You have arrived here because you are looking at a driving school franchise. Many driving instructors choose a franchise over being independent as the simple way to establish their business, but how do you choose your driving school franchise from the massive sea of driving schools out there?
This guide first sets out to show you what a franchise is and how this works for 1st 4 Driving franchisees. It then looks at some of the pitfalls out there.
In my now 20 years in this industry, I have worked for large and small franchises. Now I run my own school having seen first-hand how some in our profession pretend to be looking after your interests – but in fact are most definitely not.
What is a franchise?
Within the driver training industry, there are many schools operating under a franchise scheme. It is important to know what a franchise is and how this (should) help you to establish your business quickly and efficiently.
According to Smallbusiness.co.uk, franchisees pay a start-up fee and then a monthly fee (royalties) to continue that business. In return they should receive initial training and ongoing support whenever needed from the franchiser. Franchisees should be able to turn to the Head Office as well as other franchisees in the network for help and advice.
They say a franchise should be:
- Proven – not an idea, but demonstrable evidence of success
- Profitable – at a sufficient level for both franchiser and franchisee
- Teachable – there’s no point in franchising a business that only three people could operate
- Transferable – suitable for different geographies (a surf shop in Leicester isn’t a great plan)
Does a driving school franchise fit this model?
Put simply, yes. The driving school franchise should easily fit these criteria as clearly it is proven, profitable, teachable and transferable.
Any franchise is based on a successful business model.
In the UK, there are many driving school franchises to choose from, from the big ones such as The AA, BSM and RED Driving School right down to some very small ones where an instructor has maybe one or two other instructors working for them. In the middle you’ll find a huge amount of medium sized franchises.
In the case of of a driving school franchise, the franchisee should expect to be able to have the following:
- Brand – To be able to use the proven brand, its logos and marketing material
- Training – Training and CPD to be included and ongoing support to continue all aspects of the business
- Pupils – Some franchises supply pupils, some do not
The problem with driving school franchises.
Often, you’ll find there’s a lack of training. Independent driving instructors (whilst very good with their own pupils), have had little of no training in how to teach other instructors – or any knowledge on the business side of things. When an instructor decides to take on another instructor, their whole business changes. The driving school so far has survived on the owner’s good nature and popularity with their pupils. Rarely does this cascade down when a school takes on another instructor. The school owner has survived as an instructor because to get more pupils, they have to offer customer service and good teaching.
Often a franchised instructor feels that they just ask the school for more pupils in order to survive. If they lose pupils, they blame the school or the offers or prices. The school owner needs to be able to ‘coach’ their franchisees into the best business practices.
Let me give you an example:
Since I first started, I have ran an offer based on a trial initial two-hour driving lesson. Initially it was £10 for 2 hours, then £20 and now £30. I started running the offer as so many learners who came to me already had a bad experience with another instructor and are unhappy to part with large sums of money or commitments up front. For 95% of my instructors and myself, this offer is very successful. However, occasionally I will get an instructor who says they lose pupils because they just do the start up lesson then go somewhere else for another start up.
Now, the above is not a fault with the instructor who loses pupils. It’s with the school who has not properly trained the instructor in some business management aspects of being a franchisee. Here at 1st 4 Driving, we regularly run a course focusing on business we and show instructors where this goes wrong and why pupils leave instructors (it’s not for the reasons they tell the instructor!!!)
When the ‘brand’ is the instructor themselves, it can be very difficult to grow as a business. Pupils will often ask for the owner rather than the franchised instructors. There are of course some very good franchises that have been able to use the individual name as the brand, but the school needs to think in terms of ‘brand’ rather than individual name. Having a mission statement that the franchisee knows and adheres to helps.
Probably the biggest area for concern with most driving school franchisees and the reason must end up disgruntled with their franchise is the lack of pupils. If a driving school franchise says they will supply pupils, then the franchised driving instructor expects them.
The driving school franchise needs to be marketers of driving lessons. The school must use many resources and avenues to get pupils. Too many rely on just one source (such as Facebook) and believe that’s enough. Consider what would happen if Facebook changed its algorithms or went down overnight. What would happen to that business?
