Membership History

Associate Member
Joined 2011

Membership History

Associate Member
Joined 2011
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Company Overview

We’re a business with a great heritage. Established in 1895 in Newbury, Berkshire, Wilkins Chimney Sweep expanded with its first franchisees in 2011.

Franchisors, husband and wife, Peter and Louise Harris are now based in Hungerford in Berkshire with franchisees across the UK.

Peter is a member of the Steering Committee for the Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps (APICS), and his wife Louise, is an associate member representative on the British Franchise Association Board of Directors.

Franchisees run their own local businesses based in an exclusive territory. They offer a range of practical home-based services – chimney sweeping, bird protection and, during the quieter months, a patio and driveway pressure / jet washing service.  We’re a van-based, full-time franchise that operates from home.

Starting as a single operator we expect our franchisees to develop to a second van in their third or fourth year. Our model ticks the boxes for a sustainable, growing, profitable business.

Franchise Overview

Our Franchisees work across the UK from Whitley Bay in the north to Worthing in the south, West Cheshire in the West and South Norfolk in the east! Not all areas lend themselves to the business and we work to establish the need during the planning phase BEFORE accepting franchisees.

We bring a maximum of six new franchisees into the business each year to ensure the best training and support is available during start up and beyond.

In 2016 our man from Tyneside North, Richard Bryan, won the bfa Microbusiness Franchisee of the Year Award amidst some very tough competition!

Training

Training is in three parts – how to run the business and how to deliver the sweeping service plus further training on PowerClean.

A week in the classroom on running the business sets up the business systems, administration and marketing processes; two weeks on the van at ‘live’ customer properties, including a day on working with ladders, ensures the franchisee is ready for the sweeping business from day one. The practical training is far more extensive than anything available in the market and allows franchisees to practice their skills of customer interaction whilst sweeping. When the franchisee is ready, training is provided on the delivery of the PowerClean service.

Daily Life of a franchisee

Like most roles, no day is ever the same! A typical day is out ‘9-5’ sweeping or installing cowls. Back home (after a bath!) complete the day’s brief admin and make follow-up calls to customers if necessary.

Four days a week are sweeping, one is fitting cages, caps and cowls. There is about half a day of admin each week maximum – bookkeeping and banking – plus keeping on top of marketing. It’s a simple yet commercial model!

Richard Bryan

Whitley Bay man Richard Bryan, who spent nearly 30 years working in the local public sector, has become the latest franchisee to join award-winning franchise Wilkins Chimney Sweep. Richard, 48, who has lived in Whitley Bay all his adult life, is married to Michelle and has two children.

A degree in housing studies led Richard to a career working in housing management with Homes for Northumberland, where his responsibilities ranged from allocating properties to overseeing maintenance and estate security, through to grass cutting and rent collection. He took voluntary redundancy from his last post, meaning he was able to dovetail his exit from one business and entry into Wilkins with no interruption or down time.

In a totally new direction, Richard now owns Wilkins Chimney Sweep – North Tyneside, and will be sweeping chimneys, log burners, solid fuel stoves, Agas, Rayburns and Jetmasters and removing nests and fitting cages, caps and cowls to homes and pubs throughout North Tyneside, Newcastle and the surrounding areas.

Although Richard had no experience of sweeping chimneys (as the franchisor prefers), he was keen on DIY, having renovated a few of his own rental properties over the years; a key attribute for anyone looking to become a successful Wilkins Chimney Sweep.

Richard researched his purchase thoroughly, speaking not only to franchisors Louise and Peter Harris but also to current franchisees, asking them about the job, the training and crucially, the profitability and sustainability of the business model. Richard admits he was so sold on the business he didn’t look at any more franchises, knowing immediately that he had found the perfect vehicle to get him out of the office and into running his own business for the very first time.

Of his new career, Richard says: “I’m so excited to start my new business. I’ve been tied to a desk for so many years that I knew I wanted to do something totally different and being a chimney sweep is certainly that!

“I’ve only been working for a couple of weeks now but business is going really well; on my very first day a guy followed me down the road in his car...I was rather taken aback until I realised he wanted to book me as a sweep!

