, “I wasn’t exactly rich or anything so there was an affordability factor included as well”.


After the set up it’s a question of hitting the road and finding the business. As with all new businesses, this will mean graft as you set up your operation and get a feel for the ‘need’ around your patch. Although you decide how to run your own business, you have the advice and support of the franchisor to hand. Naturally, given that you’re flying their flag, they’ll want you to do things properly and whilst they will want you to think for yourself there will always be at least a few obligations that you have to carry out to preserve the integrity of the overarching brand.


This support means that you’re free to plough your full energies into making your new business a success. This can even take you to the point of becoming a franchisor yourself and supervising new franchisees through the initial stages as you once did.


Man and a van franchising is about selecting something that suits your skills and experience as well as, where possible, something that you can get enthusiastic about. The rest of the starting process is about listening and learning from those that have done it and made a success of it before you.

For Andy, franchising was also a neat way to get into an area that interested him, saying: “I’ve always been a fan of cars, so the idea of doing something that appealed to me helped. If I was going to do something by myself, enjoying it was going to be a big part.”


Small franchises grow at the rate of your own confidence and ambition, knowing full well that there is always support and advice available to you.

Andy is clearly satisfied that he made the right decision. Part of that was making sure that the process he went through before settling on ChipsAway was thorough. His advice is simple: “Any time anyone’s ever asked me for advice, I’ve always been honest. I tell them to do their research well. I know that lots of the guys that are getting out (of the Forces) are coming away with good golden handshakes and I’d hate to see it squandered. So just do as much research as you can and not necessarily through the franchisors – approach people independently too. Get as much honest information as possible.



British franchise Association:



Pullout 1: To be specific, a franchise brand will already be well known (and trusted to supply a product or service well and as a good value proposition) helping enormously with drumming up trade.