Steven and Estelle Sykes launched their Ovenclean franchise in June in 2015 and although they have faced some challenges along the way they are thoroughly enjoying the benefits of owning their own business.
Steven and Estelle Sykes launched their Ovenclean franchise in June in 2015 in the Barnsley area. Both Steven and Estelle held great jobs and were successful in their careers, but they wanted a better work life balance - something that they could achieve through owning an Ovenclean franchise. Although they have faced some challenges along the way, 18 months on Steven and Estelle are thoroughly enjoying the benefits of owning their own business and are seeing huge demand for their service!
Steven worked in international banking for 35 years and has both lived and worked in several countries around the globe, achieving Executive Director status before finally deciding to leave his post in 2015.
Estelle worked as a people manager in a sales & marketing environment for a high-street bank for many years, then moved in the last 10 years to become an Executive Assistant; she worked her way up the ranks and achieved a position supporting a Group Chairman and Group CEO of a leading healthcare company. She left to join the franchise full time in September 2015.
The key reason for choosing a franchise was that of risk limitation. Ovenclean offered a proven business model, a way of operating that showed us evidence of a successful track record. We were looking for an opportunity to use our business expertise; we wanted to see if we could grow a business. From a practical standpoint, we wanted a regular income but without the constrictions, demands and stresses of corporate life. All of these reasons played a role in the decision making process, but the primary one was that of a lower risk proposition.
Steven researched many franchise opportunities but narrowed down the search to oven cleaning, made particularly appealing when he found a local franchisee, with an existing business who wanted to sell.
We met with several oven cleaning franchise operations and also the owner of the local Ovenclean business - after lots of reflection, debating and further research, we decided Ovenclean were the company of choice, they felt right for us.
We were in the fortunate position of not having to raise finance to invest in the business but I know that Ovenclean in particular are keen to support new starters however, and with the various pricing options they offer there is plenty of scope for those who need a little extra help at the beginning of their venture.
We're still learning in truth and I suspect that we will continue to do so, especially as and when new ovens emerge into the marketplace and new products come out that speed up or ease the process. I think it's also fair to say that we are forever evolving - that's probably the way we look at life too, so we firmly believe we will always be learning and picking up smarter, slicker ways of doing things.
The initial formal support however, consisted of 2 weeks intensive 'on-the-job' training; this was supervised by the franchise owner from whom we originally purchased the business. In that 2 weeks Steven learned how to clean ovens, saw the vast array of different door configurations, experienced the different ways to approach a clean depending on the state it was in, the make/model of oven, where it was cited in the home etc. The biggest learning lesson was that there was much much more involved in the process of cleaning an oven than one would ever have imagined!
The technical know-how was the focus of this on-the-job training, the customer service, sales & marketing, administration and book-keeping elements of running a business were already fortunately well-honed, given our previous working experience.
Ongoing support was, and is, received from Ovenclean HQ on request - the team are truly knowledgeable and extremely helpful; they are only ever a phone call away.
We usually start our first job at 9:15am and are finished for 4:30pm, we work strictly a Monday - Friday, weekends are sacrosanct (we answer calls/e-mails over the weekend and book jobs too – we just limit the physical cleans to Mon – Fri). We decided from day 1 that we wanted a better quality of life, a true work-life balance and setting firm direction on our working hours was key to us in achieving this objective!
We clean between 4-5 ovens every day, that might be a combination of singles, doubles, Agas, ranges and if we can upsell to include an extractor fan and/or a hob too, that makes efficient use of our time and adds to the profitability of the business - it also sets us up in customer homes as the ‘cleaner of cleaners’ of domestic cooking appliances. We want to be everyone’s ‘go-to’ team if they want help with cleaning ovens/hobs/fans.
Throughout the day we will take and make calls to/from customers, give out quotes and look to convert leads to firm, diary bookings. We always carry the diary with us and know our bookings position, strike rate, earnings figures (daily/weekly/monthly) at all times.
We'll post onto our business fb page if not daily, at least 3 times each week and following every job, will encourage customers to 'like' and 'follow' us, plus write a review too if they can. Anything to spread the word and gain free advertising!
When we get home we update our customer database with the days' cleans and note the recall date (when the customer will be contacted again for a repeat clean).