My friend and mentor John Lamerton talks in his book ‘Big Ideas for Small Businesses‘ about how his business nearly disappeared when Google changed its algorithms some years ago. If one marketing channel goes down, there needs to be others, so the pupil supply keeps coming. Then there is the ever-changing face of marketing. It changes almost daily. What worked yesterday might not necessarily work tomorrow…
The McDonald’s franchise
If you didn’t already know it, all Mcdonald restaurants are franchises.
- Brand – McDonalds built the brand, created the image and continue to do so. If someone attacks them and try to defame their image, they run a campaign to dispel the myths or even change that part. Growing the brand and increasing and improving its brand awareness. Near me in Saltash, a new Macdonald franchise was opened. From day one it was busy, and it remains busy to this day. Even when it was being built, expectations from people were known. They target their market and when a new franchisee opens their doors, the business is busy.
- Training – McDonalds train every franchisee into how to run their business. They will follow precisely the ‘successful business model’. The menu, the uniforms the layout. Everything is copied from the original successful model. A franchisee can’t say ‘I’m going to run a different menu or change the uniform’. If they did the model would likely fail. If the franchisee keeps to the model and ensure the service is excellent, the place clean and the food good, then the business flourishes and the profits increase for both Franchisee and McDonalds.
The driving school franchise is a lot simpler. You don’t need staff to help, you don’t need premises or all the associated hassle.
The Driving School Franchise
- Brand – A good brand that has presence in many social media platforms and uses these to support a good website. The website should be reasonably high ranking in Google, Yahoo and other search engines. The Brand needs to have a mission statement that the new franchisee can appreciate and would want to cascade this principle. Marketing materials and messages should follow the brand and focus on the target audience (pupils you’re trying to attract) It is a big mistake in marketing to try and target all pupils. You need your marketing to target the specific customers you’re trying to attract.
- Training – Training for initial qualification and subsequent training included in the fee. Many driving instructors are great at the teaching but struggle with the marketing. This is OK because we can’t be masters of every subject. However, driving instructor franchisees do need some marketing to help them retain pupils. Even the best instructors can find they lose pupils and don’t know why.
- Pupils – How many pupils the driving school franchise will provide needs to be agreed. Now it’s true that its difficult to predict the market and many will say you can’t guarantee pupil supply. A good driving school franchise knows when the peaks and troughs will be. I wrote an article published in a major driving instructor magazine in 2010 where I exactly predicted the following 10 years. I know that December will be very quiet, so we concentrate marketing in October to November reminding instructors about the quiet time ahead. There are other trends to that I won’t share here so I keep them for my own franchisees.
I want to talk specifically about my own driving school franchise and why I run it. My motto, and it’s on my office wall is;
‘What would the best driving school franchise in the world look like?’
Why did I set up a driving school franchise?
In the past, I’ve worked for the biggest driving school franchise and a smaller one.
I’ve been privy to the inner sanctum of franchises. I have followed social media forums since their concept, long before Facebook and Twitter. This is when we used to chat on web platforms in chat rooms (now I’m showing my age). Instructors have complained about driving school franchises for years. Yet, there are many instructors who have been with franchises for 10, 15, 20 years. Why, because it suits them. There is and always will be a market for franchises. Go on a forum and start asking about what franchise, and very soon many will start telling you don’t do it. How they are all rip off merchants etc. They will tell you how you don’t need them, and maybe you don’t. They will tell you how easy it is to get pupils on your own and all you need to do is put an ad on Facebook etc. Yet 4 out of 5 instructors who set up on their own go bust within 2 years according to an article I read from the DVSA some years ago. Rumour has it, its only 1 year now. I set up 1st 4 Driving to address these issues. Initially on associate school basis. Some of those associates wanted to do their own thing, move away from the ‘successful model’ and are finding it a struggle. I continue to look after the associate schools but I don’t take on any more. The model was flawed and so I now build my own school in new areas. This model has flourished and has seen amazing growth. Take the website. Last January we were getting around 200 hits a month on the website. This January we are on target for 2000 hits a month. Most of my instructor’s diaries are full and if they do open them, its for a day or so. We turn down huge amounts of pupils every single day because of the massive success of the website. How, because I realised, I could not do it alone. Because my business mentors told me, ‘you need to build a team of experts’. I am an expert in my field, I needed experts in other fields. The truth was I had become an expert in the website, marketing and other fields but I just did not have enough hours in the day so took on staff to fill those blanks.
