Case Study: Neil Collis


In the UK
  Business Type:
  Minimum Investment:
  Training Provided:
  Part time:

“I find that although my business is much bigger than the one I had previously, a lot of the headaches I had running a small business have disappeared.”

Name: Neil Collis
Location: Sevenoaks, Kent
Franchise: Ed’s Garden maintenance

Already running his own small gardening business and impatient for accelerated growth, Neil Collis joined Ed’s Garden Maintenance in December 2013 to run his own gardening business. Neil has made an exceptional start, overshooting his turnover target by more than £12,000 in his first year and still managing to take six weeks’ holiday. Neil reflects on how things have been for him so far as part of Ed’s. 

Neil Collis

Why did you go down the franchise route? And why did you choose your franchise?

I was already confident with delivering garden maintenance services and also had experience of running my own business, so it wasn’t really about managing risk for me – I guess it was much more about realising my potential. I was really driven to grow my business significantly and quickly in order to generate a comfortable lifestyle for my family, and was a bit frustrated about how difficult it was trying to get some ‘oomph’ behind a fledgling business. We have twin boys (now 4 years old) who have kidney disease, which means that they have a lot of hospital visits and time off school when they are poorly. It was really important for me to be able to develop a highly efficient and highly performing business that would give us security in our life but have the flexibility to accommodate our specific circumstances.

Having lived in New Zealand and Australia, where franchises are fairly popular, I had seen how successful franchised businesses can be, but also knew how important it is to choose the right one – you’ve got to feel that you are choosing the right one for you.

I knew I wanted to stay in gardening, as I love the healthy outdoorsy lifestyle, so I researched a range of gardening franchises but Ed’s really seemed to stand out from the others. It really impressed me that in my first phone call with the office I got to speak with Ed himself. I was struck by the slickness and professionalism of Ed’s right away, but at the same time I got a real sense of respect for the individual franchisee and the lifestyle they wanted to have. It was very clear that if I joined Ed’s the business would be mine, but that I would be given a lot of guidance and support to make it what I wanted it to be. That really resonated with me. The other thing that really impressed me was the fact that Ed’s strongly advocates building up businesses, and subsequently splitting them, to enable you to consolidate your business and release capital. Their business model works very well with this concept. This struck me as being really forward-thinking and fitted perfectly with how I hoped things would develop for me. To be honest I’d made up my mind by the end of the Discovery Day that Ed’s was definitely the right franchise for me.

What did you do before taking up a franchise?

I was already running a gardening business, although on a much smaller scale than the one I have today.

How did you raise the finance?

I raised the finance through a combination of a personal loan and savings.

What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?

The training at Ed’s is really great and starts pretty much from day one. You get both in-house and on the road training, which ranges from delivering the services, using the equipment and going out on the road with experienced operators, to drawing up your own business plan and of course getting up to speed on Ed’s bespoke management information system. This is called EdsJobs and it enables us to send invoices, schedule jobs, check expenses, access customer details, look at our P&L accounts and a whole lot more. In a nutshell, it makes running our businesses very systematic and significantly cuts down on admin time. In the early days you get a lot of training and support on this and once you have the hang of it, it’s a great tool for getting you on your way to running a slick and efficient business.

The training and support doesn’t stop there though. Supporting the franchisee is at the heart of Ed’s and continues as long as you are a franchisee. Ed’s management team really does everything they can to help you to be successful, whether that is helping you out with a practical technical issue on the system or talking through higher-level strategic issues with you. You get business reviews and business coaching even when you have been running your business for a long time, not just as a rookie franchisee. There are also lots of ongoing general training sessions and opportunities to get together with other operators.

What is a typical day for you as a franchisee?

I have the luxury of starting my day with a family breakfast all together and then getting the kids ready for school. Then my working day starts with checking on my EdsJobs which customers are booked in for that day, so I am completely on top of my schedule. I then meet with my team and get the vans loaded with the tools required for the day’s jobs. There is no such thing as a typical day, as the work and customers are very varied. However, generally speaking, a week could include three days mowing for two to three staff and maybe a couple of days of bigger type jobs, such as garden clearances, hedges, turfing or seasonal pruning and shrub cutting. The working day flies by and although we work hard there is real satisfaction from the physicality of the job. After we’ve shifted the day’s work, my team will get together again for a quick debrief, and once they’ve gone I’ll make sure my EdsJobs is up to date, quickly send out any invoices or quotes required and then the evening is mine for bath times and storytelling. I can switch off and relax knowing that everything is up to date and set up for the next day.

What challenges have you faced?

The biggest challenge I have had has been to keep up with demand for work – a very nice challenge to have! I now have two vans on the road, five days per week, for two full-time employees and myself. I’m now finding times when I could really do with another van and employee.

Managing the expansion of my business has been fairly straightforward – you can always ask for a steer on anything from the office. The main thing has been to have confidence that the demand for work would be there (which it always has) to justify the commitment.

Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?

I find that although my business is much bigger than the one I had previously, a lot of the headaches I had running a small business have disappeared. I don’t have to agonise over things like how to develop my own systems, how to market my business and how to manage customer enquiries when I am busy gardening. The result is that although I have a much larger business, I have more peace of mind and free time to spend with my family and be the hands-on dad that I want to be.

What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow your franchise?

As part of the Ed’s business model, a lot of marketing is done for you centrally. It is the business owners’ responsibility to complement that with their own local marketing. The combination of the two is very powerful – I can testify to that given the amount of work I have coming in. Locally, I use as well as local magazine ads and leafleting. Our branding on our vehicles is also pretty distinctive and I get a lot of work from people just seeing me out and about, as well as referrals from happy customers.

What differentiates your franchise from the competition?

We really do deliver what it says on the tin – our logo explicitly states “Prompt, Reliable, Efficient”. This is at the very core of Ed’s values and it starts from when the customer first contacts us to when we rebook the customer for their next job. It’s true that our systems and processes help with this. For example, Ed’s Call Centre handles all our enquiries for us in a very efficient way and then sends the details through to us by SMS while we are out working. This means we can always respond quickly and professionally to enquiries and does a lot to help us to get things off on the right footing with new customers. However, even more important than that is that Ed’s operators are genuinely inspired and passionate about delivering excellent customer service, and this tends to put us head and shoulders above the competition across our network.

In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?

Someone who really knows what they want to achieve and understands how to leverage the value of being part of a successful franchise operation. Someone who is prepared to work very hard to realise their goals and who is open minded to new ideas. Last, but certainly not least, someone who is very customer focused and feels really passionate about delivering excellent work, and is always prepared to go the extra mile for the customer.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of buying their first franchise?

Do a lot of homework up front. That way, when you make your decision you feel that you are in control and assured that you are making the right choice. The other thing I would say is once you have found the right franchise operation for you, jump in wholeheartedly and really go for it. Being part of a successful franchise operation is much more straightforward than going it alone, and you can then focus your energy on growing a really great business for yourself. Make the most of your franchise opportunity.

What are your plans for the future?

I find it hard to believe that my business is already at a point where I am ready to carry out my first business split. When I set out with Ed’s, I thought I would get to that point but really not this quickly. I’ve only recently kicked this off but am encouraged by a good level of initial interest. My immediate aim is to successfully complete this transaction and continue to grow my business with a view to doing the same thing again. In fact, I’m planning to keep splitting my business to build capital to fund a move to Cornwall and then I’ll start up a brand new Ed’s business down there. More family time by the sea will be the icing on the cake for us all!

Would you do it again?

Without a doubt.

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