“I’ve also had some articles in the local papers, organised by the franchisor’s PR agency and I’ve even been interviewed on BBC Look North, both of which have given me sweeping jobs and some possible joint ventures with local firms.

“One thing I didn’t expect was the huge amount of old friends, way back to my school days, who have seen me in the paper and got in touch for me to sweep their chimneys. I think it really helps that they know and trust me and hopefully they’ll tell all their friends about me too! Yes, life is good; I’m very excited about the future.”

Pierre Goodwin

You’re never too young to learn a new trick

Wilkins Chimney Sweep was established 111 years ago, but there’s nothing 19th Century about its latest franchisee – 23-year-old Pierre Goodwin has just completed his training to become the youngest ever member of the Wilkins network, taking on the Guildford territory. Let’s find out what attracted this young, sport mad, mechanical engineering graduate to the world of franchising, business ownership and chimney sweeping.

What have you been up to for the last few years that led you down this particular path?
Well, my degree course taught me that I loved university, but that I didn’t want to pursue engineering as a career, much to my parents’ consternation. I’ve watched my friends start to try and climb the corporate ladder in London, and whilst I’m not knocking it, it’s not for me. I’ve had some pretty interesting jobs actually, from waiting tables, gardening, working at a gin distillery and even considering becoming a full-time fitness instructor.

Investing in a chimney sweep franchise seems the logical next step then?
Why not? My father has had his own IT programming business for 35 years, so I’ve always had a good understanding of what it takes to build a company and the kind of hours you need to work to stay successful. The idea of being my own boss has always appealed to me, but to have your own company you have to have your own idea. I’m pretty confident in my ability to turn my hand to most things and I’m not scared of hard work, but I appreciated that there was a lot about starting a business that I didn’t know. Franchising stood out as an obvious way to start a business with a huge leg up the ladder in terms of initial training, mentoring, and ongoing support.

We don’t think there are any gin franchises, but there are plenty of fitness ones. Nothing in that area catch your eye?
Not really, but I have to admit that Wilkins Chimney Sweep may have appeared on my radar in a slightly unusual way. My girlfriend’s Father, Nick, is a Wilkins franchisee, in fact he’s their highest earner and it’s been impossible not to notice just how much he loves what he does every day. There was no big push from him to consider Wilkins necessarily, but he encouraged me to look into franchising as a serious option and pointed me in the direction of the British Franchise Association website.

I liked the idea that the franchises in membership had been independently assessed and accredited, so to me that felt like a very good place to start, especially given how many franchises there are out there. Louise Harris (co-owner of Wilkins Chimney Sweep) is on the bfa board, which again seemed to suggest they were very much committed to the idea of ethical franchising and actively involved in the industry. Combining those perceptions of trust with my conversations with Nick, it really felt like a great option to fully explore.

What did your friends and family think of the idea of you starting your own business?
They were really supportive and all agreed that it seemed to be a great business model that had enormous potential where I live near Guildford. They know that I’m the sort of person that needs to enjoy what I’m doing if I’m going to be working long hours. Funnily enough, Nick was a fitness instructor before buying his Wilkins franchise, so I suppose my girlfriend might be worried I’m following his career path a little too closely, but she’s really pleased I’ve found something I can throw myself into and make a real success of.

Presumably there was more to it than just calling Wilkins up and telling them you were going to take the Guildford franchise?
Yes. A lot more. Louise and her husband Peter (the other co-owner) were really approachable and keen to meet with me, but wanted to hear about how much research I had done and how serious I was about coming on board. It’s easy to miss the point that this is very much a business partnership, whereby the franchisor has to believe in you just as much as you believe in them. Yes, you have to pay for the franchise, but they are investing heavily in you too in terms of training, trusting you with their brand and believing that you will be doing everything you can to grow your business better than someone else could in your territory.

