Thanks to innovative virtual solutions and a robust, supportive network, Just Shutters enjoyed a profitable year amid very strange circumstances. We chatted with Pollyanna Smalley, Franchise Recruitment Specialist, to find out how Just Shutters has been weathering the storm.
For blinds and shutters franchise Just Shutters, 2020 was an unusual but surprisingly positive year. The UK’s fastest-growing independent retail shutter company (and franchise) faced initial uncertainty, like virtually every other business, at the start of the pandemic. But after just a few weeks on pause, its franchisees were able to continue installing quality, made-to-measure plantation shutters in homes across the UK.
A number of adaptations were put in place to both accommodate new health and safety measures and keep Just Shutters running smoothly. This included things like virtual home measuring, to reduce the number of in-home visits before installation, and online franchisee training. Now, its network of 19 franchisees is trading as normal (in a Covid-safe way) and enjoying the handsome rewards of this lucrative business.
We discussed everything from marketing to Covid to chasing leads with Pollyanna Smalley, Franchise Recruitment Specialist and one of the invaluable members of Just Shutters’ Business Support Team.
Making the most of downtime
During the first lockdown in March 2020, Just Shutters’ franchisees paused their work in line with government restrictions. However, rather than simply sit around and worry, its network of entrepreneurs used the time to work on the non customer-facing aspects of their businesses.
“It actually gave our franchisees a chance to spend time looking at their marketing and business plans. They had to get creative about how to engage their clients and stay busy without going into customers’ homes.”
Luckily, the franchise was able to get back to work after around six weeks, meaning many of its franchisees avoided the financial difficulties of a longer break. Polly also explained how Just Shutters’ business model means its franchise teams don’t have manyemployees to manage.
“Our franchisees have been lucky as most don’t have lots of employees that they’ve had to look after. Fifty percent of our franchisees run their businesses on their own or as a husband- and-wife team. During these circumstances, they haven’t had to worry about furlough or other employee support.”
Keeping franchisees in the loop
Two-way communication between franchisor and franchisee is a cornerstone of any great relationship, but it’s especially crucial during exceptional circumstances. Polly explained how the franchise made it a priority to keep all franchisees abreast of the ever-changing situation back in the first lockdown.
“We gave our franchisees a lot of information. Just Shutters is a member of the British Blind & Shutter Association, so we were being constantly updated on what we could and couldn’t do. The Business Support Team sent out emails twice-weekly covering the latest updates. We were also conscious that some franchisees pay rent on commercial storage units, so we also gave them guidance on how to access loans and approach landlords about temporary rent relief.”
Polly also praised the franchisees for supporting each other, calling the network “one big family.” She revealed that the network’s entrepreneurs have always looked out for one another, even before the pandemic hit.
“We speak to our franchisees regularly to keep an eye on them and make sure they’re ok, but they’re also keeping an eye on each other. They have a Just Shutters group chat and everyone is always talking. It’s fantastic, because if a franchisee can’t get ahold of the Business Support Team, they can pop their query into the chat and someone will come back to them very quickly.”
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Prioritising great connection
Though the way people connect has been forced to change, Polly has made sure she’s still adding a personal touch to all her conversations. She said that her preferred method of following up on leads is by phone, as it’s “something people don’t expect in this day and age,” helps her find prospective franchisees who are serious about the opportunity.
“As we’re technically considered to be part of the construction industry, I’ve still been able to go out and meet people in a Covid-safe way. I didn’t want to stop having these meaningful, face-to-face conversations and interviews.”
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Finding new talent
One of the trickiest aspects of franchise expansion is finding the right people for the job. Polly revealed that franchise shows aren’t as effective as they used to be for discovering new franchisees.
Many people have already identified their preferred franchise when they arrive, meaning they’re attending to find out more about a concept or meet the team, rather than starting their search from scratch.
Now, Polly believes the internet is the most important franchisee recruitment tool in any franchisor’s toolbox. She said that having a presence on franchise resource sites like Point Franchise is the most effective way to identify new leads.
Committing to an opportunity
In these uncertain times, many investors are cautious about starting their franchising journey. However, Just Shutters has been largely unaffected by the Covid-19 crisis and its network’s sales are up by 14% year-on-year. The franchise’s newest recruit even managed to open for business at the beginning of January 2021 in the midst of fresh lockdown restrictions. Despite the incredibly challenging circumstances, they’ve managed to get off to a great start.
“Personally, I’d say now is a great time to start your business,” said Polly. “You can complete your training—which we’ve adapted to make sure it’s safe and effective—and get your systems and marketing strategy set up. We’re speaking to prospects who are worried about being made redundant, and I’d say it’s the best time to take the plunge and start building a business that will give you a better future.”
Polly revealed how owning a franchise allowed her and her husband to become business owners without feeling completely daunted.
“It was the best thing to do as I worked for myself but had someone to teach me all the basics of running a business. If you don’t do it now, you never will—and you’ll regret it in two to three years’ time.”
Looking to the future
Polly explained that the franchise has big ambitions:It’s looking to recruit five to seven franchisees this year and reach 55 franchisees within the next five years. However, she stressed the importance of careful, considered recruitment when trying to expand.
“We’re keen to grow and expand into areas like the Midlands, Scotland, and northern England, but we’ve got to do it strategically. We need to make sure we’ve got the right franchisee on board, who fit the culture and what we’re trying to do with the brand, to grow the right way.”
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Sophie Cole, Point Franchise ©