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Membership History

Full Member
Joined 2001

Membership History

Full Member
Joined 2001

Company Overview

Walk around your local town or village and there’s a good chance that you will see the work of a Countrywide Signs franchisee. We are the UK’s only ISO9001-accredited estate and letting agents board contractor, responsible for the erection and maintenance of ‘For Sale’ and ‘To Let’ signs across the country.

Countrywide Signs has been providing this service to agents since 1998 and has a network of over 60 franchisees nationwide.

We also provide commercial signs of all kinds to businesses, giving franchisees extra revenue streams.

Franchise Overview

We offer a highly flexible opportunity, with different territory sizes according to your ambition: you can invest in one van and scale up as your confidence grows, or hit the ground running with a larger operation by employing staff and running two or four vans from day one.

Our top franchisee is on course to break £1m turnover soon and with great turnover per van and strong profit margins, alongside exceptional technology that provides great customer service and simple business administration for you, the potential is substantial.

Training

Our comprehensive training package and ongoing support means you’ll join the 96% of Countrywide Signs franchisees who make a success of their business.

The initial package includes mentoring and training directly with our top-performing franchisee. Designed to help people from all backgrounds and skill levels, you’ll receive practical training, an introduction to the signage business, and financial administration skills.

You’ll also get budgeting and cash-flow support, health and safety training, marketing guidance plus a full day on our accounting system.

Daily Life of a franchisee

Your daily operations depend on whether you opt to be an owner-operator or a multi-van franchisee.

In a single van business, you’ll be putting up signs yourself, but because our franchise is so flexible you can adapt it to your own circumstances – some franchisees like to leave and return early, others do the school run before they begin.

As a management franchisee, you’ll manage your team to deliver great service while you focus on business development, meeting new agents and winning new business. Flexibility is key – the choice is yours!

James and Jane Bickerstaff

Even though Countrywide Signs franchisees James and Jane Bickerstaff started their business eight years ago, they still find that every day is different and interesting.

While many franchisees may find their efforts and funds are mostly spent on promoting and advertising their business, Countrywide Signs franchisees James and Jane Bickerstaff have found most of their business comes to them. “Since launching our franchise back in 2000 we have not done much advertising but have built our business up through word of mouth,” reveals Jane. “When we started we only had one van and it was just my husband and I - we now have five vans on the road.”

Based in Preston, Lancashire the Bickerstaffs offer a complete sign board service for Estate Agents. This includes providing the signs and, using state-of-the-art technology such as Global Positioning Satellite (GPS), distributing them in the correct locations.

Before becoming Countrywide Signs franchisees Jane worked in production planning and James was a HGV driver. The couple wanted to start their own business so they decided to look into franchising. Jane remembers: “We chose to join a franchise as although it offers the flexibility of working for yourself you have still got a network and framework in the background to support you. We found out about the Countrywide Signs franchise while reading The Franchise Magazine. This franchise appealed to us because it had a relatively low start-up investment and we thought it looked like something that we would be able to grow and build into a successful business.”

Although the couple have been running their franchise for many years they still find that the work is varied and interesting. Jane comments: “I enjoy the fact that it is a challenging business and every day is different - you really don’t know what you’re going to come across the next day. One of the main benefits of Countrywide Signs is that it is run by down to earth people who have lots of hands-on experience and have practical knowledge of what running a business is like. ”

The couple are on target to meet their estimated turnover and are planning to build on their success. Jane says: “We want to grow our business. We are aiming to get more customers onboard in our territory so that we eventually have total coverage in the area.”

Jane advises those looking at the Countrywide Signs franchise: “This franchise would suit someone who likes to be busy and enjoys a challenge. This isn’t a nine-to-five job, however what you put in you do get out at the end, which has enabled us to achieve the success our hard work deserves.”

Cass Clay

After being in the catering industry for over 40 years, Cass Clay had decided that he could no longer wanted to endure the unsociable hours, and a career change was in order to allow him to spend more time with his family.

“During my 40 years in the catering industry, I ran my own pub, was a general manger and a site director,” Cass says. “There came a point where I felt that I had completed this part of my life. The unsociable hours played a huge part in my decision to change careers and Countrywide Signs provided a great opportunity for me to start my own business, with the advantage of having time to spend with my family. Countrywide Signs was less expensive than some other franchises: it didn’t require renting any premises, or buying stock that could go off, which made a refreshing change!”

Cass already knew that becoming a franchise owner was what he wanted to do. He looked at a number of franchise opportunities across various industries, including catering. Based on the simplicity of the concept and low start-up costs, he found Countrywide Signs to be the most beneficial for him.

