Former hairdresser Melanie Elms was among the first to sign up to Thresher 's franchise scheme , t aking on a branch in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in November 2006. She is one of 47 Thresher franchisees whose stores have "gone live", with more busy getting their businesses up and running. Her store is on a corner of a busy street in an affluent part of the seaside town, and her customers include well-off locals, older people and students from the nearby university .
How did you come to take on this franchise?
By trade I'm a hairdresser, but my mum works for the company. I started working part-time for her in her shop and progressed from there. I've worked for Thresher for about eight years and I've managed shops, but I've also had two babies in that time. When the franchise came up I was working in Seaford as a deputy manager. I've always thought I would come back as a manager eventually, so I thought I may as well work for myself rather than just being a manager.
How did the process work?
The business plan supplied by Thresher was actually really good . You just put in all the information - your plans, what you want to do and all the figures - and then worked out what you were projected to make. We had a bank loan for the majority . We knew we would be paying it back, but we really wanted to do it. We didn't have capital behind us so it was a bit tricky, but I think it was worth it.
How much did it cost?
As an employee we got a discount so ours were slightly cheaper, and it varies from shop to shop. They say the start-up cost is £20,000 for external candidates, and then you have to buy in stock. It depends how much stock you want to hold. Ours was about three weeks' worth of stock, about £14,000 at cost value. That wasn't all paid up front because we paid for two weeks when we came. Turnover at the moment is about £500,000. We are trading about 9 per cent up on the figures we had, which were for the year before last. It is not the best time of year for us, but from late spring we will start to get better and we are on track for our figures.
Did it all go smoothly?
We had a few delays, but that is normal with solicitors and leases - it is a bit like buying a house. We were delayed about three weeks when we first started, which was a bit frustrating, but it is just one of those things. We came in literally at the end of November so we just started the Christmas rush from there, which was good but it was also quite difficult. I came to work here when I came back from my maternity leave, which enabled me to have a bit of time to get to know customers and things.
What changes have you made since you took over?
We've got complete control over price points and promotions. The majority of our goods are from Thresher - we can have all the Thresher range, including the Wine Rack range, which as a [company-owned] store you can't have . We also have the flexibility of going to outside suppliers, so I've got locally brewed Harveys beer - it arrived this week. I've got an organic wine range, and I can stock some local products . It just makes it a bit more personal. The range is expanding and I plan to add about 20 more lines in the next month or so.
I also have cards and gift wrapping. Gift wrapping is a service Threshers offers anyone, but the cards come from an outside supplier. We now offer a student discount and we do wine tastings for customers . On a Friday evening we will have a bottle of wine open, and it will be an opportunity for whoever walks through the door to taste something they maybe haven't tasted before.
We've changed the shop - not major changes, but we've streamlined it and opened it out. These things make people think, this is different. People have remarked that we are so friendly in here and that is really nice. That is the biggest thing: customer service, talking to customers, helping them carry things to the car - that is basically what we've been concentrating on.
How is being a franchisee different from being a manager?
You've just got a bit more freedom . You are not restricted so much by promotions, the company policy and everything. It is nice that your team is a small team and they are employed by you. You tend to have a bit more loyalty.
Is there a downside?
We haven't had any major problems. I should imagine it would be quite stressful if you had a major incident - an armed robbery or something like that. We would then have the problem of dealing with the staff, but I'm pretty sure we would get support from Thresher in such a stituation. As a manager you would still be dealing with that . I would be doing the manager's role anyway as an employee, but I've got a lot more freedom here . I make my wages plus whatever's over. I can't see there's that much of a downside. The job isn't that different, except you've got more freedom to do the things you want to do, which is really nice.
"You need to smile and be friendly; I think that is the main thing. Be happy in your job really, especially in retail. I just think you have to be - and just stay optimistic, and you will get there
in the end."