ARTventurers runs colourful, creative, arty and messy play classes for babies, toddlers and children of all ages. Growing from one small hub in Sunderland to over 25 branches across the UK since being founded in 2011, the business has become multi-award winning.
Following our MegaMilestones feature on the start-up of ARTventurers, we catch up again with Fiona Simpson, founder of ARTventurers and recipient of a start-up loan, to discuss why she decided to franchise her business and how it came to be such a success.
When was the moment you first considered franchising your business?
I launched ARTventurers in Sunderland in summer 2011 – delivering art classes, events and parties for babies, toddlers and children in my local area. Quite quickly word started to spread about what I was doing and I started getting requests to deliver ARTventurers sessions and parties firstly in other areas of the north east and then beyond.
This wasn’t possible when it was just me, so I started to look at different ways in which I could expand the business which included either employing staff or expanding through licensing or franchising. I then started to get enquiries about whether I was interested in franchising it out which made me look seriously into that option in 2013.
What was it about your business type / model that meant you felt it would be a successful franchise?
ARTventurers delivers art and creative play classes for babies, toddlers and children. There are many different brands within the children’s activity sector that have successfully franchised – from sports to drama, language and more so it seemed a natural route to investigate.
I could also see very quickly that my business was not one that I would really be able to expand into different parts of the country through employing staff to run the branches. I could see there was real potential for ARTventurers to be developed into a franchise model with mums just like me being our target franchisees – it’s a fun, flexible business that you can fit around family life.
What were the first things you had to consider before going through with setting up ARTventurers as a franchise?
The first two main things were to make sure that it was a profitable business and that my brand was one which could be protected through trademarking. I then wanted to make sure that it was a model that would actually work for other people in other geographical areas and that ARTventurers wasn’t just successful in my own local area with me!
Before I launched ARTventurers I was a solicitor and my legal background certainly helped me at this stage of business growth as I took the initial step to licence with 3 “guinea pig” licensees for a year, doing the legal paperwork for the licence model myself. This allowed me to test the market at low cost for a year – to make sure that it was a model that would work for other people in other areas and to make sure that I had everything in place ready to franchise. It also allowed me to test various practices and procedures on the licensees and get a good understanding of what they needed in terms of help and support.
From a franchising point of view, I also knew that once I was ready to start selling franchise opportunities, it would help massively if we already had a track record with licensees on board.
Can you explain each step you went through before ARTventurers officially became a franchisable business?
Once I had trialled the model through licensing for a year, I felt pretty confident that we were ready to go down the route of fully franchising. At the beginning of 2015 I employed the services of a franchise consultant to help me to get everything ready to launch the franchise opportunities.
Because I had already been licensing for a year, I already had a lot of the systems and procedures now developed and in place but the consultant helped me to formalise everything into our Franchise Operations Manual, drew up the all-important franchise agreement, produced our ARTventurers Franchise Prospectus and helped me with the financial forecasts that we provide to all prospective franchisees.
To be honest, some of this (bar the franchise agreement) I probably could have done myself, but using a franchise consultant meant that things moved ahead to a defined time scale and freed me up to do other things. I used a consultant who had worked with other businesses in the children’s activity sector too as I felt it was important he had some understanding of my industry and my target franchisee.
What happened next? How long was it before you had your first applicant from a potential franchisee? How did this come about?
By July 2015 we were ready to start actively recruiting for our first franchisees – I ran a Franchise Discovery Day in Newcastle in August 2015 and three potential franchisees attended. All three of them joined us and became our first three fully-fledged franchisees – one in Carlisle, one in Inverclyde and one covering the Tyne Valley area.
What steps do potential franchisees go through before they can get started? Do they get any support?
All potential franchisees need to complete a franchise discovery visit as part of the process – it’s really important for us to meet them face to face, we get them to take part in some ARTventurers classes and so we can see if they are a good fit for us and vice versa.
If we decide that yes they’re going to be a great addition to the team, then once the franchise paperwork is signed and they’re on board they complete an ARTventurers franchisee training programme which is part face-to-face and part online. We provide a huge amount of support and mentoring to all of our franchisees, not just at start-up stage but throughout their business journey.
We have very much a team approach at ARTventurers and our franchisees all gain a huge amount of support from each other too! In 2017 we won the award for Most Supportive Franchisor of the Year as well as Overall Top Franchise 2017 in the Working Mums Top Franchise Awards so we must be doing something right!
Can anyone become a franchisee or is there a set criteria potential franchisees must have?
As ours is an art-based business working with children, the big musts are that franchisees need to be enthusiastic, energetic, with a creative flair and a real passion for working with children together with a drive and ambition to own and grow their own business.
Many of our franchisees come from a teaching or early years background as of course it’s a good fit experience-wise but that’s not essential as we provide full training for all of our franchisees.
Would you recommend others to consider franchising their business? If so, why?
On the whole, yes I would. However franchising a business is a huge undertaking and I recommend to anyone to think about it very carefully and do a lot of research before taking the step. Firstly, not every business is suitable or ready for franchising or for the business owner to be ready to take on the role as franchisor – I personally think it’s important that you have a track record of running the business successfully for a period of time yourself before you invite people to join your business as franchisees.
That way you have a wealth of experience (good and bad!) to pass onto your franchisees. Secondly, the role of a franchisor is a challenging one – it can be hard to take that step back and let other people loose with what is effectively your “baby”! And, being a franchisor and supporting existing franchisees as they grow their businesses and face various challenges whilst still growing and developing the franchise network is a demanding role.
However, being a franchisor is also very rewarding – I love helping and supporting our franchisees and watching their businesses grow while they grow in confidence themselves. And winning Woman Franchisor of the Year 2018 in the EWIF (Encouraging Women into Franchising) Awards was certainly a huge highlight for me and really brought home how much ARTventurers has grown and developed over the past few years, from being just me running a class for toddlers in a church hall in Sunderland to now a nationally award-winning business with nearly 30 franchise branches across the UK!