Talking of financing, how did you find the money to fund your franchise fee and start-up capital?
I was fortunate enough to have money set aside from my parents, grandparents and my own savings, which was admittedly intended to be a deposit to get me on the property ladder. Some people might think it’s crazy to take that risk, especially given how hard it is to get a house these days, but if I didn’t believe 100% that I could instead use the money to start a successful business that would allow me to recoup the investment, use it for its original purpose, and then be left with a house and my own profitable business, I would never have done it. For me, the rewards just outweighed the risk.

How risk free do you think franchising is?
I don’t think starting any business is risk free, but there’s no doubt that franchising, if you find the right one for you, greatly reduces the risks normally associated with startups. Wilkins is a well-known brand, loads of heritage, great training and support, and I was able to speak to the other people in the network before signing up. No matter how strong the model, I still have to put the work in, but I’m someone that thrives on a challenge and doing the best job possible.

You’ve mentioned training a few times now. How has it been?
It’s been great, but I will admit that I totally underestimated just how tough it was going to be! This is a highly skilled job and the first two weeks of training were really full on; long days and a lot to take in. By the end of the second week though, everything clicked and I became much more confident and desperate to get out there and start drumming up business.

Was it all practical, get covered in soot type training?
Well that’s how it started, but it’s a very thorough course that’s designed to give you all the skills you’ll need to run your business. It’s no good being a great sweep if you’re not going to build a successful business from doing it. I suppose it’s the difference between learning a skill and taking a salary to get your hands dirty every day as an employee, versus building your own successful, long term business. The business training is actually thorough enough to get someone with zero experience, but a great work ethic, up and running and being successful.

What do you think will set you apart from your competitors?
Well, none of them will work harder than me that’s for sure. I also have the support of the amazing Wilkins team behind me, a proven business model and a highly professional national brand. I’ve got over 100,000 houses in my exclusive territory and plenty of assistance to market my services to them. I’ve been trained by a steering committee member of APICS (Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps), I’m now Ladder Association-qualified and we all undergo a rigorous annual assessment to make sure we are always exceeding industry standards. Also, there are loads of add on services including PowerClean pressure washing which I will be offering from next year. There’s also a lot of investment in the latest technology made available to the network that I’m not sure a fully independent Sweep could compete with. This is a very exciting time and I’m feeling very confident that I can take on the competition and win!

Any advice for other people considering franchising, especially people your age?
The best anecdotal advice that I can pass on actually came from Nick, when he told me that he wished he had known about franchising when he was 23! Choose something that excites you and you believe you’ll be good at and want to stick with; it isn’t a ‘try it for a bit and move on to the next thing’ kind of arrangement, I’ve signed a 6-year franchise agreement. Yes, I’d absolutely recommend Wilkins, there’s no question it’s the right one for me, but whatever type of franchise you want to explore, I would seriously advise starting with the bfa website. Take your time, don’t let yourself be talked into anything you’re not 100% sure of and know your own strengths and weaknesses. I’m amazed more people don’t know about the opportunities out there, although hands off Wilkins Chimney Sweep Guildford, it’s mine!

Wilkins Chimney Sweep, was founded in 1895 in Newbury. It was franchised in 2011 and is owned by husband-and-wife team Peter and Louise Harris. It currently has 12 franchise territories operating across the UK from Worthing to Whitley Bay and is looking for franchisees to expand the business in many areas across the UK. The company has won numerous awards in recent years as it builds on it’s reputation for providing only the best trained, fully insured and meticulous chimney sweeps in the industry.

The company works to the codes of conduct and practice stipulated by APICS (Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps) and is an associate member of the British Franchise Association.

Nick Ménage

Nick Ménage, 52, is married to Gillian, lives in Bloxham and has two children, Jessica and Georgina. Amanda. After 27 years of running a gym in Banbury he bought his Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise.

What made you buy a franchise business?
I wanted to start a new business without the stress of starting from scratch. I know what it is like to start a business on your own and at 52 I knew I didn’t want to do that again. I had thought about becoming a maths teacher but realised that a teaching career would end at 55, so would effectively be over before it had begun; I needed a career that I could carry on until I was ready for my pipe and slippers.

