Franchising ยท 22 February 2016

Franchise startup stories: Part 3 ? Family-run business Wilkins Chimney Sweep

Wilkins Chimney Sweep
Wilkins Chimney Sweep: A franchise since 2010
In our third and final startup tale from the world of franchising, Business Advice sits down with owner and co-founder of Wilkins Chimney Sweep, Louise Harris.

Established in 1895, Wilkins Chimney Sweep is a business that has been handed down through consecutive generations in the same family ever since. The decision to franchise the firm was made in 2010, by the current owners: husband and wife team Peter and Louise Harris. The company now has ten trading franchisees across the country.

As the only franchised chimney sweep to have been accredited by the British Franchise Association (BFA), the company has no direct competitors in franchising. Louise Harris told Business Advice about the reason behind choosing that particular route to business growth.

?Peter and I were franchisees before we started Wilkins Chimney Sweep, so we had an understanding of how franchisees might be feeling, both before they buy and when they are on board,? said Harris. ?When we started we used a consultant to build the model with us and a great franchise solicitor. This positioned us really well when we launched.?

Harris considers franchising to be her area of business expertise. Having served in BFA membership committees for the last two years, she was appointed to the board of the organisation in December 2015.

Hailing from such a niche and quirky industry, Harris sees franchising as the key to the success of Wilkins Chimney Sweep. ?It would not have been possible to get where we are without fully engaging with the franchise world. We looked at all the options for growth and found this to be the only one that gave us suitable protection for the brand and offered something to the franchisee.

Wilkins Chimney Sweep 2

?Franchising does have a dark side. It?s sad when some franchised businesses act unethically, but every industry has its rogues. I love the industry because it?s collaborative and there is always someone to help if you need it,? she added.

The Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise model sees 10 per cent of franchisee income go back to the franchisor. The Harris?s considered a flat fee but wanted a mutually beneficial relationship, whereby franchisees knew that it was in both party?s interests for their business to grow, and they weren?t just left to their own devices.

Harris went on to say: ?Many sweeps trade as one-man-band and part time sweeps. They do it for the busy season only and don?t look to drive a year round business as we do.?Using a franchised tradesman however gives the customer an extra layer of comfort as there is someone else to be held accountable to. We?ve used sole traders and if things go wrong it can be a nightmare getting any sort of resolution.?

The business has seen strong growth but the process of franchising has not been without its problems. Booking tradespeople in distant towns has proved tricky, and the company books in clients way ahead of time, so that if someone falls ill, it?s a problem. Also, the Harris?s were met with resistance from the sweeping trade association that Wilkins Chimney Sweep is a part of, eventually being asked to leave.

?We joined the Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps and they have been really supportive so our franchisees can still join the association. It also only works if you are willing to take a commercial approach to chimney sweeping,? added Harris.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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