Raja Beirouti, who owns and runs the Snappy Snaps stores in Oxford and Cheltenham, tells his story:
After coming to the UK from Lebanon in 1985 I worked in the City for 15 years. When my area, currency options, started moving towards electronic trading I was given the opportunity to transfer to a different desk. However I was getting to 40 and you don’t want to grow old working in the City. Also I wanted my independence and to enjoy life a bit more.
I decided to take on a franchise because I wanted a proven business model with a good track record and to avoid setting up from scratch. I looked into various franchise options, including food, but the problem with food is the smell – especially fast food. Photo processing offers a nicer environment. Plus I’ve always liked photography. It’s interesting, it’s fun and it’s clean.
I joined Snappy Snaps in 2000 and in 2001 took on the Hampstead store, which was already up and running. Originally I wanted Oxford, because that’s where I live, but another new franchisee had already claimed that patch. In the end the property he wanted fell through and he went on to open a store somewhere else. So a year and a half after I took over the Hampstead store I opened the Oxford branch.
I also had my name on the waiting list for Cheltenham, because I knew that would be easily commutable from Oxford. I had one or two properties fall through but eventually I found one and opened the store in 2004. For a while, before I sold the Hampstead branch in 2005, I was running three stores. While the money was nice I realised it wasn’t manageable in the long term.
Being a Snappy Snaps franchisee offers all the benefits of being self-employed and a bit more, because of the safety net of the Snappy Snaps head office team and brand and the other franchisees. We call each other all the time if we encounter a problem. It’s a network of support that wouldn’t exist if I was on my own.
Snappy Snaps’ marketing support can help you through the tough times. A lot of the campaigns are mainly aimed at the London area, so regional stores can claim some of their marketing budget back if they’re not interested in taking part. I can then invest that money in advertising in local magazines or sponsoring local charities or sports teams. If I need help creating an advertisement, I just call head office and tell them what I need.
Being part of Snappy Snaps has given me much more personal time and my worries are now my own. When I used to work in the City my worries were all about what other people would think and do.
Although it’s probably harder work, in terms of hours worked, they’re my own to control. The flexibility of working hours and working methods – where you’re in charge of everything you do – is worth a lot. And in good times you can make a lot of money.
It’s great when customers write to you to say thanks. There aren’t many photo processors left on the high street and people are often pleasantly surprised by the services we offer. For example we’re graphic designers as well. I designed and printed election campaign posters for a candidate standing in Southern Sudan, who was living in Oxford at the time. He originally came in because he wanted to reproduce some old family photos from the 19th and early 20th centuries. We got chatting and before long he’d commissioned us to create his posters.
I’m currently funding my children’s private education but, once they’ve all left school, I think I might take on a manager to help me run the stores. I can’t justify the expense at this stage in my life and, to be honest, I like the control. When I’m a bit older I’ll take more of a back seat.
At the moment I can take a last-minute four-day break – which I’m doing tomorrow actually! Eventually I’d like to get to the point where I can take a four-month break to achieve one of my ambitions of driving to central Asia. I think I’d still call in each day though, to check how things are going.
I would recommend running a Snappy Snaps franchise to other people, but you have to be prepared to work hard. Anyone who expects an easy ride, thinking they’re just buying themselves a job, will be in for a shock. Head office is there to provide support, but they won’t run your business for you.