A DAY IN THE LIFE... of a Clark Rubber Franchisee

By Phil Blain, Principal, Franchising Business Development Company

This article appeared in Issue 3#4 (May/June 2009) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand

Phil Blain of Franchise Alliance interviews David Griffin of Clark Rubber – Bendigo.

The first thing you notice when you have the pleasure of speaking with David Griffin is the aura of positivism that has no doubt contributed to his success as a franchisee of Clark Rubber. David simply oozes drive and passion, the latter being a word that will feature strongly in this article. I rang him on a Thursday morning and despite the fact that he was already busy he answered my questions most amicably as follows.

David, what did you do before becoming a Clark Rubber franchisee?

I had experience in running and managing a variety of businesses, most recently in a partnership arrangement in the industrial engineering supply sector. I have always been predominantly in sales and have a proud, yet hard won, reputation for being able to sell pretty much anything to anybody irrespective of age or gender.

When did you become a franchisee?

In 2001, after I had already managed the business for a period of 12 months. I had an incentive to build the business knowing one day it could be mine. In that 12 months I lifted sales by 20% and, since I have become a franchisee, we have tripled sales from the base I started with. Of course my staff have had a major influence upon this success; it hasn't all been me.

David, I find it interesting that you moved from self employment to franchisee. Most people I encounter seem to go the other way, entering franchising to gain experience and then perhaps moving on to self employment outside of franchising. Why did you become a franchisee?

Simply, because everything was already in place. I realised from my personal small business experiences that as a small business person there are numerous tasks to perform and nobody can be expected to be an expert at everything. Franchising gave me the opportunity to concentrate upon the selling aspects of my business and I don't have to worry about marketing or pricing or negotiating stock deals. All of these take considerable time, skill and effort that most small business people simply don't have.

How many staff do you have?

Apart from myself and my wife, Sherrill, who runs all the back office functions, we have six other people. I see my role as driving and training my team. There is no “I” in team and I believe in that sincerely. My staff must be happy and if they are not, we sit down and work through any issues until they are. If my staff aren't happy then I tell them they shouldn't work here. I believe very much in leading by example and spend much time on the floor of my business. Our staff are continually trained to cover as many functions within the business as they are capable of so we can cover each other. I am a committed trainer; it is a constant and never ending function of success.

Our staff rosters are staggered to ensure that no staff member works both days on a weekend. My staff are so important to me; I try and be as flexible as I can for their personal needs. What this usually means is that it turns out to be me that works any double shifts, but that's OK. Coping with retail hours is a challenge as they can be very draining; and I need to be constantly aware of being able to provide that passionate attention to customers. We often introduce other staff members to customers if they are seeking expert advice in a particular field; it makes sense to get the best person to serve each customer's individual needs.

What's a typical day?

We need to be in at around 8.30am to get the store ready for business before we open. I must admit I now have trained staff who can open up for me so sometimes I get in around 9.30am, depending upon what else I'm doing. A typical day is around 10 hours.

“Clarkie” the Clark Platypus character has a very high profile and added significant power to the brand, but being a regional operator do you get sufficient corporate advertising and what do you do at a local level?

We pay 5% of revenue to our National Marketing and Advertising fund and like most franchisees, I would always like more activity, but this takes the form of TV, radio and press. I commit to spending a further 1.5% of revenue on local area marketing in the same fields. The Support Office gives me the templates and I negotiate local deals. Sometime back we had sufficient flexibility within our system that for about 18 months Clark Rubber rebated 4.5% of the 5% for regional stores to manage their own localised advertising and marketing. This worked exceptionally well for me in Bendigo and contributed significantly to our success, but I am aware that other regional stores did not have the skills and time to maximise this opportunity, so Clark Rubber reverted back to managing the core corporate advertising for us.   

What other support does Clark Rubber provide for you?

I find the financial advice on items such as cash flow and benchmarking invaluable, but they assist in many other ways.

How has the Global Financial Crisis affected your business?

It hasn't yet really. We had a flat November but December to February was above last year and March should be too if we keep going as we are. Keeping my team happy and focused has a large part to play in this result; we don't like to listen to the tales of woe and misery from elsewhere and set our own targets and agendas. Of 28 stores in Victoria, we were the leading store for the last two years and are aiming to make it three in a row! All this when Bendigo has experienced severe droughts as well as detrimental economic issues and we are Clark Rubber's number one pool store! Keeping a positive frame of mind, attention to detail, providing passionate attention to customers and continual training are the keys.

Note: This was the second time David referred to “Passionate Attention” to customers, a phrase that every retailer in Australia would de well to adopt and commit to.

What fees do you pay David, and what were your ingoing costs?

We pay 5% of revenue as a royalty and as mentioned, 5% for Advertising and Marketing.  I became a franchisee 8 years ago so you should check with our web site or our Office in Melbourne, but it's at least $300,000+ as owning a Clark franchise is a substantial business.

David, I hear you have an interesting telephone policy?

Well I do what works for my business and it's quite simple. I believe if someone is in the store, I will not leave them to answer the phone unless they suggest it's OK. If someone is physically in front of me I have a chance of selling them something, whereas 99% of phone calls are merely enquiries and most unlikely to result in a sale there and then. We do have an answering machine that kicks in so we can get back to unanswered callers promptly. Some stores have a policy that a phone must be answered within four rings, but I don't believe that is always the best policy.

If you had your time over again would you still be a franchisee of Clark Rubber?

Certainly. Without hesitation as I am very happy.

If you were Chris Malcolm, Managing Director of Clark Rubber, what would you change in the system?

This is a hard question as the support is very good but I would like a bit more personal contact. We have a Franchise Advisory Council that works well and I have served on that too, but I think as a passionate, positive, constructive and long standing franchisee I have much to offer. The chance to sit down with a few other like minded and experienced franchisees and the team in Melbourne would be most beneficial for all of us. This is nothing major - just to iron out a few bugs. I have discussed this with Chris Malcolm and he is currently entertaining the idea.

Do you have Clark Rubber products at home?

Oh yes of course! Our pool products are all Clark Rubber and even the mattress I sleep on is a latex Clark mattress, so when I talk to customers I can genuinely say I use and like the products myself. This adds substantial credibility to the sales process. 

Thanks David for this inspirational chat. I will never forget “Passionate Attention to Customers”.