Darren explains: "I wasn’t looking to start a new business, but the response I got from people trying to sell me a new driveway was so poor — and lacked so much imagination and professionalism — that I thought 'I can do better than this', so I put my money where my mouth was and started The New Driveway Company."
Rewind a few years to 1999, and you’d find Darren, aged 39, establishing his first business — a south eastern-based construction company working with social housing, insurance companies, hospitals and private clients. Darren started the business with a £25,000 loan from a friend, which he paid back within six months, plus a bonus 'thank you for the loan' gift.
In its first year the business turned over £200,000 and made 'a healthy profit'. In 2006, when he eventually sold, it was turning over £10 million a year with a £1 million annual net profit. Make no mistake, Darren Field knows all there is to know about running a large, successful construction business.
Once the business was sold, Darren spent time working with banks and investors, offering his tough, no-nonsense business advice to ailing businesses. He has also been an 'angel' investor, putting his money into a variety of different businesses, giving him an unparalleled depth of experience — not only of the UK construction industry, but also in the ups and downs of running businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Married for 25 years to Kate, Darren has three grown-up children, James, Lauren and Christy and is soon to become a grandfather for the first time; age may have made him wiser but he is still filled with every ounce of passion he ever had for succeeding in business.
Darren says: "From day one, I knew I was going to franchise The New Driveway Company; I said I’d do it in three years and I have."
The hard landscaping industry is estimated to be worth £4 billion annually to the UK economy.
His research into the business began by talking, and most importantly, listening. Before he started, he spoke to experts in driveway construction, franchising, franchising law, sales and marketing, industry manufacturers, experts, consumers and potential clients.
All good franchises are based on a successful business, so Darren started the first operations business in Oxford. He used this business as his 'test franchise', trying to break it as many times as he could, making as many things go wrong for him as possible, so when he finally delivered the franchise model to market, it would be, in his words, 'unbreakable'.
He adds: "At The New Driveway Company we trade in 100% transparency and it was crucial to me that any franchise I offered for sale was robust, ethical and sustainable, so I did everything in my power to make it go wrong, to find the flaws in the system and to make the first mistakes myself."
The business officially franchised in October 2015 and, despite Darren’s best efforts, the original Oxford operating business has doubled its turnover every year for the past three years. They have also gone on to establish operations in North London, South London and Reading.
Darren says his franchise, which is currently retailing at £24,995, will appeal to two types of people — the 'operations franchisee', someone who has most or all of the skills necessary to complete the construction side, but who is lacking the business knowledge to turn that into serious revenue, and the 'management franchisee', who will probably hail from a sales or broadly-based 'business' background. He or she will have all or most of the business skills needed to succeed, but won't have the building knowledge to complete the business offering.
Darren and his team will work with franchisees, teaching them how to excel in both arenas, during their five-day intensive franchisee training period. Each franchisee also receives a bespoke personal development plan, designed and delivered personally by Darren and his team.
He says: "Our aim is to not only teach our franchisees how to design and install great driveways, but also to turn them into good business people. They need to understand that from day one, despite support from head office, ultimately they will be sales director, finance director, marketing direction, designer and operational manager all rolled into one, and it’s our job to teach them to be great at doing all of these things. I know how to grow businesses, I have that knowledge and I want to share it with my franchisees."
Darren has invested heavily in the branding for the new company, living his mantra that "small businesses become big businesses by behaving like them". The look is strong and up-to-date but with a traditional edge.
During training, which will take place both on- and off-site, shadowing existing operations and at the Oxford head office, franchisees will learn everything from how to find new business and bookkeeping to using the NDC Design and Visualisation software and compliance training. They will be invited back regularly to update their skills and learn about new products and procedures being developed by the company.
Darren says he would love to recruit a female franchisee early on: "Any builder will tell you that women are frequently the decision makers when people are choosing a new driveway, so why not have a woman selling them in the first place? They have great design and people skills and, with our help and training could be really successful."
Darren currently has one franchisee trading — Chris Thomas (43), owner of The New Driveway Company, Cardiff. Chris came from a sales and marketing background and is loving his new business, which is experiencing encouraging sales already.
Chris says: "I'm having a great time; the best thing about my new business is being able to drive down a road and instantly spot where my skills are needed. I also love the near 'instant response' of the work I do. In my old job of marketing you were never quite sure if your hard work was paying off; you always had to wait for the 'next set of figures' to see if your work had had an impact; with my new business, I can see the result of my work within days and the customers are always so happy, there is no guess work involved. The smiles say it all!"
Commenting on the support he has received from the franchisor, Chris says: "The back-up I have had from Darren and the team at head office has been second to none. I was instantly made to feel like one of the team and have had every question I have ever had answered completely and honestly. The on and offline systems they have put in place are excellent and I’m finding them all easy to understand and use. The design software is a major part of my sales pitch, customers love it and find it much easier to envisage the finished article if they can actually 'see it'. This really sets me apart from my competitors. The sales incentives, to reduce my monthly management fee are great too and I’m working hard to reach my first target."
There are currently two new franchisees, in Peterborough and Guildford, about to start their training and Darren is in conversation with 30+ more potential franchisees. To ensure the success of the brand though, Darren has set the limit at 10 new franchisees in year one, to ensure each new operation receives the time and attention they need to build solid, sustainable businesses.
Looking forwards, by the end of 2016 Darren will open The New Driveway Academy which, unusually, won’t be purely be a vehicle for training franchisees, but will offer training courses to anyone wanting to learn how to design, install and maintain a first-class driveway.
"I know it’s unusual, sharing our knowledge with people that could become competitors but I’m not above giving something back to the industry; there are so many rogue traders out there, doing a truly terrible job, that I want to raise the standards across our industry and the Academy will be my way of doing that."
With ambitious plans for growth and the dynamic power of Darren Field behind the brand, The New Driveway Company is set to succeed and franchising should stand by and watch this space very closely.
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