Making the move into business: franchisees talk Before & After joining Mac Tools
We've always said that your career background doesn't matter when it comes to running your own successful Mac Tools franchise - it's all about your personality, your ambition and your dedication. We can give you the product knowledge and the systems to succeed, but the people skills are all on you!
We put that to the test by asking some of our franchisees with very different backgrounds about how and why they made the move into business for themselves.
Below you'll find their stories on going from being teachers, publicans, company directors, and a whole host of other careers - of course, including the motor trade! - to running highly successful businesses, where they're firmly in control.
"The best decision for me - and my family"
Gary Teasdale is a tool box-selling specialist - he says that in knowing his are the best on the market, the sales naturally follow!
A tech's tips on making the transition into business
Former technician Nathan James wanted more: more for his family, more for his future, and more freedom in his life. He got all that... and much more.
“I needed a change, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to be my own boss.”
It's a familiar feeling for people turning to franchising.
“I wasn’t on bad money but I wanted to earn more to provide for my family. I was at the same garage for the last 13 years, so it was a huge step to leave – a bit of a shock to the system!” says the Walsall-based Mac Man.
“It was about having a bit more control and being able to earn more money.”
Driven by those desires, Nathan hasn’t looked back since he started his business.
“I’ve got twins, they’re 20 months old now, and a 13-year-old stepson as well. It’s hard work with the business and the kids, but it’s so worth it. If it works out as I plan, my partner can also join me in the business in the future.
“Things are going really good, I’m loving it. It’s doing even better than I thought. It’s booming.”
What does he put his success down to?
“Me! Just being the person I am, offering good deals to people. I’m good with people and I don’t pressure people to buy anything. I show people the products I’ve got and wait for them to be ready for them. If you try to force people into a hard sell then it turns them away from you.
“You’ve got to know your customers and know their needs. I tend to listen to conversations and ask them what they’re looking for next, then I look out for deals on them. When I’ve got a good deal I’ll go back to them and ask if they’re interested.
“I think my background helps, because I understand exactly what my customers need.”
Having a mechanic background might have been a big help, but becoming a Mac Man is still a transition.
“It was scary,” Nathan says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. My territory had been vacant for a couple of years, but I knew I could build faith in the Mac brand.
"I kept going back to garages week in week out, they see that I’m here to stick around and that’s helped them trust me. That’s also helped get them to buy as well, once they know you’re going to be here for a long time – I told them that I’ve invested my money into this, I’m not employed by Mac, I’ve invested my own money into the business so it’s not like I’m going to disappear.”
With over 175 franchisees in the UK alone, Mac Tools is well set up to help people make the transition into running their own business, and Nathan’s quick to say how much that experience matters.
He comments: “The support has been great to be honest. The training was really good, taught me how to use the computer systems and the Mac credit system. I also learned some product knowledge that I didn’t know! You never stop learning, let’s be honest, there are always new things to learn about.
“Steve Higgins, the training manager, is very good, he’s a nice bloke and a great trainer. The regional manager has also given me great back up.”
It’s good to talk
And it’s not just about the support from head office – Nathan’s found the franchisees like to chat with each other a lot too!
“Especially one guy, I speak to him every single day, sometimes two or three times a day!” he says. “If you’ve had a good day or a bad day, it’s good to share it with someone else who understands. Sometimes we call each other to tell the other about what we’ve sold. In the van on your own it can be hard, so it’s always good to get ideas off other people.
“If I’m struggling to sell something then I can ask and he’ll give me ideas, and vice versa. We also help each other out, if I’ve got something in stock that he needs then he can give it back to me sometime later.
“A few of us are in a WhatsApp group and it’s great to share our experiences. It really makes a difference.”
Engineering a new future
Germaine Ash lists her franchisee highlights as "community, flexibility, and the dog!" The former engineer was originally looking for part-time work when she found something much more appealing...
The award-winning Mac Man
Mike Cheffings has been named Mac's Franchisee of the Year for an incredible four years running thanks to his outstanding business performance. Here he talks about the highlights of making the move into business, and what you need to succeed.
