Description: Start your own chimney sweep franchise, providing a safe, professional and efficient chimney cleaning service in clients' homes and businesses. Business Type: Franchise. Minimum Investment: £13,100. Training Provided: Yes. Home-based: Yes. Part-time: Yes.
Video Interview with a Wilkins Chimney Sweep Franchisee
Case Study: Pierre Goodwin, Guildford
You’re never too young to learn a new trick
Wilkins Chimney Sweep was established 111 years ago, but there’s nothing 19th Century about its latest franchisee appointment. 23 year old Pierre Goodwin has just completed his training to become the youngest ever member of the Wilkins network, taking on the Guildford territory. Let’s find out what attracted this young, sport mad, mechanical engineering graduate to the world of franchising, business ownership and chimney sweeping.
Hi Pierre. What have you been up to for the last few years that led you down this particular path?
“Well, my degree course taught me that I loved University, but that I didn’t want to pursue engineering as a career, much to my parents’ consternation. I’ve watched my friends start to try and climb the corporate ladder in London, and whilst I’m not knocking it, it’s not for me. I’ve had some pretty interesting jobs actually, from waiting tables, gardening, working at a Gin distillery and even considering becoming a full time fitness instructor.”
Investing in a chimney sweep franchise seems the logical next step then?
“Why not? My Father has had his own IT Programming business for 35 years, so I’ve always had a good understanding of what it takes to build a company and the kind of hours you need to work to stay successful. The idea of being my own Boss has always appealed to me, but to have your own company you have to have your own idea. I’m pretty confident in my ability to turn my hand to most things and I’m not scared of hard work, but I appreciated that there was a lot about starting a business that I didn’t know. Franchising stood out as an obvious way to start a business with a huge leg up the ladder in terms of initial training, mentoring, and ongoing support.”
I don’t think there are any Gin franchises, but there are plenty of fitness ones. Nothing in that area catch your eye?
“Not really, but I have to admit that Wilkins Chimney Sweep may have appeared on my radar in a slightly unusual way. My Girlfriend’s Father, Nick, is a Wilkins Franchisee, in-fact he’s their highest earnerand it’s been impossible not to notice just how much he loves what he does every day. There was no big push from him to consider Wilkins necessarily, but he encouraged me to look into franchising as a serious option and pointed me in the direction of the British Franchise Association website. I liked the idea that the franchises in membership had been independently assessed and accredited, so to me that felt like a very good place to start, especially given how many franchises there are out there. Louise Harris (Co Owner of Wilkins Chimney Sweep) is on the bfa board, which again seemed to suggest they were very much committed to the idea of ethical franchising and actively involved in the industry. Combining those perceptions of trust with my conversations with Nick, it really felt like a great option to fully explore.”
What did your friends and family think of the idea of you starting your own business?
“They were really supportive and all agreed that it seemed to be a great business model that had enormous potential where I livenear Guildford. They know that I’m the sort of person that needs to enjoy what I’m doing if I’m going to be working long hours. Funnily enough, Nick was a fitness instructor before buying his Wilkins franchise, so I suppose my Girlfriend might be worried I’m following his career path a little too closely, but she’s really pleased I’ve found something I can throw myself into and make a real success of.”
Presumably there was more to it than just calling Wilkins up and telling them you were going to take the Guildford franchise?
“Yes. A lot more. Louise and her husband Peter (the other co-owner) were really approachable and keen to meet with me, but wanted to hear about how much research I had done and how serious I was about coming on board. It’s easy to miss the point that this is very much a business partnership, whereby the franchisor has to believe in you just as much as you believe in them. Yes, you have to pay for the franchise, but they are investing heavily in you too in terms of training, trusting you with their brand and believing that you will be doing everything you can to grow your business better than someone else could in your territory.”
Talking of financing, how did you find the money to fund your franchise fee and start up capital?
“I was fortunate enough to have money set aside from my parents, grandparents and my own savings, which was admittedly intended to be a deposit to get me on the property ladder. Some people might think it’s crazy to take that risk, especially given how hard it is to get a house these days, but if I didn’t believe 100% that I could instead use the money to start a successful business that would allow me to recoup the investment, use it for its original purpose, and then be left with a house and my own profitable business, I would never have done it. For me, the rewards just outweighed the risk.”
How risk free do you think franchising is?
I don’t think starting any business is risk free, but there’s no doubt that franchising, if you find the right one for you, greatly reduces the risks normally associated with start ups. Wilkins is a well known brand, loads of heritage, great training and support, and I was able to speak to the other people in the network before signing up. No matter how strong the model, I still have to put the work in, but I’m someone that thrives on a challenge and doing the best job possible.”
You’ve mentioned training a few times now. How has it been?
“It’s been great, but I will admit that I totally underestimated just how tough it was going to be! This is a highly skilled job and the first two weeks of training were really full on; long days and a lot to take in. By the end of the second week though, everything clicked and I became much more confident and desperate to get out there and start drumming up business.”
Was it all practical, get covered in soot type training?
“Well that’s how it started, but it’s a very thorough course that’s designed to give you all the skills you’ll need to run your business. It’s no good being a great Sweep if you’re not going to build a successful business from doing it. I suppose it’s the difference between learning a skill and taking a salary to get your hands dirty every day as an employee, versus building your own successful, long term business. The businesstraining is actually thorough enough to get someone with zeroexperience, but a great work ethic, up and running and being successful.”
What do you think will set you apart from your competitors?
“Well, none of them will work harder than me that’s for sure. I also have the support of the amazing Wilkins team behind me, a proven business model and a highly professional national brand. I’ve got over 100,000 houses in my exclusive territory and plenty of assistance to market my services to them. I’ve been trained by asteering committeemember ofAPICS (TheAssociation of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps), I’m now Ladder Association qualified and we all undergo a rigorous annual assessment to make sure we are always exceeding industry standards. Also, there are loads of add on services including PowerClean pressure washing which Iwillbe offering from next year. There’s also a lot of investment in the latest technology made available to the network that I’m not sure a fully independent Sweep could compete with. This is a very exciting time and I’m feeling very confident that I can take on the competition and win!”
Any advice for other people considering franchising, especially people your age?
“The best anecdotal advice that I can pass on actually came from Nick, when he told me that he wished he had known about franchising when he was 23! Choose something that excites you and you believe you’ll be good at and want to stick with; it isn’t a ‘try it for a bit and move on to the next thing’ kind of arrangement, I’ve signed a 6-year franchise agreement. Yes, I’d absolutely recommend Wilkins, there’s no question it’s the right one for me, but whatever type of franchise you want to explore, I would seriously advise starting with the bfa website. Take your time, don’t let yourself be talked into anything you’re not 100% sure of and know your own strengths and weaknesses. I’m amazed more people don’t know about the opportunities out there, although hands off Wilkins Chimney Sweep Guildford, it’s mine!”
Wilkins Chimney Sweep, was founded in 1895 in Newbury. It was franchised in 2011 and is owned by husband-and-wife team Peter and Louise Harris. It currently has 12 franchise territories operating across the UK from Worthing to Whitley Bay and is looking for franchisees to expand the business in many areas across the UK. The company has won numerous awards in recent years as it builds on it’s reputation for providing only the best trained, fully insured and meticulous chimney sweeps in the industry.
The company works to the codes of conduct and practice stipulated by APICS (Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps) and is an associate member of The British Franchise Association.
To find out more about Wilkins opportunities in your area, please fill out the enquiry form.
GREAT! WHAT'S MY NEXT STEP?
Find out more about Wilkins Chimney Sweep by submitting the form below.