Carris Donaldson is the first to confess that performing isn’t her speciality. In fact, she is honest in saying it was slightly terrifying at first as her knowledge for the industry was non-existent. However, the 31-year-old has taken everything in her stride and used her business initiative to complete her first year at Stagecoach Stirling. You could now even class her as an expert.
“I never, in a million years, thought I would have my own performing arts school. I would’ve never set one up off my own back because of my lack of knowledge. I have to admit it’s been a challenge, only because it’s new, but I love having to find things out for myself. It’s been as much as a learning curve for me as it has for my students.”
Carris is not the typical Stagecoach Principal. The usual ‘Stagecoacher’ has a background in performing arts with a passion for being in the spotlight, but Carris is proud to be part of a growing group of Stagecoach franchisees who come without performance or teaching experience.
“I was the manager of a country inn and was in charge of the day-to-day running of the premises. I went on a lot of management courses, which were very helpful, and I even won the Scottish Bartender of the Year Award. As much as I loved it, I knew that I wanted a change. I met with my cousin, who is the Principal at Stagecoach Edinburgh, and I mentioned that I wanted something different that could give me a better work-life balance. That’s when she said that Stagecoach Stirling was available and I was immediately interested.”
Hearing the positives from her cousin – someone she trusts – Carris already had an idea about what life as a Principal would be like after previously lending a helping hand at Stagecoach Edinburgh. She saw the daily tasks of the business, witnessed the benefits of working within a franchise network and made her mind up that she could make this her own adventure. Nothing was going to stop her, not even her mum.
“I remember having a chat with her about the investment and weighing up the options. She said: ‘If it doesn’t work out, it’s a lot of money’, to which I replied: ‘But I’ll regret it if I don’t try!’”
All new franchisees undertake an expert induction at Stagecoach’s head office in Walton-on-Thames and receive ongoing training along with support in marketing, customer service, IT and business development. Their tried-and-tested structure enables franchisees to play to their strengths and provides the best possible environment in which to succeed.
“The training was brilliant. Very intense but I absolutely loved it. There was so much to learn but that’s the beauty of a franchise – we were set up with the knowledge and tools to run a successful business. The sessions were well organised, brilliantly put together and very informative.
“The best thing about being a franchisee is the ongoing support. I know I can ring my Regional Franchise Manager and she will always be available to chat. We’re very far away from head office in Scotland but they still make the effort to visit us. It feels like there is a constant safety net which is extremely reassuring.”
In her first year, Carris vowed to reinvest all of the profits back into the business, putting everything back into the business to provide materials, costumes and experiences for the students, with the rest being used for marketing purposes.
“I made the conscious decision for the sake of business. When I took over Stirling, I knew that I had to inject a new lease of life into the business, creating a new buzz through marketing and student experiences. It’s meant that my year has been very full on, the start was crazy but it became more manageable as the terms went on.”
Due to her commitment to the business, Carris continued working four days a week at a hotel to provide her with income. But her plans for her second year see her focusing her time entirely on Stagecoach.
“I wanted to get all the foundations in place so running the business becomes easier and easier. Stirling currently has 70 students enrolled for the new term – we are nearly full!
Despite finishing off a crazy year, with 2019 having huge plans too, Carris always makes time for her passion for water-sports. The Scottish borders provide her with the much-needed respite when she needs to clear her head.
“When the weather is good, I have my own kayak and love to get away. After an emotional rollercoaster of a year, it’s great to be able to free my mind and focus on myself. I can see that Stagecoach is going to be a great business which will give me an ongoing sense of personal satisfaction. It’s lovely to hear feedback from parents when we’ve helped improve their child’s confidence.”