Cass moved to Stourbridge at the beginning of 2010 with his fiancée, Kim. He has three daughters, who have all grown up and flown the nest. He enjoys travelling and has visited many different countries whilst he was in the navy. He likes to attend music festivals and recently visited the Isle of Wight Festival and V Festival. He is pleased that he has more time for such leisure pursuits now, without the unsociable hours associated with his previous catering commitments.

Cass aims to get his first van to capacity as quickly as possible. His ultimate goal is to develop the business to having three vans on the road. He wants to be able to split his time between managing a team of employees and still spending time in the van on the more interesting and lucrative contracts.

His advice for others thinking of following his route into business? “If you are looking atinvesting in a franchise make sure you do your homework and choose something that will suit your lifestyle. Countrywide Signs suits me because the work allows me to be hands-on as well as giving me the opportunity to manage my own business. I get bored easily so I knew that investing in a franchise requiring long hours behind a desk or in a small unit wouldn’t suit me. That is why Countrywide Signs is perfect for me!”

Clinton Bondin

Clinton Bondin is originally from Malta but his wife is British so they’ve spent time living in both countries. Having run his own successful business in Malta, he was keen to find a fulfilling opportunity to grow a business when they decided to move to the UK two years ago.

Clinton explains: “In Malta I ran my own business servicing cigarette machines which I’d grown from 11 locations to 156. It was going really well but when the cigarette companies changed their sales strategy it was clear the future did not hold the same opportunities. We started looking at new options and decided to move to the UK where I began to research franchises whilst working as an HGV driver.”

Having looked at a wide range of franchise businesses Clinton was impressed with the Countrywide Signs team and could see the business model was clear and easy to understand.

“I really wanted to be my own boss again but there are so many options I knew I had to spend time researching them properly to find the right choice for me and my family,” says Clinton. “When I came across Countrywide Signs it looked like a good opportunity but it was the openness of the people involved that really convinced me.

“Although the product is different, the role and the skills required to grow the business were similar to my company in Malta, so I felt very comfortable that it was the right franchise investment for me.”

Clinton’s territory is Huddersfield, near to where he and his wife and young daughter have lived for the past two years. Although it’s mainly a new territory for Countrywide Signs there are a few established clients which will provide a starting block for him to grow from.

“I’ve just completed my training and have a clear understanding of what I need to be focusing on to get the business going,” Clinton comments. “I have strong ambitions for the business and although I’ve only just started, I’m working towards having more than one van by mid-2016 and then further growth beyond that.”

When he’s not working, Clinton likes to spend time with his family and is enjoying exploring his new home on foot. He also enjoys watching football and although he’s traditionally an AC Milan fan, he thinks the English leagues are more exciting!

Dean Angel

When Dean heard that the Countrywide Signs franchise owner for Dunstable was retiring, he jumped at the opportunity to run his own business.

Having trained as an engineer, Dean then spent nine years working as a locksmith.  He worked for a large commercial firm doing work for corporate businesses such as Lloyds TSB, but was frustrated with the nationwide travel and not getting the full benefit of the work he was doing.

Dean explains how he heard about the opportunity to buy an existing franchise territory: "The previous franchise owner stored his boards at my in-laws' farm and they passed on the news that he was retiring due to ill-health.  He'd been really happy with his business so I knew it was a fantastic opportunity and one not to be missed."

By buying an established business, Dean has the benefit of knowing that it has been run successfully and he's been able to continue the relationships that the previous franchise owner had established.

"I've never run my own business before so I've relied on the support and training provided by the team at head office," Dean says.  "I've also been able to shadow other franchise owners to understand how they operate and learn from them."

“Working as a locksmith, establishing and maintaining good customer relations was always a big thing.  It was important to build their confidence in my reliability and to demonstrate that I delivered on my promises. With my new business, working with businesses who themselves rely on providing a reliable efficient service to their clients, it is it is equally important to establish that trust so that my clients know that they can rely on me for a prompt professional service”

Dean has plans to grow the business and is looking forward to meeting with the management team to help him plan his expansion and a marketing strategy.  "I plan to target new areas in the territory, I've spoken to some already and they all seem receptive to working with me and continuing to build the Countrywide Signs relationship."

Running his own business will also provide Dean with more time to spend with his family.  The farm, where he will continue to store the boards, is also home to his wife's livery business and his eldest son helps out with the farm and will help maintain the boards and posts for Dean.

When he's not working Dean enjoys martial arts, and has even fought at Wembley Arena!

Gary Whydell

Gary Whydell was looking to improve his professional life and build himself a more prosperous future in business. After extensive research of different franchise opportunities across various sectors, Gary chose Countrywide Signs.

He explains: “Having spent the last twenty-four years in the printing industry I finally decided to chase my dream of working for myself. I had grown tired of being in the printing industry and started searching for franchise opportunities, in the hopes of taking my life in a new, more interesting and profitable direction.