Cheers! Former pub landlord becomes award-winning Mac Man
“For the first time, I’m solely in control of my own destiny.” An award-winner after his first year, Nick's never looked back after leaving the pub trade (well, there are two things he misses...!).
It might not seem an obvious career move going from pulling pints to selling tools, but Nick Cobb had a plan in mind and no doubt that a little personality would go a long way in his new business.
“I’d been running pubs for 20 years and it was time to do something different,” he says. “Friends offered me a couple of different roles, but I really didn’t want to work for anybody else. I wanted to be in control.
“After the pubs and other jobs I’d had, I didn’t see much of a problem in going into Mac where I’d be dealing with and meeting people all the time.
“Yes, it was a huge career change, but as long as you’ve got faith and confidence in the products you’re selling and a bit of personality, it’s not difficult to be a great Mac Man or Lady. You’ve got massive amounts of support behind you, they’re phenomenal at supporting you. Everything from marketing to products, it’s all there.
“If you’ve got the personality to get out there, this is a wonderful business to run. It was hard of course, and it can be lonely. But there’s a lot of people you can call on and you learn from any mistakes you make. There’s a model there to guide you as you find your feet, and it does that well.”
It hasn’t taken Nick long to prove how right he was. After a spectacular first year which saw him rank in the top 20 in sales out of all UK franchisees, he was named Mac’s Rookie of the Year, winning a trip for two to the USA.
He says: “Winning was great, Mac took us over to the States and wined and dined us, treated us like royalty. It was a real highlight, I’ve never been to the US before.
“When I started the business, I jokingly said to Steve, the training manager, that I was going to win Rookie of the Year! My attitude has always been that second place is the first-place loser. When I go into something I do it the whole way, so I had my eye on the award from the beginning. I wanted to prove that I was the best new start and great at what I do. You’ve got to have ambition.
“You always hear about the things that are wrong, it’s rare for people to say you’ve done a good job. So to win an award was amazing.”
Nick’s clear about the impact the business has had on his life.
“I have a future that I control. I control my day every day and I can choose to work as hard as I want to. I got Top 20 in sales last year in my first year, and this year I want to consolidate myself in the Top 10. I’m on track to do that so far, and it would be a great achievement. Then I want to get into the Top 5. That’s my driving force. I don’t want bronze, I want gold!
“For the first time in my life I’m solely in control of my own destiny. That sounds dramatic, but I was always chasing the next thing before, always trying to reinvent the wheel. A Wetherspoon’s opened just up the road from me when I was in the pub trade, how do you compete with that?
“This model works. Techs will always buy tools, and that’s not changing with the hybrid and electric cars coming in, that’s just another market for us to tap into. New mechanics come into the trade every single year. They’re starting their careers, they want to buy tools, and they need more as they progress. If I can catch them early and look after them, they’ll be mine for life. I’ve got techs that will only buy from me because I’ve looked after them so well.
“It might seem daunting going into garages for the first time, but for me it wasn’t like that. I’m a quick learner and I knew I’d soak up the products and what they do. I now know tonnes of stuff that I didn’t know 18 months ago – I might not be able to do the mechanic’s work, but I know the tool they need to do it!”
Despite his outstanding success, there are some things Nick remembers fondly from his pub days.
“I do miss watching the football whenever I want and having beer on tap!”
Nick’s tips for those looking to follow in his award-winning footsteps...
What skills do you need to make the business fly?
You need confidence and personality. If you’ve got confidence in the products and in your ability, and good organisation skills so you don’t let people down, you’ll do well. A bit of business savvy goes a long way but that’s not so important because there’s so much backing to help you.
You also need to be realistic about what you think you’ll get out of it. I went into this knowing that I’d invest back into my business for the first three years, not take huge chunks of money out. You see people going out and buying new cars after their first year but for me it’s about the long-term profit.
You’ve got to have thick skin too, there’s plenty of banter! I get a fair bit of stick about my nose which is pretty big, so having a good sense of humour is important.
