The Evolution & Advantages of Mobile Based Businesses
Having been involved in a mobile franchise for the last 16 years, I felt I had a pretty good handle on what makes one successful – at least in our franchise system!
However, when I first started researching this topic to expand beyond V.I.P., I was struck by three things:
1 The range and variety of mobile franchises available.
2 The reasons suggested for buying a mobile franchise weren’t true!
3 The reasons for being successful were similar, no matter whether you were in a mobile or stationery franchise.
It shouldn’t have surprised me to discover mobile businesses have been around for many generations. Seventy six years ago, at the end of the depression years, my father, who was aged 11 at the time, helped his father with a milk run.
Firstly, milking the cow and then delivering milk in a bucket on the back of his bicycle before he went to school. He would ride around the neighbourhood leaving milk in the billy left on the verandahs or by the gates of customers.
My mother tells of the greengrocer delivering fresh vegetables and bread from his truck.
It is also not so many years ago that NZ Dairy Company (now Fonterra) franchisees were providing milk to your gate!
The difference, growth and innovation, the very sophistication we see in these businesses today is primarily due to the revolution called ‘Franchising’.
The business development and money invested into perfecting these businesses is from the expansion and investment that the founders have received through franchising their concepts and ideas.
VARIETY OF FRANCHISE OPPORTUNITIES
There are the traditional, well-known types of franchises that come to mind; taxis, couriers, and rural post deliveries – they deliver people or product from A to B.
Then you have the lawn mowing, gardening, cleaning, dog groomers, plumbers and electricians - they have to go the customer’s premises to provide a service.
Lastly, there are newer concepts including coffee vans, beauty, fitness, accounting, and carpet retailers. Not generally seen as mobile, these industries are now both meeting and creating a demand for their mobility.
One thing all the above have in common is they don’t operate from a fixed premise.
MOBILITY Vs FIXED
‘Tired of staring at the same four walls’? ‘Tired of working in the same place day-in and day-out’? ‘Tired of the same routine and same people?’ I’m sure you recognise these clichés and more! However, the real reason behind people’s interest in mobile franchises
is far simpler, but also more complex.
Flexibility was the number one key reason given for choosing a mobile franchise. Yes, control of your lifestyle, being rewarded for your efforts, being the boss, were all important, but to be able to ‘CHOOSE’ your schedules, routines, hours etc, were perceived as providing the greatest impetus.
Understand perception is reality. If you think you are in control – you will be in control. Many of the people I have spoken with talked about the hours they worked –ranging from 5am starts to working through the night.
This was something they never wanted to do when they were employed, but now as business owners, they were happy to!
Mobility means no set hours, no expensive premises, often no need to employ staff, lower overheads and the ability to work from home and/or a vehicle. Taking your business on the road also gives you the flexibility to change your day and adapt your lifestyle to suit your business needs.
It was the ‘flexible, stay at home partner’ who looked after the kids, took them to school, kindy or daycare. Now with mobile franchises the roles are more often than not shared.
The person who has to be at work at fixed times can leave the dropping off and/or picking up to their ‘mobile’ spouse and more often we are seeing the responsibilities split between them both.
Gone are days when you need to worry about picking up sick children from the daycare or school, attending a school sports day or even a loved ones funeral. There are those who think these things are just trite, but the constant worrying about having to have permission or worse still, be denied a request, is often a major contributor for people to look at alternative franchises.
We shouldn’t ignore the fact that many mobile franchises provide a great opportunity for working with your partner. While the children are small, we often see the dad full-time at work, but as the kids grow, so does the opportunity for the wife to work part-time then full-time in the business.
My husband John and I were involved in a pre-nail and truss manufacturing business. This involved operating from a fixed location and employing staff. We had three small children and the time came when we were looking for a change.
So many businesses we looked at were premises based. Retail, food, hospitality -some great opportunities - but these did not provide us with the flexibility we needed.
It soon became clear that instead of looking for things we wanted in a business, we had to make a list of things we didn’t want! For example, we didn’t want to employ staff, be locked into a lease, have to work seven days a week, be open to the public according to the dictates of a landlord/mall and have huge overheads and a huge investment only to earn wages in return.
This led us to the conclusion that a mobile franchise would suit and meet our needs best.
REASONS FOR SUCCESS
To successfully run a mobile franchise, you need to come to terms with the following:
1. Attitude: You are the person responsible for every aspect of the business; phone calls, delivery, customer service, pricing, sales and bookwork.
This can be overwhelming at times and not everyone has all the necessary attributes. However being pleasant, smiling and remaining positive in your business projects confidence, knowledge and professionalism.
The old saying, ‘you can teach skills but not attitude’ is so true. Give me any number of willing business owners over one who is experienced, knowledgeable and ‘full of themselves’.
2. Know your Limits: It is so easy to overestimate and under-deliver on expectations. If you cannot turn up on time, or supply a product or service, or you lack the skills to complete the job to the customer’s satisfaction, then don’t do it. Be quick to say sorry and apologise if you are wrong.
3. Presentation: First impressions do count. Your potential customer is judging you from the way you look, talk and even smell!
They will be deciding if they want to do business with you, if they will let you in their house or on their property –especially when it is a residential one.
They will also be looking at your vehicle – is it clean, well-presented and clearly sign-written. Your image is advertising how you will conduct and do the business!
You must give your customers a reason for doing business with you; make sure you become someone who is essential in their life.
Remember, you are driving a mobile billboard. Your driving and behaviour behind the wheel can make or break your business.
4. Be Organised: Time-management and organisation is vital if you want to enjoy the flexibility and life/work balance that mobile franchises can offer, from your home office, to your routines, to stocking your vehicle and delivering the goods or service. Time will be wasted if you don’t know the best routes, cluster customers geographically, have set times to attend to bookwork and follow-up action.
Set aside a room for an office, never work from the kitchen table as you will get interrupted or worse still, always find something better or more interesting to do.
5. Be Disciplined: Yes it’s great to work flexible hours, be able to be home after school, have long weekends, but you don’t have a boss to whom you are accountable. You must discipline yourself to get going in the mornings, or go out when its raining.
You need to have someone (maybe a partner or spouse) or a system of accountability, i.e. so many calls per day, so many services, etc before you can finish.
More often than not, self-employed people work longer hours in a week than those who work for a boss, the difference is we feel in control of the hours we are working.
6. Get Advisors: Don’t think because it is a small, mobile owner/operator business you don’t need an accountant, advisor or lawyer. You do. Your time may be better spent doing what you do well rather than trying to do your books when you hate figure work!
Ensure your accountant is more than a bean counter – make sure they understand your business and can advise you with strategic growth.
7. Due Diligence: Before you buy any business or franchise you MUST research and check it out first.
Get advice from the people who know the business. If you are looking at a lawn mowing franchise – talk to those who are doing it. Don’t ask the opinion of a courier driver, or a retailer or someone unrelated –they aren’t in the industry so they won’t be able to give you first hand knowledge.
Take your agreement to a lawyer for legal advice, an accountant to look at the figures and a bank to see if you can get the finance.
Most importantly, if you are looking at a franchise - only deal with franchise specialists. They understand the dynamics of franchise relationships. And lastly, only deal with franchise association members.
Estelle Logan, together with her husband John, are the NZ National franchisors for V.I.P. Home Services based in Manukau. Responsible for over 125 franchisees, they are assisted by regional masters who build and promote the brand in their territories.
V.I.P. has been awarded a total of nine Westpac New Zealand Franchise Awards since 2002. Dedicated to ensuring financial profitability, support and success for their franchisees has created a franchise system whereby franchisees trust and recommend this brand to others.
Contact Estelle at: