Maria Darling like shoes, but she has very small feet so has had problems finding ones that she likes that will fit. She was a regional sales manager for a national recruitment company, but wanted to do something different. Her personal problems with finding shoes for her size two feet and a chance conversation about the lack of affordable shoe shops offering something unusual in Bournemouth, where she lived, fired her imagination.
Three and a half years ago she decided to set up a shoe business providing just that service for shoes up to size 9. Shoes Glorious Shoes has now gone nationwide after being franchised last year.
Maria says she didn’t want to be tied down to a shop and decided instead to opt for the tried and tested party planning formula used by Tupperware and the like. She did her research and says she soon realised there was a huge demand for the business.
Last summer, after making sure the franchise model worked she managed to “have a ball” and make a profit, she decided to go national. She wrote a comprehensive operations manual based on her own experience and started looking for potential franchisees. She now has 10. Eventually she hopes to have representatives in every corner of the country.
Maria chooses her stock of shoes from visiting the two main shoe trade fairs in Milan and Madrid regularly. She says she introduces new suppliers every season to ensure that there is a good turnover of styles, but she has very definite ideas of what is right for the Shoes Glorious Shoes brand and for her customers. “It’s a constantly changing feast,” she says. This keeps customers and franchisees interested and keen, she says, because they can’t wait to see the latest styles.
The shoes are similar to the ones you find in exclusive shoe boutiques, but are less than you would expect to pay because Maria cuts out the overheads because it is a homeworking business. “They are a little bit different to what you can get in the high street,” she says. “They are slightly exclusive.” She constantly keeps in mind what her customers want, based on her experience.
Because she buys carefully and knows the quality of the product, she is able to keep the price down for customers, but also ensure her franchisees get a good profit margin.
She says the franchise is designed to be able to fit around franchisees’ lifestyle. Some franchisees choose to work full time on the business. Others work part time. It is up to them to choose.
She gives franchisees a lot of support in the initial months. She talks them through the business and what they need to be aware of and learn. She tries to make sure they are right for the business, but says she emphasises that it is up to them to make the business work; its not just about selling to their friends. “It’s a real business that they drive forward and they will reap the rewards if they do,” she says.
The recruitment process starts with a phone interview where she assesses if a person is right for the franchise. She then sends out an information pack, which covers everything, including expected growth margins. “I am very open and people know from the start what the potential benefits are,” she says. If they feel it is right for them and Maria thinks they are right for the business they fill in an application form and pay a deposit to secure their zone whilst discussion continue. They then come to head office to see the products, to talk about their business plan and see a draft of the franchise agreement.
Maria says the backgrounds of franchisees is very varied. Only one has a sales background. “You do not need a sales background,” she says. “Once the products are on display they sell themselves.” What they do need is commercial knowledge, drive and passion and the ability to plan and carry out a business strategy.
The youngest franchisee is in her mid-30s. The oldest is in her mid-50s. A third are mums. One is a grandmother. Franchisees can choose one of two levels when they start. Silver level costs £4,800 and gold level costs £7,800. The difference in price is due to the size of the area covered, the length of the franchise agreement and the amount of stock they get to start off their business. Maria says the £7,800 package is the most popular as they get retail stock with a value of £6,000. Franchisees then build and change their stock by ordering it on the website through a secure page.
Maria started the business from home, but it has developed to such an extent that she is soon to move into offices. She has people working for her as and when she needs them in the office and buys in skills like PR and accountancy. “It’s about working clever and keeping the overheads down. It’s an efficient business,” she says.
She adds that she is ambitious and hopes eventually to launch her own brand of shoes, in addition to having franchisees in strategic points around the UK.
She says she knew from day one that she wanted to run her business as a franchise. Her husband, who works in the retail industry, had been a franchisee and she learnt a lot about how franchises work from him. “I knew how not to do it and I created a simple model that allows franchisees to be profitable,” she says.