Richard Swayne is proof that in franchising if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Joining a network of almost 400 franchisees aged 26 when he started his Snap-on business in January 2014, remarkably he ranked first for sales in the country at the end of his very first year.
Proving it was no fluke, he proceeded to grow his business 20 per cent in his second year, taking on employees and again topping the Snap-on sales charts. He was named the British Franchising Association’s (BFA) young franchisee of the year in 2015 thanks to his incredible business performance.
An inspiring individual for any young entrepreneur, Swayne let us in on the secrets to his success and why he doesn’t understand how more young people aren’t looking into franchising as a viable career option.
How old were you when you launched your franchise and what were you doing before?
I started off within a Ferrari specialist. It was a family-run business so I got to learn some of the different aspects of day-to-day operations of a business of that size.
It led me to think, “I could run a business myself”. It got me thinking about what I should go in to. I’d always been interested in Snap-on, it’s always been advertised in the catalogues in the motor trade.
My Snap-on dealer Adrian, who I was friendly with, told me an available local area was coming up. He put my name forward to take the franchise. I thought it would be a good idea to work with him as the primary dealer first, gain experience from him before doing it myself – make sure it was the right choice for me.
I started in September 2012 with him, and within 18 months, in January 2014 and aged 26, I took over myself – knowing it was the right decision to go forward. That’s where I am now.
How did it feel when you set out on your own? Was it scary and/or exciting?
Because I already had experience and had that year-and-a-half or so with him, it was like going out on a normal day. It wasn’t scary, it was just like carrying on as I normally did. The way I worked for Adrian, I ran it like it was my own business anyway.
So that really helped you when you launched?
Yes, definitely. Adrian left me to it, chucked me in the deep end. But obviously having the support of Snap-on there, with the managers on hand, I learned how to swim pretty quickly. So when I went out there on my own in January, it was just like going out the next day – except it felt brilliant because I was able to make purely my own profit on everything I was selling.
You mentioned the support, how important has it been to have that back-up of head office and other franchisees?
I’m quite an independent person, I don’t like relying on other people. It’s nice knowing Snap-on are there, but there is a degree of having to use your own initiative. I’m one of those that likes to get on with it and learn myself.
That’s reflected in your results – at the end of year one, how did you stand compared to the rest of the network? And year two?
I finished off my first year as first in the UK in sales. I got three awards: Best UK Newcomer, top sales in the South East, and overall for the UK.
Going into 2015, things got even better. Sales went up 20 per cent on the previous 12 months. I’ve got a second van now, so I’m in a different league table, but I’m still doing very well.
How does a 26 year-old, launching his own business for the first time, finish top of a network of around 400 franchisees in his first year?
Knowledge. You can never have enough knowledge, I’m constantly learning. You’ve got to open your mind to everything. You’ve got to learn about the different types of people you’ll meet, and learn about running a business.
Snap-on have got a fantastic programme teaching franchisees to to sell and managing a business; the programme is called customer-driven selling and it works, if you follow it. The key is knowledge; you can never know too much.
So you’re driven to understand both your customers and products, know everything about both?
Yeah – listen to your customers, learn about your customers, what makes them tick and what products do they need. It’s matching your products to your customer, that’s what it’s all about.
The system and structures in place are one of the reasons to start a franchise, so from your perspective, the idea that it’s tried and tested and you’re left with what works is working for you?
The model is perfect, if you follow the model you’ll meet the expectations of Snap-on. But without blowing my own trumpet, to get the results I’ve achieved you have to put your own twist on things too. Snap-on will show you the template, adding your own initiative means you can go even further.
Do you think that’s an advantage that younger franchisees can bring with them – they may not have the experience of running a business but bags of ideas and enthusiasm and passion for what they’re doing?
Definitely. If you’ve got passion, enthusiasm – and I mean passion for business, to make money, as well – you will thrive in this market. You’ve got to have that drive.
Have you ever felt your age to be a problem, either with clients or with running the business?
If anything it’s helped me. Because of the customers that we’re dealing with, the majority that spend the most money, are the young apprentices coming through; the people my age. The older generation tend to have all the tools, they might buy the odd thing here and there, but because I’m younger I get on with the 18-40 year-olds a lot better.
So you can relate to your customers a lot better?
Definitely. The things we’re talking about, socially and so on, we’re on a similar level. And I think they kind of look up to me, “He’s doing well, I want to be part of that, let’s get on board.” When you start posting on Facebook, they’re engaging with that.
With social media, do you think you have an advantage because of your age, you’ve effectively grown up as they have so do you understand their business potential better?
Without a shadow of a doubt. My biggest problem is finding time to update social media! That’s why I’m building my team – I’m getting an assistant soon who can help me with that. I think it’s so crucial. You only have to look around town at the weekends, all you see are people on their phones. Nine times out of 10, they’re flicking through Facebook. It’s a massive thing for business.
It’s good for Snap-on as a whole too, the word spreads on those platforms, it’s good for the brand.
Can you help other franchisees with that, as well as getting things back off them with more experienced “hands”?
Not everyone from the older generation is rolling with the times as far as social media goes, so yes they like to know – they ask me, “What are you doing to get those sales figures?”
So this is more established businesses, older franchisees, coming to you and saying “Richard, you’re doing amazingly, what’s your secret?”
I’d like to jump on another van sometime to see what they do differently. All I do is run a business and have high customer service levels. If you look after people, they’ll look after you. I can’t understand people not choosing to do that.
In terms of home life, how does running the business balance with having a young family?
I became a father nine months ago. With it being my own business, it’s really flexible. You can start when you want, leave when you want. It’s down to you. I was able to give myself the week off when my baby was born.
As the business grows, that’s even more true. I took on an employee for my second van in July last year, and I’m planning a third van halfway through this year. The workload is increasing and, conscious of home life, that’s why I’m employing an assistant who will be there to help with my van and the other two, which will free up more time and help me increase business.
Do you think franchising offers serious opportunities as an alternative to traditional employment for younger people? How do we reach more of them?
I can’t understand why more young people aren’t in franchising. You hear about lack of employment, well the franchises are out there, if you can’t find a job then why not get out there yourself and make your own career running a business? It’s just beyond me.
You hear graduates not being able to find jobs, I can’t understand why they’re not looking at franchising. The average starting salary for a graduate is around £24,000 I think. In my first year I was making more than £40,000.
You’ve mentioned taking on more people for your team this year. Do you see yourself at Snap-on for the long-term?
I’m always looking for a challenge. That’s just me, I always need that next step otherwise I’ll get bored. At the moment Snap-on are giving me everything I need, the opportunities are there. The first, second, third, fourth and fifth van, so it’s “How big can I go?” They’re not stopping me at three vans.
I should think not!
They might stop me when I’m running all 400!
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