Your Own Business: The Van Formula

The Van Formula

A ‘man and a van’ is just about as simple as a business can be. Add in a franchise brand to the formula and you might be on to a winner.

Not all Service-leavers are gung-ho or reckless with their resources and many are quite rightly risk-averse when it comes to looking at how they’ll use their lump sum after resettlement. It won’t last forever and they want to invest it wisely enough before it starts to get eaten away by ongoing, if small, expenses or by a misguided investment. In either of these cases a ‘man (or woman) and a van’ based business might be just the ticket.

Running a business isn’t easy and a lack of real-world business, retail or indeed, customer facing experience can be daunting even to Service-leavers with the ambition to strike out on their own. A van-based business has several things going for it that mean that it starts to look more attractive on closer inspection.

Firstly, it’s just a van. All you really need is a driving licence and some stock and you’re away. It’s a bit more complicated than that but the essential idea is only a small step up from that simple mental sketch. You won’t have to think about premises and are unlikely to need to worry about employing staff at such an early stage, so the simplicity of the business model fits the first time businessperson to a tee. Furthermore, the idea of jumping into a van and getting on with the job is pretty easy to organise: get your kit together and get out ‘on patrol’.

Different sectors to consider

Not only does a van-based business offer you the simplicity to get up and running quickly it also offers a vast range of sectors to work in. There are opportunities in lots of different types of business sectors to choose from that all lend themselves neatly to being van-based, including: manual or outdoor concerns such as gardening services or building, through to more technical or ‘minor emergency’ call-out businesses such as those connected with motor maintenance or those that simply see the van as a box on wheels, utilising it for delivery purposes.

If the equation of man in a van is an easy one to follow it’s only a small step to upsizing your potential success by becoming a franchisee. The essential franchise formula in this case would be man plus van, plus well-known branding association that the business owner pays for from the franchisor. Immediately, this gives the new franchisee an identity and ready-made product reputation. It’s the difference between offering a coffee in an everyday polystyrene cup compared with a branded Starbucks cup.

The power of ‘branding’ (the use of familiar brand names or logos) is well-known in helping to secure customers. The fact that they know exactly what you’re offering and at what kind of price-point has definite advantages and is often worth paying a licence fee for.

Protecting the business

Other advantages include the care with which the franchisor will look after you. In some ways, although you’ll have invested in the business, the franchisor has also invested in you as an ambassador. Every sales call or service you provide will be a reflection on the brand and will have some impact on its reputation (and future success). Brands take years to build up and so the franchisor needs to trust that you won’t ruin their hard work. Even on a local scale, some brands might have a grip on a particular marketplace that they don’t want to see damaged.

Once you’ve agreed to become a franchisee, the franchisor will not only kit you out with their branded van and probably a uniform but they’ll invite you to take on a training regime to bring you up to speed with the way the company operates and what its traditions and ethos are all about. Naturally, this is well worth listening to since the franchisor is effectively telling you the secret of their success – since to do so increases their yield from the profit share they’ll receive from your ongoing business.

Franchisors take their businesses very seriously indeed and it isn’t the case that you can simply rock-up and invest. The decision on the part of the franchisor isn’t just about money, it’s about you. Saying that, franchisors know very well that if there is a group of people with the sorts of skills and qualities they are looking for, they must be Service-leavers.

Chain of command

People with a Military background are actively sought by franchisors to take their brand name forward for several sensible reasons. Firstly, they realise that the Military environment works on a chain of command basis and that instructions (or orders) are sacrosanct. In other words the franchisor can have full confidence that you’ll be driving your van around – which is effectively a large brand poster and delivering the exact methodology towards service and supply that the franchisor expects. Whilst, of course there are moments when you’ll need to work off your initiative and indeed, when your business decisions will come to the fore, a franchise is a formula that has been proven to work. All you have to do is follow it.

The second reason is that, even though the brand will be well known; especially in your early days in a new territory, you’ll find yourself taking on other established firms. The answer to how to break into a market is simple: hard work. At least to start with, the hours are likely to be long and that’s before you’ve even managed to take on the actual job you’re doing. You’ll certainly need to put some miles on the road, visiting new prospects to find out what you need to do to get them to switch their business to you. Again, the reputation of Service-leavers means that franchisors can be confident of a day’s graft and of course, that thirdly, you won’t give up easily if it becomes difficult.

Another underrated attribute that you’ll have that will definitely stand you in good stead is people skills. It sounds a bit fluffy but as a mobile representative, you’ll meet a large number of people for different reasons and you’ll need quite a toolkit of people skills, from being welcoming and approachable through to being able to talk technical and of course, being persuasive enough to get people to want to buy your products.

Kicking off

The other upside of a van-based franchise is that you can kick off with a relatively low investment. There are van-based franchises available for an initial investment of around £10,000 although it is wise with any investment to carry out your own due diligence by chatting with existing franchisees about how they see things. Similarly, you might think about looking at the British Franchise Association (BFA) website to gain ideas on what to look for in an investment opportunity.

Generally speaking, because franchises tend to have a much better statistical chance of turning a profit you’ll find that banks are much more relaxed about lending to you. After all, they may well be familiar with the brand you’re aiming to take up and will realise that your chances for success are far better than starting from scratch.

Once you’re on the road, hard work and determination will be the order of the day to get you established and in time you might even expand to a point where you become a franchisor of say two, three or more vans. It’s all about the formula.


British Franchise Association

Franchise Direct

Van Franchise

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