Wilkins Chimney Sweep, has recently welcomed its 15th franchisee who made the decision to buy his franchise during the COVID pandemic.
Wilkins is part of Taylor Made Franchising who also own Stumpbusters, PVC Vendo and Traas Pest Control and Thomas Cleaning.
Keiron Harding (42) previously worked in a residential school for vulnerable children. When he felt unable to practice social distancing in the school, Keiron, who has a young family including two year old twins, decided to look for other employment.
‘I’ve had a variety of jobs, from estate agency to safety supervisor maintaining the tracks on London Underground and most recently working with secondary school-aged children at a specialist school in Kent. I loved working with the kids but felt I had to put my young family’s health first, something that was going to be very hard in the school environment. I also wanted something that gave me more control over my own time and my family’s future. I’d looked at franchises before but had always been sceptical. I started googling ‘Low Cost Franchises UK’ and found Wilkins on one of the franchise websites.’
No Money Down
After initially making contact, Keiron was delighted to hear Wilkins were offering a ‘No Money Down’ scheme, meaning he could be up and running in no time without having to worry about repaying the franchise fee until September 2021.
As part of his research, Keiron spoke to a number of Wilkins franchisees, all of whom told him to grab the opportunity with both hands.
‘As Adrian Steel at Wilkins Chimney Sweep North Hants said, ‘you’d be mad not to do it!’ Adrian has owned his Wilkins franchise since 2012, and now employs 3 sweeps. He has recently purchased a PVC Vendo franchise from within the Taylor Made Franchising group.
Like many people who express an interest in becoming a chimney sweep, Keiron was on the receiving end of more than one or two raised eyebrows when he discussed the idea with friends and family;
‘I had loads of people saying ‘what do you want to do that for, no one uses chimney sweeps anymore’ but that’s exactly where they are wrong. The art of sweeping chimneys may be ancient but the fires that start in an unswept chimney or the Carbon Monoxide that kills a sleeping family because of a blocked flue are very much a 2020 problem and I’m proud to be providing a safety service to my local area.’
According to Home Office statistics there were 36,283 ‘dwelling fires’ in the UK in 2018/19, and 25% of those were chimney fires or other fires started by ‘non-human factors.’
Another survey published in 2019 records that 31% of all unintentional deaths by Carbon Monoxide poisoning between September 1995 to August 2018, were caused by solid fuel (ie wood or coal) and 57% of those deaths were in homes where the occupier was the owner (eg not council/rented/commercial).
‘I looked at lots of different franchise opportunities, oven cleaning, house cleaning, gardening etc but I knew I wanted to do something that the average home-owner couldn’t do for themselves, making it recession proof. You can’t service your own car or boiler, neither can you sweep your own chimney. I did my research to check out the local competition and was pleased to say there wasn’t too much. One local sweep had just retired which could only be good news for me. I also realised that despite installing a wood burning stove in my own house seven years ago, no one had ever offered to come and sweep it for me – not one leaflet in all those years – so there had to be a market.’
Wilkins Chimney Sweep is managed by Richard Bryan himself a former Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchisee. He has overseen Keiron’s extensive training;
‘We are delighted to welcome Keiron on board and we know he is going to make a great sweep. He has already spent three weeks on-site training with our franchisees, sweeping just shy of 100 chimneys. The beauty of this kind of immersive, hands-on training is that he gets to sweep chimneys in every conceivable setting. No two chimneys are the same and as sweeps we must learn to adapt and overcome many times a day. To be a good chimney sweep you need to be physically fit and to have a good problem solving attitude; to be a good Wilkins Chimney Sweep you also have to be able to follow the Wilkins model and have a desire to build your own successful business.’
On the risks of starting up a new business Keiron said,
‘Of course I’m apprehensive, it’s a new job, who wouldn’t be, but I’m equally confident that I’ll succeed. I have received great support from everyone at Wilkins, from Richard who showed me how to run the business to the franchisees who I did my training with. I’m already in the franchisee’s Whatsapp group which is so useful for asking questions in these early days. With the ‘No Money Down’ offer the pressure is off, all I need to do is get sweeping ready to start repaying the franchise fee in 12 months down.’
Chimney Sweeping is a debt-free, pay on the day business model; Wilkins have developed bespoke mobile software that processes a sweep’s invoices, sends out the Certificate of Sweeping, and reminds clients of their next sweep all via a mobile phone or tablet, saving them hours of administration time.
Darren Taylor, MD of Taylor Made Franchising who own Wilkins Chimney Sweep said,
‘So many people have had their lives turned upside because of COVID and like Keiron, many of them are looking for a new path, either because of redundancy, losing their jobs or simply because they want more control over their health and safety at work like Keiron. At Taylor Made Franchising we have a variety of ‘man in a van’ type operations which would appeal to anyone who is looking for that next career move. Franchisees can be assured that they have a hugely experienced team at head office here to support them; we’ve helped many people build their own successful franchise businesses over the years. I was a Stumpbusters franchisee myself, so know exactly what it is like to be out there every day, in all weathers working hard to build up a business. These are tough times and we genuinely hope more people will follow Keiron’s example and come and look at a Taylor Made Franchising business to help them get back on their feet and earning money again.’