What made you buy a Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise?
Initially I signed up to a franchise website and started receiving emails from different franchise organisations. I liked the Wilkins offer because I realised that although people can cut their own grass and clean their own ovens they can’t sweep their own chimneys, so I knew I would be providing a truly ‘need not want’ service. I also spoke to a friend of mine who’s a fireman; he explained to me how frequent and dangerous chimney fires can be and that a chimney sweep provides a vital safety service to the public. Combined with the strong branding it made the decision quite easy.

What did you do before you bought Wilkins Chimney Sweep (North Oxon)?
After doing a sports science degree my wife and I bought a health & fitness club in Banbury and ran it for 27 years. It was a large premises with 10 members of staff and 1,000 members. We estimate that over the years we must have seen over 10,000 people come through the doors so I think it’s safe to say I know a bit about customer service!

Have you done your training with Wilkins Chimney Sweep? If so how did you find it and what did you learn?
Yes, I’ve completed my training now and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve also learnt that there is more to sweeping than meets the eye. Peter makes it look so easy.

What skills do you think you need to be a chimney sweep?
I think you have to be able to adapt, think logically and methodically. No two chimneys are the same and although they look straight from the outside, some of them are far from straight inside!

What skills do you think you need to run a franchised business?
My previous business skills are helpful but when you are running a franchise business keeping to the model is essential because the model works.

What are you enjoying about running your own business?
It’s great being my own boss again but this time it’s with a supportive framework. I know what it’s like to be in business on your own and this is quite different; it’s great to have Peter and Louise there, at the end of the phone or an email, when I need support and advice, or even just to say hello.

What support have you received from your franchisor?
Loads! I spent a week with Louise going through the ‘office’ side of the business, setting me up on the booking system, the accounts package etc. Obviously having run my own business I had a pretty good idea of what was needed but there were one of two bits that were new and specific to Wilkins.

The next week I spent with Peter. First we did theoretical training then I went out and about with Peter in the van, learning on the job, the only way to do it. Finally we did cages, caps and cowls, learning to climb a ladder safely and to fit these important pieces of chimney equipment.

What are your plans for the business in the next 12 months?
I plan to develop my customer base as much as possible. I’m going to be using the marketing package suggested by the franchisor and trying to develop a few ideas of my own. Things are going well so far; I’ve had some challenging chimneys but none have beaten me yet!

Jon Bright

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, and I also have a Masters degree in business management, although I have not used this much until now. I am originally from London, but my family was originally from the Norwich area. This inspired me to move up here in 2000 to work for Lotus. For the last few years I have been commuting to Cambridge working as a forensic engineer, which I quite enjoyed, but it involved a lot of desk work and after eight years the commute started to get me down. So I knew it was time for a change.

So I started looking around for a job closer to home, but couldn’t see anything that I found appealing. I knew I didn’t want to have a desk job again, so this limited my search quite dramatically. I had always wanted to start my own business, so when I couldn’t find a suitable job I started to think about this again. However, starting your own business from scratch is really quite risky, and this is what brought me to franchising – you get all the benefits of being your own boss, but with far less risk.

So why did you choose a Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise?

I know it sounds funny, but I always tell people that Wilkins found me. When I started looking into franchising seriously I started to do a lot of research, via the British Franchise Association and other websites, and Wilkins just stood out to me straight away. It was a very practical business which offered a high quality service, and also meant I would be out and about everyday meeting different people, it couldn’t really be further away from a desk job. The fact it was a traditional old-fashioned trade, but something that is still extremely useful today also appealed, it just ticked all the boxes. The branding, heritage… I was just very impressed.

It’s a big change of career, what drew you to chimney sweeping?

As I said before it is a service which a lot of people need, especially as installing fires in the home becomes more and more fashionable. I put a log burner in last year and absolutely love it, plus it improved my energy rating which saves me some money. I’m not sure many people actually know that if you have a fire or a stove and you don’t get your chimney swept every year it will affect your home insurance if you have a fire, as it is a prerequisite of a lot of insurers. So I think there is definitely an education job to be done as well, and I plan to talk to my local council and the fire service about this.

How have you found the training and support?