“I chose Countrywide Signs because it is such a simple concept, a very professional organisation and you don’t need to invest in premises or stock – making the start-up really easy.”

Gary was thrilled to hear that the local area of Grimsby was available for his Countrywide Signs business; he has lived in Grimsby for twenty-two years with his wife Debby. He is now busy promoting his Countrywide Signs business, whilst Debbie runs her own hairdressing business in the local area.

His decision to go for Countrywide Signs was based on the opportunity to make use of his existing management skills. He plans to expand the business and manage at least two more vans on the road in the next two years. Once his business is more established, Gary plans on managing his business from home.

In his spare time, Gary has a particular interest in motorbikes and regularly attends bike nights with his wife in Lincolnshire. They visit race tracks for British Superbike rounds and love taking part in races, although he promises to stick to the speed limits in his van! Gary and Debby are devoted Liverpool supporters and never miss a game. They also support their local Grimsby Town FC and enjoyed attending games – until they got relegated!

“To anyone thinking of becoming a franchise owner, I would advise them to make sure that they do their homework and just to know what is involved,” Gary says. “I found the set-up process to be really good from start to finish. I particularly liked the fact that there was no pressure to invest, as Countrywide Signs don’t take part in any hard-selling. I was able to make the decision in my own time and at my own pace, which is reassuring when entering a new field.”

Jim Stevenson

When Jim was made redundant he discovered his perfect business opportunity in Countrywide Signs. He wanted a change from working in an office, to take control of his future and grow his own business. Jim recognised the strength in building a business around a proven model and searched for the right franchise opportunity to invest in.

Commenting on his journey into franchising, Jim says: “I had been a Business Analyst for 13 years so when I received my redundancy package I was keen for a change of direction. I was looking for an opportunity that had a lot of growth potential and after doing a lot of research into different types of franchises, Countrywide Signs was the one for me. Having bought the Edinburgh Central franchise, I hope to invest in another territory in the near future and build a multi-van, multi-territory business.”

Jim’s background as a Business Analyst meant he was accustomed to reviewing business processes and looking for different options and opportunities for improvement. He decided to look into franchising as it offers an existing business structure, with successful systems already in place, making them lower risk than starting up on his own.

As Jim explains: “I was impressed by the whole package Countrywide Signs offers. The training has been really hands-on and I have been very impressed by the setup process. I think the deciding factor was when speaking to the other Franchise Owners. They all said they would definitely do it again. This helped to confirm my own thoughts that this was a good opportunity to build my own sound business.”

As for his future? Jim is driven to get his Edinburgh central territory to full capacity as soon as possible and then taking on a second territory. He will therefore be looking for employees to help him grow his business in the future, and is currently out and about taking part in Countrywide Signs training and meeting new clients.

Jim lives with his wife in Bathgate, Scotland, approximately twenty minutes away from central Edinburgh. In his spare time he enjoys tending to his garden and looking after his pride and joy, his TVR S2 convertible classic car.

Mark Herlihy

Signs of Success For Mark Herlihy

Just eighteen months into his new business, former financial services manager Mark Herlihy is already seeing major signs of success in his territory around Oxford.

Having worked for 16 years in a strategic role managing over 100 staff – when the time came to realise the dream of going out on his own, Mark jumped at the chance of taking over a Countrywide Signs franchise as the former owner neared retirement.

Although benefitting from established clients, Mark had to work hard to re-establish the brand in the local area in order to grow the business. Originally planning to start a second van within the first eighteen months, he actually achieved this goal within a year – and now has one full time driver and one part time – and hopes to employ another full time member of staff soon. With feedback positive from clients, another van is also on the cards by year two.

A natural entrepreneur, Mark has smashed his income targets as well. “When we took over the turnover was £18k,” he says, “and we’ll close our first full financial year at the end of May 2016 with a turnover of £66,000 and a healthy profit margin. Our projected turnover for the next financial year is £95-125K - so we are definitely moving in the right direction.”

And Mark is clear on what has helped make him so successful so quickly. “The support and marketing guidance from Head Office has been tremendous,” he says. “On top of that there is the National Accounts team who bring in work from a lot of the larger brands to add to revenue from my local clients.”

What has also made an impression on Mark is the way Countrywide Signs are always looking at initiatives to improve the client service offering. “In the last 12 months Head Office have introduced a new App which links to the existing Board Management System we use to update agents on project progress,” says Mark. “It gives us another point of difference over our competition.”

Mark’s business is growing so fast he’s even had to put his gym and rugby time on hold, and draft in the help of his partner, who assists with admin despite having her own full-time job. With five children and three dogs, he’s already at ‘bursting point’ running the operation from home, and the aim is to expand into new premises soon – with Mark taking on more of a management role.