I’ve no intention of setting up a driving school franchise for the world but I certainly aim to make it the best in the world. It’s getting there, step by step. I have come to realise this includes making it the best driving school in the world for pupils too. So, each franchised driving instructor, will be proud to work for the franchise. So, each franchised instructor can offer their pupils a level of support they would find difficult on their own. A level of support that uses my specialised subject of teaching and training. I am writing more and more training materials for our franchised driving instructors and will soon embark on the project to write training articles and videos for pupils.
The 1st 4 Driving franchise
- Brand – 1st 4 Driving was first set up in 2000 but incorporated in 2005 so became officially 1st 4 Driving LTD. Its ethos is about being first for driving. The brand has become stronger and is becoming a force to be reckoned with. The brand is linked into everything we do from social media to the website, so pupils recognise it. The website is extremely powerful. Generally, if we set up in a new area, that page will climb very high quickly. Because 2000+ visitors a month has a huge impact in our rankings. Google knows that if a website is getting that many hits and the pupils are staying on the website and not bouncing off, it’s worth ranking high. One simple offer for the pupils makes it simple for them to chose if its for them and book. Fortunately, this means we are turning away around 5-10 pupils every day. Fortunately, because when a new instructor joins, like McDonalds, we can usually have them up and running straight away. Our most recent instructor to start had a full diary within 2 weeks and had most of his diary filled before his start date. Not bad, is it!
- Training – Whether its your initial training or ongoing, this is our USP. You literally can’t get better. Click here to view our sister training site, DTE-Elite. We realised that while our classroom training courses were popular, that they were not always convenient. We have been expanding the online training massively so you can (if you want) do it in the comfort of your home whenever suits you. You’re more than welcome to come to the courses too as these are a massive networking opportunity. We know what makes a successful franchised driving instructor and we use every resource to help you. This is the support you need, isn’t it?!
- Pupils – From before, you can see we are turning away pupils. This is good because these can be your pupils – but bad because if we keep turning them away, they go elsewhere. Elsewhere to their second choice of school. Elsewhere where they are likely to change instructors up to THREE TIMES during their course of their training according to DVSA research I saw some years ago. It’s also really important to state that we do not charge for extra pupils. I have seen a few driving school franchises cheaper and look good value, but charge extra for pupils. I’ve seen the most expensive driving school franchises charge for pupils too!! We don’t nor do we limit to you as to how many. If you start losing pupils a lot, we might offer a training session and work with you as to why, but we will keep the supply up. Sometimes its not your fault particularly around holiday time and Christmas. Pupils can be fickle sometimes. If you come to one of my business courses, I will share with you some information about the top reason’s pupils leave instructors. I will share with you the top reasons pupils tell their instructors they are leaving. The two lists are very different!! Suffice to say we will supply you with pupils. We have one offer that’s not compulsory, but we do recommend it if you’re building a diary. It’s a short offer so new pupils to driving can see if they like you and 95%, they book and stay with you until they pass their driving test.
I included pupils there because I think you need one fixed fee. A fee where there are no hidden shocks and its easier for you to know where you are and not have to worry if your diary runs low. To me when you’re on a driving school franchise, if pupils are low, your income is low. You don’t need to be paying out more for pupils. And best of all it’s a very low fixed fee, now you definitely want that!!
Conclusion – The Driving School Franchise
There are many driving school franchises that are not really franchises. They offer very little in terms of support and could leave you short. Others offer huge amounts of support but also have huge amounts of driving instructors on franchise. This may or may not be a bad thing. But these schools do tend to have a lot of mouths to feed.
A driving school franchise is not for everyone but would probably have kept more great driving instructors in the industry had they have joined a good one. There are certainly good ones out there as there are bad ones. I am offering a 2-week trial now for my franchises and offering for instructors who are thinking of joining my driving school franchise, to come along to a training session for free. I will put pupils in your diary over the 2 weeks and if you’re not happy then we’ll shake hands and you can take the pupils with you. Of course, I am hoping you will stay and be amongst some of the many instructors who have been with me since I trained them over 10 years ago.
We may not be McDonalds, but on the flip side (see what I did there) we’re growing steadily and surely and have the support to offer you, today. So, if you’re even thinking of a driving school franchise, even if you’re just considering it as a tiny option, contact us today and have a chat……