The final job is to prepare for the next day, e.g. ensure we have sufficient cleaning supplies, have a clean uniform, ensure there's enough fuel in the van, make sure we both know what the jobs are and when/where the first job of the day is.
If calls or e-mails come through, we'll answer them up to 9pm - we almost always have an eye on the business and will be highly responsive to our customers' needs.
Lots and varied! We experienced a period of drought as any business start-up does, and there was a short time when the phone stopped ringing. We usually book between 2-3 weeks ahead, and we literally were booking jobs today for tomorrow. A very sobering and new experience for us, however our business hitherto had been regular, pretty busy, a constant roll of calls, e-mails and cleans. We identified that we had an issue immediately and got our thinking caps on – why? What could we do? Was something happening outside of our control? Did we need to look at a new revenue stream? What were we missing? Lots of questions, lots of soul-searching, lots of late nights and calls to HQ for help and to pick their brains too – was this usual, was anyone else in the franchise network experiencing a similar business dip?
Through our hard work, determination, and support from HQ we most certainly turned it around and believe it or not, ended the period in question on top. We had the best ever trading period since the business began largely due to prospecting for new business. We drew the conclusion that maybe the summer business dip was due to family holidays/school term breaks. Given this, we put thought into who else out there needed our services, someone who was not a single household but needed domestic cleans, fast. Our brainstorming resulted in 60 e-mails over the weekend to estate agents and student let companies, and after following them up over the next few days, a student let company explained they’d been let down badly by an oven cleaner and in fact, yes, they did need our help, and were we able to do between 40-60 cleans over the next 2 weeks? Bingo!
We most definitely learned a lesson and the business dip in fact turned into a business peak – we have already been assured of getting the contract for the student cleans for next year and knowing this significantly helps planning and scheduling.
Other challenges have been around building customer relationships to ensure repeat cleans, building and maintaining a constant schedule and revenue stream, and trying to get away from the peaks and troughs that the industry naturally presents. All work in progress and challenges we’re convinced we’ll get the better of!
I’m not sure it’s been a huge lifestyle change if I’m honest – we have always been highly committed to our work lives and as directors of our own franchise we still continue to be so. The main difference owning a franchise has given us is the ability to control our own destiny – truly control it. If we want to be busy we can be, if we want to take a couple of days off, we can. If we want to take the business in a certain direction we are incredibly swift, we don’t need to take the idea through a huge chain of command, we simply discuss, agree and then…DO IT!
That alone is incredibly empowering and is one thing that makes becoming a franchisee most certainly worthwhile.
Enter it with your eyes wide open knowing that you will get out of the business what you put in. If you follow the proven model that is laid out by Ovenclean, you will succeed. It’s that simple.
BUT, know that if you deviate, if you have a ‘can’t be bothered’ week and don’t leaflet (the recommendation is c50 at every job), if you close off the business phone/e-mail account in favour of watching Coronation Street every night, if you don’t get your telephone manner and ‘patter’ sorted when trying to convert leads, you will struggle.
It’s not an easy option, but it’s one of the most rewarding and satisfying things we have ever done. The business is there and the opportunity is waiting – if you are prepared to be dedicated and work hard.
We have been fortunate to mentor a handful of new franchisees, we’ve also shown potential franchisees what it’s like; they’ve shadowed us for a day out on the road, in customers’ homes. We can almost always tell who will take up the franchise and who will make it a real success.
The best ones have the softer skill-set (they’re enthusiastic, keen to learn, physically fit, customer friendly, smart, personable) as well as the harder skill-set (business acumen, a basic commercial sense of what’s right and do-able, organised, determined, methodical, task-focused). A combination of these attributes coupled with a ‘can-do’ approach is usually a good sign in a new franchisee. If they have an engineering slant and like taking things to pieces to see how they work, more the better – Steven is always being likened to an engineer when customers see him taking ranges and oven doors to pieces to clean, before re-assembly.
We both feel it’s important to ‘do our time’ on the road and really experience what it’s like month in, month out before we even consider scaling up and telling others what to do, but in time, we would definitely like to grow our business.
Our ambition is to be able to fill several diaries with cleans. We would recruit others to work with us (additional vans and oven cleaners), they would do the day-to-day work and we would take a step back from the more physical element of the job.
All in good time – we hope to embellish these plans through 2017 and beyond.
In a heartbeat!
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