Best advice you’ve been given?
Some of the guys told me, if it’s on a deal, buy it – you’ll sell it. They’re right.
What happens when you need help?
The support is amazing from day one. I had a lot of time with the sales manager to get confident on the products when I started. He’s always been there on the end of the phone whenever I’ve needed, and he was with me every day for my first two weeks on the road making sure I was OK.
It’s also a really close network, the franchisees talk to each other a lot. We moan, we celebrate, we have a WhatsApp group, and if you face something and you don’t know what to do, there’s always someone to call who does. There are regular regional meetings of franchisees as well – I didn’t think I’d get involved, but I let myself get into it and I’m glad I did, it’s been so useful.
From Schools to Tools
It’s fair to say the Mac Tools franchisee in West Hertfordshire has an unusual background for a tool distributor: after 12 years as a teacher, Debbie Gipp swapped schools for tools and set up as a Mac Lady!
“It was the politics that had changed that made me leave teaching,” says Debbie. “I was being pushed to meet grades and do things that I felt weren’t necessary, teaching had lost its freedom.”
It was that yearning for more control that led her to going into business.
Debbie says: “My husband Neil had been a Mac dealer for 12 years, and he’d been asking me for a long time about doing it too. When I decided to leave teaching, it really matched what I was looking for, and it’s been absolutely great!
“I love the freedom, I’m working for myself and it’s a complete turnaround from before.”
Of course, that kind of transition doesn’t come without challenges... but working in a male-dominated industry wasn’t one of them.
“Can you imagine teaching 16-year-olds sex education?! Mechanics are nothing compared to the banter in the classroom where it’s 30 against one!” she laughs. “It didn’t scare me once going into a garage.”
Coming from outside the auto industry did mean overcoming different challenges though.
“I had two big concerns,” Debbie says. “My product knowledge and driving the van. I got confident driving the van quickly, but the product knowledge I had to work hard on and continue to learn even now.”
She puts her success in doing that down to her nature.
“I love learning new things. Once I challenge myself I put my heart and soul into it. I’ve worked really hard on going the extra mile for customers, finding out what they need and always trying to get it for them.
“Without knowing the industry and mechanics, that’s not easy. But I’m the kind of person that will talk to them, ask questions and try to really understand. That way I can do my best for them.
“If I can do it, then other people can too.”
Debbie’s also quick to recognise the training and support on offer from the Mac Tools team – as well as having a great knowledge base in her husband!
“The training was amazing. Steve Higgins, the training manager, is brilliant. I look at it differently because I’ve taught, and his approach is great.
“The support I’ve had since has been brilliant too. I know that I can go to anybody in Mac to get the right support, I can go to the district manager and always get an answer.
“Of course I’m able to ask Neil too, which is great. But every time I’ve asked for help it’s been there.”
Making the move
Though she had no experience of it before, selling has been no issue for Debbie.
“I’m not a natural salesperson, but I don’t think you need to be,” she says. “A lot of it is to do with relationships and personality. I’ve got customers that only buy from me. Two years on, I’m not finding sales a problem. I have an average weekly target and I have no problem hitting it.”
Instead, the challenge has been in getting used to running a business, not having a job, as Debbie’s not afraid to admit.
“It was scary if I’m honest. Neil always said to me it’s not the sales, it’s the collections. I understand that now, you’ve got to balance your cash flow. Managing your finances was new to me, I knew my figures from working in banking before, but asking people for money wasn’t something I’d ever done.”
Overcoming those sorts of challenges has given Debbie something that money can’t buy.
“I’m incredibly proud,” she says.
“It was a huge change, I’d gone out with Neil and with others, I’d seen what it was like from a woman’s perspective, but after the two weeks with a manager along with me, I was on my own. I was enjoying having my own hours and controlling my own business, but now I had to go out and do it for myself. I’m really proud that I’ve done that.
“I’ve got freedom. I’ve got a good salary coming in. It feels amazing to have done that for myself.”
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