“My Countrywide Signs franchise has been everything I hoped it would be and more,” concludes Mark. “I’m working longer hours than I did before but it’s so much more rewarding. I can genuinely see the progress I’m making towards my goals of gaining financial control over my future, and achieving a better work-life balance so I can spend more time with my family.”

Paul Lawson

Having worked in the city and then run his own mortgage broker business, Paul Lawson had decided to take early retirement aged 52 to spend time with his family and enjoy his hobbies.  However, when he offered to help a friend run his Countrywide Signs franchise for a short period, he discovered a business he couldn’t resist getting more involved in.

“When my friend’s wife became ill I offered to help run his Countrywide Signs business while he looked after her,” Paul explains.  “I really enjoyed the challenge and liked the business model, so I was quick to accept when the opportunity arose to become a franchise owner in Stevenage. I wasn’t looking to invest in a franchise, or any business, but the opportunity was too good to miss.”

Paul bought an underdeveloped part of an established territory, which was being sold by the existing franchise owner due to ill health.  This meant he had the benefit of buying an established and well-run business, but also the opportunity to generate new opportunities.

He says: “I really enjoy business development, so taking on an area with huge potential was a challenge I relished. So far my hard work is paying off as I doubled turnover in the first three months.  It really helps to be part of a nationwide network as many of the people I’m meeting know of Countrywide Signs and the technology behind the service is a real selling point.”

Although he doesn’t live in his territory, Paul enjoys the commute and with a mobile modem in his van, he’s able to keep up to date with requested jobs on the move.  He also finds he doesn’t have to go to the territory all day, every day so he can make the hours fit around his family and lifestyle.

“We have a 12 year old son as well as enjoying many pursuits including sailing and skiing.  I also coach rugby and my wife is a netball coach, so the flexibility of the business was appealing,” Paul explains. “By the middle of next year I plan to take on someone else and then grow the team progressively after that.”

Sue Jamil and Neil Sansom

“The business has always given us the flexibility to enjoy family life on our terms”

Sue Jamil and her husband Neil Sansom first took on a Countrywide Signs franchise in 2010, later moving territories. In 2017 they made the decision to sell their business when a new opportunity in their former love of property development arose.

Here, Sue discusses the couple’s franchising journey from beginning to end, and her highlights along the way…

In the beginning

We bought the Bury St Edmunds territory in January 2013 from a neighbouring franchisee, who was looking to reduce his area, and sold our original territory.

We got involved with Countrywide Signs because we were looking for a ‘bread and butter’ business and had a young family. We’d previously been involved in property development and decided after the market crash in 2008 it wasn’t something we felt confident enough in to continue investing; we wanted a steady business with income we could rely on as a family.

A history of highlights

We’ve been able to get the balance right between a steady income and a really busy family life. My husband has been able to work often on only three, sometimes four days per week. Even with that, through natural price increases and enhanced service provision to agents, we’ve increased the turnover considerably. We’re now running in excess of £70,000 turnover per year from a part-time business.

The franchise has worked so well for us. We’re a very busy family, with children from eight to 19 years old, and over the years that we’ve been involved in Countrywide Signs we’ve found the business has always given us the flexibility to enjoy family life on our terms. When we’ve had school events we wanted to go to, or on the other side with situations like family illnesses, we’ve been able to run the business around whatever else is going on in our lives. That flexibility to us has been absolutely invaluable.

It was important for us to retain some independence and control for ourselves. We’ve been given very much a free rein – as long as we use the systems correctly and maintain exceptional customer service, we’ve enjoyed the freedom to run the business very much as we see fit and build it up to suit our own circumstances.

We’ve never sought to gain the competition’s agents and there’s a large part of our territory we haven’t ever developed, so there’s still a lot more to come for the new owner!

Network advantages

It’s quite difficult to run a business like this from scratch without the brand and reputation of a set up like Countrywide Signs, let alone the online systems collating everything from workload to invoicing. I think the agents appreciate that we’re not just a ‘man and his van’, we have professional corporate backing. Then we put our personal touch on things, with the service element that we’ve promoted very strongly in our area.

A word of advice to potential franchisees…

It’s really important to do as much due diligence as you can so you know exactly what you’re getting into – the parameters within which you’ve got to work, but also the freedom element; there’s nobody telling you what to do, so you need to be very self-motivated! As we’d been self-employed before, we found that transition quite easy.

Buying an established area with good service and good reputation is a really great opportunity. It allows you to hit the ground running but there’s still so much potential to go after, not only for new agents but also more business from existing agents.

What’s next?

Opportunities through family circumstances will lead us back to property development, now that our children are older we want to return to something we’ve always been passionate about. We’ve had a very fulfilling time with the business, and we know the new owner will too.

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