It has been fantastic so far, I have enjoyed every minute of it. The first week was office training which finally allowed me to put my Masters degree to some use. It was certainly a bit of eye opener seeing everything that running your own business entails, but the Wilkins team couldn’t have been more thorough and I know they are always there if I need their assistance.

Then I had two weeks of sweeping training, which was great but very hard work. By the end of the two weeks I really began to feel it, I think I was using muscles I didn’t even know I had, but it was definitely worth it. I now feel ready to go out on my own and just can’t wait to get properly started. Already I have met some very interesting people, and been in all kinds of different houses, there is something different everyday which is exactly what I wanted.

And finally, what are your plans for the future?

First and foremost, there is a lot of hard work in front of me getting this business off the ground. I need to get out into the local community and meet as many people as possible and get my name known for providing an excellent service.

After that, well I am 48 now and the Wilkins licence is for six years, so I would like to do two of these before I retire. In the long-term I hope to get more than one van on the road and the ultimate aim is to get the whole of Norfolk so I have something really worthwhile to sell when I eventually retire.

Christopher Wright

Christopher Wright, 36, is married to Amanda and lives in Newark, Nottinghamshire. After 20 years in the financial services industry he bought a Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise.

What made you buy a franchise business?
I’d always wanted to run my own business; a franchise offered me an element of support, guidance and expertise that I wouldn’t have had if I’d started from scratch on my own. By buying a franchise I benefit from an established brand, quality training, business advice and direction.

What made you buy a Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise?
After many years of office-based financial services work, I wanted a practical, physical job that would involve meeting the public and providing a quality service. I chose chimney sweeping because it offers the opportunity for repeat business, meaning my client base will grow year on year. After speaking to Peter and Louise I felt sure I was making the right decision. There was no ‘hard sell’ involved and I was able to advance through the process at my own pace, feeling reassured and confident by their support. Chimney sweeping really appealed to me because of its ‘quirky’, ‘traditional’ and ‘old fashioned’ nature. It is quite a talking point!

What did you do before you bought Wilkins Chimney Sweep (Newark)?
I worked in financial services for 15 years, within compliance and risk management, and most recently I worked for 2 ½ years in telecommunications.

Were you made redundant from your last post?
No, I left of my own accord to start Wilkins Chimney Sweep (Newark).

Have you done your training with Wilkins Chimney Sweep? If so how did you find it and what did you learn?
Yes I’ve now completed my training which came in two main parts; the first week was business training and the second and third weeks were practical ‘on the job’ training.

The business training was very thorough and gave me a solid understanding of both the systems I’m going to be using to book sweeps and recording my accounts and the knowledge and understanding required to run my business on a day-to-day basis.
During my practical training, I swept a huge variety of chimneys and wood burners under the guidance and supervision of Peter Harris and his many years of experience.

The practical training was invaluable; it provided me with real customers, with real chimneys and real problems to solve ‘on my feet’. I truly believe this would be near impossible to replicate within a classroom environment; I left feeling very confident about returning to Newark and to start servicing my first clients.

What skills do you think you need to be a chimney sweep?
I’d previously read that you needed to be quite fit to be a chimney sweep and I can tell you from experience...it’s true! You also need to be confident, trustworthy, determined, friendly, able to adapt to different situations and challenges, have an ability to think on your feet and to take pride in your work.

What skills do you think you need to run a franchised business?
Although I’m new to franchising, I can see that to run a successful business you need to be willing to learn from others and be able to trust that the business model will work, if you follow it correctly.

Similarly, you need to be able to take direction from your franchisor and not attempt to deviate from the model; I totally respect that this is Louise and Peter’s brand and that they, and the other franchisees, have invested a lot of time and money building it into what it is today, so I understand that it’s important that I don’t change it. It makes sense; after all, why would I buy a brand and model that attracted me then try to change it?

What are your plans for the business in the next 12 months?
My main goal is to earn a reputation on my patch for doing a really first-class job. I do have competition locally so my aim is to make sure my reputation is first-class, so that people in towns and villages across Nottinghamshire will associate me, my shiny new van, my stunning black and yellow livery and my smart branded clothing with a thorough, professional job, well done.

