Life before franchising
“I was in corporate specialising in business consulting, marketing and sales for 20 years. I always wanted to be a business owner, so back in September 2010 I decided to start researching business opportunities,” says Claude van Rhyn. Within five months he was opening his ACDC Express doors.
For Sharon, who had been in the medical aid industry for 18 years, shifting gears to helping in the business was a natural progression.
“As the business grew, Claude needed to stay focused on building the business, and so I started managing HR, communications and marketing about a year after we opened.”
Making the leap into franchising
“Initially I wasn’t sure what kind of business to have so I applied my career experience into researching what would be appropriate for the West Rand. Electrical wholesaling met my financial criteria and then I came across ACDC Express, which was exactly what I was looking for with the added benefit of needing only one supplier,” says Claude.
“I chose this brand because I liked the retail-feel,” says Claude. The business has a mix of electrical contractors, developers, DIY walk-ins, and some mine and food manufacturers who purchase directly from them.
“Retail accounts for approximately 25% of our business, however it makes up 50% of our turnover, so customer experience is very important.” For the larger customers, Claude takes ACDC Express’s specialised brand managers along when visiting customers.
“Retail in this industry can be especially challenging because it’s very technical and you’ve got to ensure a customer has a good experience and gets the right advice, and especially when their technical knowledge is the reason behind a product failing. It’s very tricky, but our floor manager Victor is great at handling these situations,” says Sharon.
Lessons in location
The couple learnt a valuable lesson in picking their location. “A letting agent found us a spot and the franchisor’s geographic study was positive, but our biggest lesson is that although it’s in a retail environment, it’s not retail enough for our sales goals. We get good traffic, but it would have been ideal to be on the main road for greater visibility, and we’d prefer closer proximity to an anchor tenant. Business is good because of our relationship with contractors and developers, but we’ll have more experience for when we move or open another store,” says Claude.
“ACDC Express has over 90 000 products and learning about those quickly was a challenge, especially when someone would ask for a specialist product,” says Claude.
“We were very fortunate that our customers were lenient with us while we were learning, and we have found that they are very willing to give advice and impart knowledge if we ask. Now, we’ve got such great relationships with our repeat customers that we can ask for their advice, and we can share our knowledge – everyone benefits,” says Sharon.
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Lessons on working with a spouse
“Initially it was a challenge to separate home from work, because we were together 24/7,” says Sharon.
“The first year was also very busy. Claude would work seven days a week, all day and we never went away. Come the second year he would take a weekend here and there, and by the third year we started going away on short trips. Only now are we able to really enjoy longer holidays and time away from the business.”
ACDC Express franchisees are owner-operators, and Claude learnt some valuable lessons in balancing this role with stepping away.
“A year ago my business/life coach showed me my business would be in trouble if anything happened to me because I was running everything. From then, we’ve worked to empower all our staff and give the right people the right authority to make decisions, to call the franchisor directly if I’m unavailable, and to take charge of their responsibilities. It’s made a world of difference having a floor manager, an accounts department and properly trained sales people. Now I can focus on reports and driving business growth, and when we go away, I’m not worried,” says Claude. ”We’re very fortunate to have built a team that we can rely on,” says Sharon.
Relationship with the franchisor
“We have a good relationship with the franchisor. We came on board early and have grown with the franchisor, and it feels like a family,” says Claude.
“They care about our success. We understand they have strict guidelines for a reason and we’re happy to follow them, but if we have a problem we’re also able to speak to them about it,” says Claude.
“The franchisor plays a big role in incentivising our sales staff to meet their targets too,” says Sharon. “They have quarterly incentives and that really helps.”
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“Do your research, be 100% happy with your location, and go for it. If you don’t have management experience it’s going to be a challenge, so upskill yourself in that department. And if you lack technical knowledge, hire for it immediately because it makes a big difference to customer experience and building a loyal base,” says Claude.