David and Michelle - Our journey with OPC
22 Jun 2015
It started towards the end of 2011.
I had been a deputy head teacher of a large comprehensive school for many years. The school was affected by reduced pupil numbers and, consequently, a reduced budget for the third consecutive year. I had the unenviable task of identifying further staff reductions to balance the books. After much pondering during half term I thought ‘what about me?’ and the search began to ‘scratch an itch’ that had been there for many years – could I be my own boss and take control of my own life?
Internet research led me to franchising. With absolutely no previous business experience, did I have transferable skills and the ability to ‘take control’? Franchising ticked the boxes I wanted for my future, could I take the next step and make this move? I learnt very quickly just how large the industry is and the vast range of options available to consider. Research brought OPC and greeting cards to my attention and the Swansea Franchise area was up for sale – my old home patch!
Contact with the company was easy, warm and welcoming. The MD was easily accessible and very willing to give time to answer my questions. My day at Elephant House was impressive, total openness and painting a clear picture.
After the Christmas break it was time for me to arrange the financial resources to purchase and grow the Swansea area (a virgin territory at the time). After a few weeks, agreement was reached and the purchase of Swansea happened on the 1st of May 2012. Over the next two years an account base of over forty stores was achieved and profits were re-invested into the business to enable growth.
During the second year I became aware that the Cardiff Franchise was going on resale (where I lived). My partner Michelle and I decided that, if I could sell Swansea, then we wanted to purchase Cardiff and run it jointly. At that time Michelle was a teacher of Welsh and also wanted a new future. We liked the idea of working together, a joint venture and challenge, with only ourselves to be working for and accountable to. This was a big change for Michelle but she was aware, from the Swansea experience, of what this would entail – freedom, flexibility, challenge, transferable skills, hard work but most of all ‘control of our futures’.
We could utilise our skills of communication, planning, target setting and customer service (all tools used in our lives within the teaching profession).
We knew that Cardiff would be a big challenge, but were excited by the potential and support that we knew we would get from OPC and our BDM. We were in absolutely no doubt that, with OPC’s backing, we could take control of our future and reap the rewards for our efforts.
We got the go ahead and set out on the path to our future. Now the serious business lay ahead!
We were about to work together in a totally different way, running a business of our own, knowing that you only get out what you put in. We were to become equal partners, each bringing our own experiences, skills and talents to a whole new world. Cardiff was very different from Swansea being a well-established franchise. There were many ‘pot holes’ in the road ahead as we were to find out and our communication skills and personalities were going to become very important in the successful implementation of our plans. We both knew the three steps that we needed to establish – Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How are we going to get there? Now to the planning! The plan was based on 3 four month sectors during our first year with the rewards becoming apparent during the third sector if we got Phases 1 and 2 right.
We reviewed Cardiff’s large account base (visiting several stores before purchase) and found a number of aspects needing to be addressed, enabling Phase 2/3 to proceed. These included, creating and maintaining retailer relationships with good customer service, updating the quality of their displays and cards and analysing the sales data in order to move forward. We were not overly worried about immediate figures and stats, it was about laying the foundations for the future.
We soon learnt how much we enjoyed working together. It was enjoyable and relaxed rather than being a commitment or chore. This has become a major factor in our success and our vision for the future. The first four months now completed we seamlessly moved on to the second phase – continuing to improve our stores and moving towards ‘How we are going to manage the area?’ and learning from any problems encountered along the way. The records and data created led us to a complete overhaul of merchandising rounds.
Phase 3 was the implementation of the new routes, frequency of calls, new accounts being ‘happy’ and the sorting of pricing which would improve our financial base and sales and perhaps, more importantly, make National Account arrangements more attractive to stores.
The test for Phase 3 was to see how our sales compared with the corresponding figures for the previous year. If our plans were working then the data would confirm it. Performance improvement started early with December showing a 25% increase, followed by 28%/27% in January/February respectively, 77% in March and 73% in April.
None of this would have been achieved without the support of staff at OPC and, particularly, Colin our BDM. On our part, a lot of hard work, often long hours, loads of fun and great customer relations. We now have a very clear idea of next year’s ambitions - better accounts and higher sales will take our business to the next level. We know that more ‘quality’ accounts and continued learning with the support of OPC and the BFA are key to future improvement.
Developing our relationships with the Buying Groups and our intention to be at the top end with our sales and service are also high priorities.
Do we regret the career change? – Absolutely not!
Do we want more? – Definitely yes!
Are we grateful for all the help and support from OPC staff which has led to this very successful year? – Definitely yes!
Have we enjoyed working together? – Definitely yes!
Given our respective professional backgrounds we would have no reservation advocating and advising others to seriously consider franchising as a career.
David Matthews and Michelle Smith, OPC Cardiff