Franchise: O'Brien's Sanwich Bar
Cost of start-up: £12,000
Lois Gent was working as a business executive selling exhibition space, however she wanted more independence and money and wanted to fulfil a burning ambition to work with food. Then after spotting an advertisement in a franchise magazine she decided to follow up the idea of running an O’Briens Sandwich Bar.
“It is something that I thought about for many years,” she says. “I wanted to work in food as that was where I had a history.
“I had worked behind a bar and nearly went into management, so it is always something that I felt comfortable doing.”
Gent had received some inheritance money and wanted to put it to good use and began researching possible business ventures. Then she saw an advert in a franchise magazine for O’Brien’s and followed it up.
After meeting representatives of the company, she was impressed by the franchisor’s formula for success and decided to take the plunge.
“I never really did much research into other brands, but I thought O’Brien’s were brilliant. Right down to the menus there is a consistency that you find at all the stores.
“O’Brien’s are also a little bit different in that there are not many shops that do sandwiches to order. Whatever it is you want we can do it and you can see it being made. We cater for various food allergies, fussy eaters - you name it we can do it.
“I am very passionate about food and I like to see it being done well.”
Gent opened her first shop, a small kiosk in Nottingham City Centre, in August 2001. The license cost £12,000 – six thousand came from her own money the other half through HSBC bank.
“Once you have put up your fee and are part of the family you are given a support executive. They sit down with you and you make a 10 week plan that runs up until the first day you open your store.”
“They stay with you during that time and during the first week while you get started.”
Life as a franchisee
Gent is one of the longest serving franchisees with the company and feels that she and the company have developed together.
“The support I get now is much better than it was five years ago. They have become more thorough as they have learned through their mistakes.”
Business did not flow in straight away for Gent but she persevered and soon success came calling.
“It was quite slow to start with, but picked up after a while,” she says. “Then one day the phone rang and it was another O’Brien’s franchisee in Nottingham who wanted to sell their shop to us.”
She accepted and they opened they second store in December 2003, the extra workload meant she needed more staff and Gent brought in her husband Andrew to help with the back of house and accounting work. The pair now run the two shops through a limited company. Gent feels that she and her husband are a good team.
“I am a people person and my forte is front of house. Andrew handles all the financial stuff and the back of house that’s his strength. It’s about doing what you are most comfortable with,” she says.
Life as a franchisee
However, she points out that although it has been good for her, franchising is not for everyone.
“People shouldn’t expect to be millionaires in a year, it isn’t going to happen,” she says.
Gent has a great passion for O’Brien’s, she really thinks the product and the concept of the company is good. This is essential as she like most franchisees have to spend many hours at work.
“I work from about 12 hours a day from 6.15am until 6pm so it’s 12 hours a day. I do a six-day week and then a five-day week, although I often have to do a stock-check on Sundays. During last Christmas I did one on Boxing Day.
“Also you never really switch off when you get home and you just can’t stop thinking about it.”
There are also many challenges when you run your own business.
“Staffing is probably the biggest problem. Just when you think you have got it right someone can leave. Also, trade is hard to predict, if you could get that right you would be coining it in.”
However, the business is profitable; the two stores combined pull in about £11,000 turnover each week. Gent hopes that this will lead to further expansion and wants to open another store within the next 12 months - provided the figures are right.
“We were going to buy another store last year but then we thought ‘hang on we have had a really bad summer’. We thought that it was just a blip at the time but then we realised it was more than that. You can never take your eye off the ball.”
A change of management at one of the stores was required and some personal intervention from Gent who managed to turn things around.
Gent knows that she and her husband can never take the business for granted; they don’t take holidays together anymore, as one of them must always stay with the business.
The next step
Nevertheless, she is confident for the future and is aiming for 10% growth this year at her stores.
“To some extent we are in it for the money. I wouldn’t work 60 hours a week for nothing.
“I love running the stores but it does come with a price.”