Following years of experience working in executive marketing positions for some of the UK’s biggest brands, when Gavin Hawthorn wanted to do something for himself, he had clear criteria in mind.
“I’m passionate about a good membership subscription model,” he says, “and a lot of my career background is in relationships and loyalty. I’m very familiar with the commercial metrics around customer retention, so it was an obvious focus for my search for a franchise to run.”
That search led him to The Massage Company and discussions with Elliot Walker, its founder and CEO, where he found strong similarities with his most recent corporate role.
Gavin explains: “I met with Elliot and from the start I thought the model had a lot of synergy with the clinic company I was with at the time: find a good location, turn it into a great site, employ top quality expertise to help people improve their lives, and generate demand for the service.
“I understood quickly how the model worked, the potential for the brand. It had good essence and was well thought through.
“I spent several months on due diligence, meeting the founders Elliot and Charlie, and spending time with franchisees in their centres, plus working through the numbers. I signed a deal in May to open what is hopefully the first of many centres in north-west England.”
Gavin’s first centre will open in Altrincham in Q1 2023, and will see him leverage his considerable experience at brands including Whitbread and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to start something for himself.
As vice president of marketing, EMEA for IHG, Gavin got valuable insight into what good franchising looks like.
“A big part of my role became helping franchisees achieve success, which gave me a great opportunity to understand what franchisees need from a brand, as well as understanding what the brand itself can achieve with a franchise model,” he says.
“I had really good exposure there to putting marketing and franchising together. It also had a good financial slant as well, the franchisees are investors so ROI was important.”
Start small, think big
Along with IHG and Whitbread, Gavin has worked in senior marketing roles with Hyatt and Pets at Home, where he was a board member through the company’s IPO. Latterly working as chief marketing officer with the sk:n Clinics group, the largest skin clinic firm in Europe, Gavin gained plenty of insight into the wellness market and the subscription business model.
But when it came to starting his own business, he saw all the benefits of an up-and-comer like The Massage Company over an established brand.
“I wanted to be in early. It means I can learn it from the outset and hopefully build out a strong area for myself that grows with the brand, I wanted to build my own network of sites.
“I like the idea that it’s still a young, entrepreneurial brand. Because it’s still growing, there are still prime territories available and being in early, to be able to work alongside the founders, is what I was looking for.
“As long as I can make the first centre work and prove the concept and trade profitably, I’d like to scale up to more sites.”
And Gavin says he’s already enjoying the change in scenery from his big-brand background.
“It’s completely different to the corporate world for sure! I’m finding it really empowering, it’s completely different and it’s just me at the moment, very different to that corporate platform I’ve been used to – but hopefully in 10 years that’s where TMC will be heading too.
“I think they’re investing in the right things but it’s nice that it’s still small enough now for me to be able to pick Charlie and Elliot’s brains on a daily basis.”
Gavin knew he’d found the right franchise when he started getting to the ethos of The Massage Company’s two founders.
He says: “The final thing that proved this was the right choice for me was that I had a lengthy discussion with Elliot on company culture and the importance of training and growth. After that I was convinced they were committed to building a strong training academy and building a culture that would keep people around.
“If you want to find expertise now, you need to build a business that people want to stay part of, and I think Charlie and Elliot are passionate about that too, they really care about it. I want to build a business that will align with that approach.
“Clearly I’ll have to build my own culture, but being able to tap into something that is constantly helping my therapists grow and learn, whilst being looked after – that’s a game-changer given the labour market situation across all sectors.”