Sally Haslewood had the idea for her franchise Mumbler after “a week from hell” in 2011. The family had just moved back North four days before her second daughter was born, the house was uninhabitable and she needed to get out with the children.
She looked around for information for places she could take them, but there was nothing that brought together available activities in the area.
So she set to work and now she has built a network of hyperlocal franchise businesses which provide families with useful information as well as offering a family friendly business model if they want to become franchisees.
That model won Mumbler this year’s Family Friendly Franchise Award at the Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Franchise Awards. The judges said they felt Mumbler was very flexible with no fixed hours, meaning much of the work could be done from home around family commitments, emphasised work life balance through encouraging family time and business growth to suit the franchisee, offered compressed training and tailored support, including weekly family-friendly, informal catch-up video calls and provided solid evidence that parents could not only work around their families but earn a good level of income. They stated: “It truly lives up to its mission of “making family life easier”, both for customers and for franchisees.”
It all came about as a result of Sally and her husband, who was in the army, moving back North when she was pregnant with her second child. Sally is a chartered surveyor and worked for the civil service. She describes having her first daughter as “a lonely experience” as the family had no relatives nearby. Sally reduced to three days a week at work and says everything was fine when things worked ok, but “all it took was someone to be sick and the whole charade would come tumbling down”. In Oxfordshire Sally had been part of a parents Facebook group.
So when confronted with a lack of information about local services after the family moved to Harrogate, she set up a local Facebook group “to find friends and find out what was going on” and invited the friends she knew who had children. Her mum suggested the name Mumbler. “It was unbelievable how quickly it took off,” she says. It went from four friends to 1,000 active members in no time.
The group shared recommendations about everything from tradespeople to where to get a Christmas tree, what pubs you could take children to and parenting support.
Sally was due to go back to work after maternity leave. During her leave the office she had been transferred to had closed and she faced a one-hour commute. Childcare costs for two children were high. Some businesses had approached her about advertising, but the Facebook platform did not suit what they wanted. So Sally decided to set up a Mumbler website where she could house the information people were sharing permanently.
She set up criteria for the site – it had to be easy for parents to find information and the that information had to be trustworthy. She set small targets for herself – 400 pounds a month was the difference between working and childcare costs. By week six she was hitting her target and was able to be around for her children. She worked during their nap time and at night and her younger daughter was in childcare two days a week after she turned one while her other daughter was at school.
The website launched in 2012. By the time her youngest daughter started school Mumbler was making her a decent living and it made sense to see if the model worked elsewhere. Sally’s sister lived in York so they started a York group to see if it could be replicated. It did better than the Harrogate Mumbler.
In 2015 Sally tested franchises in Leeds and Hull. Hull was a huge success. Leeds didn’t work so well for various reasons. It was a good learning curve, however, and showed Sally that Mumbler worked best at a hyper local level. “People won’t drive an hour for a playgroup,” she reasoned. She carved up areas into smaller sections and focused on getting the right franchisees for the right site.
In 2016 she started properly franchising, having obtained specialist help from a franchise consultant as well as business funding. She describes the consultant’s input as “a pivotal moment”. The consultant helped her to get the processes she needed in place, such as a manual, an onboarding process and a training programme that could be tailored to different people. “All our training is bespoke,” says Sally. Getting the business ready to be franchised took six months of working all hours.
It is important to her that the business model complements family life as much as possible. Sally herself says there is a real blurring of the lines between family and business for her. Her children are keen supporters of Mumbler too. She took her nine-year-old daughter to a Katy Perry concert recently and her daughter was invited on stage. Katy asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. “She said she wanted to do Mumbler,” said Sally. “Katy Perry asked what that was and she said it was a franchise business.” You couldn’t ask for better advertising!
All the franchisees so far are working mums, usually with young families. Many have left their jobs because they are not flexible enough. Mumbler also offers franchisees who get pregnant various options so they don’t have to suspend the business. There are no time input or financial targets and Sally doesn’t charge a percentage of turnover, like other franchises. Instead her income is derived from the number of visitors to Facebook and their Mumbler website as Mumbler’s revenue is built on advertising. “I have based it on what I needed when I set up my business,” says Sally. “I try to do right by people.”
She meets franchisees face to face to do the training and there is also some online training. Every two weeks or so there is a relaxed video conference – a cuppa and chat – where franchisees can hang out and talk about anything they want to. “I believe that if you are generous with your time and information it comes back to you 10 fold,” says Sally.
Mumbler also uses Facebook’s Workplace to enable day to day interaction and collaboration between franchisees as well as sharing of best practice. “It’s about building relationships,” says Sally.
She has attracted a mix of franchisees, including teachers and accountants, all of whom have useful skills. Two of the teachers, for instance, have created summer holiday sheets highlighting local attractions. “My vision is that they are people who are better than me,” says Sally.
There is an annual conference, where experts are invited to keep franchisees up to date on the latest technology and franchisees can meet face to face.
Sally is the only full-time person at head office – she converted her garage into an office so she has the best of both worlds – no commute and a separate space she can close the door on at the end of the day. She admits she works intensively as Mumbler is her baby, but because she loves it it doesn’t feel like work. Her husband works on the business part time as commercial director and there are other part-time staff who provide sales and finance support and help run the Harrogate franchise.
Mumbler now has 20 live websites and four next franchisees are coming on board in the next couple of months. Most are based in Yorkshire, but there are also franchisees in Dorset and Norwich with a Blackpool franchisee starting soon.
Sally says Mumbler has also become involved with local campaigns, such as successfully getting a ban on smoking in a local playground. “We are providing a flexible business for people with lots of job satisfaction,” she states. “Compared to what I was doing, I can say I really care about what I am doing now and I am proud of what we have achieved. It feels really good and like we are making a difference.”