Facing redundancy after 20 years in a senior role for a contract caterer, Hugh O’Neill decided it was time to invest in his own future.
Hugh put his redundancy payment towards the purchase of a Recognition Express franchise in 2010, and he’s set to reach his target ultimate turnover by 2022. When the time is right, he plans to put the business up for sale and enjoy the fruits of his labour during his retirement.
Setting up any kind of business in 2010 was challenging. The recession was in full swing, and demand for many of the promotional product lines supplied by Recognition Express was in decline. However, Hugh saw the long-term potential of the business and at the outset he focused on selling branded clothing. His catering experience told him that workwear would always be needed by small and large firms alike, even if they were cutting back spend elsewhere.
This strategy served him well for several years, and the business grew at a steady pace. But over the past two to three years, Hugh has also secured work with a couple of international conference organisers. With the upturn in the economy, the conference sector is one area that is booming, leading to regular large-batch orders for items such as lanyards, name badges and promotional goods. His forecast for year ending March 2019 is a turnover of £240,000, representing 37% growth.
From day one, Hugh knew that he wanted a ‘manageable’ business that he could comfortably run in partnership with his wife Mary. Some Recognition Express franchisees handle their own production, taking on industrial units and bigger teams of staff. This approach delivers better margins, but Hugh opted to outsource the production element of the business. Instead, he focuses on building and managing client relationships, channelling his energy into delivering exceptional service, which helps generate repeat custom. Mary looks after new business activity and the accounts.
It’s the inherent flexibility, scalability and durability that sets Recognition Express apart from other franchised businesses, according to Hugh.
“The breadth of the product offering, coupled with the option to outsource production or handle it in-house, makes it a very versatile franchise option,” he explains. “While there’s one core model, there’s a lot of scope for a franchisee to develop it in a way that suits their own ambitions, needs and areas of interest. For me, taking on the business in my late 40s, retirement was very much on the horizon and I’ve been working with that in mind. Other people have different goals and the franchisor can accommodate franchisees at both ends of the spectrum.”
When he took on the franchise, Hugh had a full week of in-depth training at the Recognition Express headquarters, followed by three days of one-to-one support at his own premises. Since then, he’s benefited from annual events for the entire franchise network, ‘drivers meetings’ for smaller groups of franchisees to explore business growth strategies, and ongoing site visits and mentoring from franchise owner Nigel Toplis.
“In the early days, I really appreciated the level of support from head office – I was working for myself for the first time in an entirely new industry,” Hugh continues. “Today, the support is just as valuable, but the emphasis has changed. I know the ropes, and I have learnt so much about how to nurture clients. But it’s always good to discuss business challenges and opportunities with likeminded people who have your best interests at heart.”
Hugh believes franchising is a solid and lucrative option for people who are prepared to do the work and follow the franchisor’s proven model. But he cautions that not all franchisors are equal:
“Do your homework, and don’t rush into a decision. You need to be absolutely sure that the franchise you’re investing in is credible, that the model is robust, and that you’ll have long-term support and guidance. If you have any doubts, keep looking. There are lots of franchise opportunities out there, so make sure you invest in the one that is best for you.”
Three heads are better than one for Recognition Express Scotland, enjoying an average growth rate of in excess of 10 per cent per year since 2014.
The breadth of the product offering, coupled with the option to outsource production or handle it in-house, makes it a very versatile franchise option. While there’s one core model, there’s a lot of scope for a franchisee to develop it in a way that suits their own ambitions, needs and areas of interest.Hugh O’Neill, Recognition Express Franchisee
In the early days, it was great to know we could call on head office with any queries. Even now we’re in touch with them or the wider network around six times a year. It helps you to keep perspective, and it’s an opportunity to find out about new ideas and learn from examples of best practice. Being in touch with the franchisor and other franchisees really motivates us.Moira Ashby, Recognition Express Franchisee
BFA Award Winner