How we became an award-winning franchisee business
Hayley Limpkin is the founder and co-owner of the Razzamataz Theatre School in Medway, Kent. Recently, it won the Lifestyle Franchisee Award at the prestigious bfa HSBC Franchise Awards 2018, as well as the People’s Choice Franchisee of the Year award, which recognises the best franchisee from all the award winners on the night, as voted for by attendees. So, why has Hayley and her team been so successful?
What did you do before becoming a franchisee?
Hayley Limpkin (HL): “I started as a dancer performing around the world, including at Disneyland, before performing on cruise ships. While working on my last cruise, I started studying with the Open University, before applying to join a global blue-chip field-marketing company. I managed key accounts for BSkyB before managing client field-marketing budgets for top brands such as Paramount Pictures and Virgin Atlantic. Despite this – I was still teaching dance in the evenings.”
Why did you want to work for yourself?
HL: “I was very ambitious, but my role involved a lot of travel. And after five years, I grew tired of commuting from Gillingham in Kent to Thame near Oxford every day. I was happily working for a very exciting, industry-leading marketing agency, but I’d always dreamt of setting up my own dance school.
“I also wanted to start a family. I now have a four and a half year old and the flexibility I have is the biggest benefit I get from being my own boss. I’m lucky to be able to do something I love and choose who I work with, while fitting it around my family.”
Had you considered starting your own business from scratch?
HL: “Yes, I’d brainstormed the idea with friends, came up with a name and decided what classes to offer. But every time I thought about what the business should be, I was always drawn back to Razzamataz. I loved their values and ethos. So, I decided to buy into the network and become a franchisee.”
How did it come about?
HL: “It took a while. I Googled dance school businesses and came across Razzamataz. Because I’m quite indecisive, franchising appealed because the product was tried and tested. I’d also become used to a corporate salary and had bills to pay, so I needed to break even as soon as possible. Franchising seemed the most logical route.
“I was excited by Razzamataz’s success, not just financially, but its partnerships and opportunities for the students. All of this would have been harder to forge by starting my own business. The Dragons’ Den link added further credibility and encouraged my trust. Duncan Bannatyne invested £50,000 in Razzamataz in 2007 for a 25% share in the business.”
What did you do next?
HL: “I met Denise [Hutton-Gosney], the MD and founder of Razzamataz Theatre Schools, in London and she was very realistic, despite my enthusiasm and eagerness. I then visited a school and finally, more than a hundred questions and two years later, I signed on the dotted line to join the network. I did mention that I was indecisive [smiles].”
How much support have you received?
HL: “Lots. Without great people surrounding me – I wouldn’t have been as successful. I’ve had fantastic support from people I’ve recruited and work with closely, as well as other franchisees and Denise, who wants us to succeed as much as we want to. Where else do you have these layers of support, but still control your own business?”
Does Denise allow you any freedom as a franchisee?
HL: “In 2017, we created a new product for the entire network. Although Razzamataz offers training in dance, drama and singing, students who were serious about a performing arts career needed to further develop their dance technique. Denise came to watch our new class and loved it so much that she gave us permission to develop it for the entire network. That was extremely empowering creatively.”
What’s the key to being a successful franchisee?
HL: “Find good people to work with. Our team is made up of committed, dedicated professionals who are passionate about their work. We’ve had great support from other franchisees and the franchisor. We look beyond the product and are always trying to find ways to add value for our customers. We’re incredibly solutions-driven, it’s key to our culture. We don’t get everything right all the time, but we work hard to continually improve.”
You must have been happy to win the bfa HSBC franchise awards?
HL: “Delighted and extremely proud. To be recognised by the bfa and other award-winning franchise industry people is very special. It’s been tough at times, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve had to learn lots, but I love what I do. But our success is down to the efforts of a team of hardworking, inspiring people who have helped to create something very special.”
What plans do you have for the future?
HL: “In September 2017 I sold half of the franchise to my assistant principal, Emily Miller, a younger business woman with skills that I don’t have, which will help take the business to the next level. We’re working with our franchisor to develop new ideas that could benefit the whole franchise network. Our plans for the future are very exciting.”
What advice do you offer to someone who is considering buying into a franchise network?
HL: “Carry out thorough research on the franchisor, find out how they operate. Speak to existing franchisees, ask them what they think of the network and the franchisor. Speak to highest - and lowest - earning franchisees, so you can better understand whether potential returns will meet your expectations.
“And, it may take a while to establish your business and you may have to pay for a lot of things in advance, so, carefully consider whether you have the working capital and cash flow to sustain the business until it starts to turn a profit. Also think carefully about what you want out of the business – what does success look like for you? And when you want to exit. This might sound strange when you’re only just starting out, but knowing what you want to achieve and by when can help you to plan and stay focused on your long-term goals.”