It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to do it. Having to work with McLarens, Ferraris and Aston Martins and prettifying cars for Premiership footballers and reality TV stars isn’t for everyone, perhaps, but John Tice has somehow managed to put up with it for the past seven years.
He’s also down to his last three Porsches – his own – but doesn’t like to moan about it.
That’s what his life is like as the owner of the St Albans franchise of The Wheel Specialist – when he’s not appearing on TV, that is.
For John is a familiar face to millions of fans of Wheeler Dealers, the car makeover and restoration programme that always seems to be running on at least three channels and is likely to keep being repeated ad infinitum.
He was minding his own business five years ago when the TV circus descended on his premises and asked him to spend all day filming what became a pivotal sequence in one episode of the avidly-watched series.
Presenter Mike Brewer turned up with a tatty set of diamond-cut wheels from a Honda S2000 that had seen better days, and asked John if he could do anything with them.
He could – and the result was an appearance in the programme that’s still working for him and his franchise today.
“I often walk up to a trader I’ve been working with for some time and they say ‘Oh, my God, I saw you on TV last night’,” he says.
The TV appearance also gave him a chance to show what The Wheel Specialist can do, with Mike Brewer even joining in for a spot of sanding while John took him – and all those viewers – through the refurbishment process, step by step.
In publicity terms it was invaluable, as the TV presenter – one of the most influential people in the motoring world – was tickled pink with the results and, pointing to the wheels on camera, said: “Isn’t that fantastic? The diamond-cutting process really finishes them off.”
It was five years ago, yes, and only one day in John’s seven years as a franchisee – but you can bet a Bugatti that every other wheel refurbisher in the country still bristles with envy every time that episode is shown.
And goodness knows how many times people see the programme and go straight to a branch of The Wheel Specialist instead of any of its rivals’.
Being featured on a hit car show like Wheeler Dealers is publicity gold-dust because the programme is editorially independent, with presenters known for speaking their minds.
If Mike Brewer had wrinkled his nose when he saw the finished wheel and said “I s’pose that’ll have to do”, viewers might not have beaten a path to John’s door.
But because Mike was visibly impressed, and said so in no uncertain terms, John and his team and The Wheel Specialist received an endorsement that money simply couldn’t buy.
One of the joys of franchising is that the buying public know they’ll get the same service regardless of which branch they use, just as they know exactly what to expect when they go to a well-known fast-food restaurant, whether it’s in Pontypool or Paris.
So that one appearance on Wheeler Dealers is working for every other franchise in the network, too, helping The Wheel Specialist keep ahead of the competition – and that’s on top of the industry-leading support that John and his fellow franchisees receive from The Wheel Specialist’s experts.
For, far from being on their own, franchisees like John can count on world-class support and expertise in everything they need from marketing to sales, training, IT and best business practice – one of the main reasons why people buy into the comfort of a supportive franchise rather than trying to reinvent the wheel (ouch!) themselves.
Twenty-five thousand wheel refurbishments later, John is still counting his blessings that he took on the franchise.
“I’m a car nut, and I get to work on some very interesting vehicles,” he says. “We often have million-pound McLarens to do, which is rather nice when I go to pick them up.
“We also do a lot of work on Aston Martins, Porsches, Jaguars, BMWs and Range Rovers, and we have a few footballers’ cars coming in and out.
In his first year, John had a run of classic Ferraris from the Seventies with magnesium wheels that were a little more complex but, he says modestly: “We don’t really work on the cars. We just take the wheels off them.”
John turned to franchising after years as a European finance director of a generic pharmaceutical company.
“All I did was travel and sit in meetings,” he recalls. “I’d come to a natural stop. The group was relocating to Switzerland so I took the opportunity to leave.
“I wanted to do something else, and it needed to be something I felt a passion for, something I wanted to get out of bed for.
“My wife was reading about a fast-food franchisee, and I started looking into different automotive franchises. Most involved getting oily servicing vehicles, which isn’t me, but The Wheel Specialist was really interesting.
“I travel less, the franchise model works, and there’s definitely a good living to be made from it. It’s hard work, but I enjoy it.”
John’s advice for potential franchisees is to pick your location very carefully. Opening in an affluent area might bring celebrity customers and the most interesting cars, but it might be harder to source your workforce locally.
He, though, can sleep peacefully at night, knowing that, somewhere out there, someone with a scratched or damaged wheel is almost certainly watching that episode of Wheeler Dealers, meaning that John continues to promote his business… even while he’s in the Land of Nod.
Whether John’s asleep or awake at the moment, you can view his moment in the limelight here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zonRdW-FnM