What are you enjoying about running your own business?
Like many people who run their own businesses I’m enjoying being my own boss. I’ve done my training now so it’s entirely up to me how I run my day. The greatest thing is knowing that the more effort I put in, the more the rewards will be for my family. I’m aware that running my own business won’t always be plain sailing but with the support of Louise and Peter, and being able to share best practice with the other franchisees in the group, I feel confident about the future.

What support have you received from your franchisor?
The support that Peter and Louise have given me to date has been huge. I expected a strong support system but what I’ve received has surpassed all expectations. As you might imagine over the past few weeks I’ve already been on the phone asking both practical sweeping and more office-based questions and they’ve been happy to help, every time. It is great knowing all I have to do is pick up the phone to have two such experienced people, guiding me from the other end of the phone.

Andy Neville

Q: Andy, what was it that attracted you to the Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise opportunity?

“I was looking for a business which allowed interaction with a variety of customers and something which allowed me to get my hands dirty! I liked the fact that the Wilkins Chimney Sweep business was an ‘old fashioned’ style of business but with a professional and 21st century technology set-up.”

Q: What made you buy a franchise business rather than starting up on your own?

“I liked the idea of gaining knowledge through training from head office and also other franchisees to call on if I needed advice on technical aspects of the job. The combined knowledge and experience of all involved is priceless.”

Q: What did you do before you bought your franchise?

“I was director of my family business where we manufactured stationery products, working with my brothers and Dad. I then worked for a local fencing contractor as an estimator.”

Q: Were you made redundant from your last post?

“No. I decided to leave as I had a real desire to try running my own business again.”

Q: How was your training with Wilkins Chimney Sweep?

“My first week was admin-based learning with franchise director Louise Harris, which was fantastic, opening my eyes to their back-office systems which are excellent.

“My second week was out sweeping with Jon McDougall in the Newbury territory. Again this was excellent experience and I managed to sweep a variety of chimneys with Jon’s supervision. It was a ‘pleasing’ hard and sweaty work.....and I realised that each sweep (and day) will bring a variety of challenges.”

Q: What skills do you think you need to have to be a chimney sweep?

“I think you need to be good at organising your day, making sure you have the correct kit and being punctual for appointments etc. I think you need to be good at communicating with customers, whatever their age or upbringing and, despite the grubby nature of the job, a good sweep still needs to look presentable and be physically fit and healthy (or at least have the desire to become so!) You need to treat every customer’s property as you would your own and finally you shouldn’t mind getting a bit dirty because, as the company’s strapline says, ‘Soot Happens’!”

Q: What skills do you think you need to run a franchised business?

“I’d say you need to bring your own experiences and skills to the pot, whilst ensuring you are also doing everything by the book (i.e. the operations manual!).  Although it is your own business, you need to be aware you are ‘overseen’ by head office and have professional and contractual obligations to them and the other franchisees. The best description I can come up with is ‘A team player - working for yourself!”

Q: What are your plans for the business in the next 12 months?

“My intention is to not only grow the business but also my practical knowledge and experience too.  It’s really important to me that, having swept their chimney or cleaned their drive, my customers would describe me as professional, polite and trustworthy and overall, someone who does an excellent job that they would recommend to their friends and neighbours.  All my customers will be new to start with; my aim is to ensure they become repeat customers for next year and beyond.”

Q: What are you looking forward to about running your own business?

“I’m really looking forward to that internal drive you get when you grow your own business, knowing that I’m building security and an income for the future for myself and the family.  I also like a challenge so am prepared to tackle any problems that might appear and look at ways of improving my offerings to my customers. The great thing about running your own business is that your destiny is in your own hands!”

Q: How would you rate the support you have received from your franchisor to date?

“The support and training I’ve received from Peter and Louise so far has been excellent and absolutely confirms my reasons for buying the franchise in the first place. As someone who has run my own business before, I can hand on heart say I simply wouldn’t have gained this amount of knowledge in such a short space of time if I had ‘gone solo’!”

Resales

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