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Published 22 February 2012 16:08, Updated 23 February 2012 05:02
Business owners often say there’s no feeling like being your own boss and the team behind the nascent Buffed shoeshine service agree.
That is why they are tapping into the franchise model to give employment and a sense of empowerment to those on the bottom rung
of the job market.
The 2011 Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon, cut the ribbon on Buffed in Brisbane last November. It is billed as Australia’s first “social franchise”, giving opportunities to individuals who are either long-term unemployed or underemployed.
The project is the brainchild of Graeme Wise , philanthropist, owner of the Body Shop chain in Australia and founder of the Australian edition of The Big Issue magazine.
Other founding partners in the venture are the Bank of Queensland and the University of Queensland Business School.
While The Big Issue provides casual employment for its network of street vendors, Buffed is out to achieve more: providing full-time employment for the long term.
“We’re out to solve the problem of the long-term unemployed and also to help people develop those sorts of skills required to own
a small business,” Buffed managing director Peter Ball says.
The business proposition behind Buffed is simple: setting up a network of shoeshine stands in centrally located, high-traffic locations such as office and hotel lobbies, boutique shopping centres, train stations and airports.
Franchisees are selected by their need for stable, sustainable employment and their genuine desire to make a real go out of being a small business owner.
Ball says the rationale for picking shoeshine stands was simple: “Teaching someone the art of shoe shining is something that can be done in a comprehensive manner in a short space of time.
“It’s the type of service that can be done
well, while [the franchisee] is getting their
head around the other parts of owning a business, like financial literacy, presentation
and customer service.”
Buffed franchisees are selected not for their skills but for an attitude and a personal “fit”.
A rigorous selection process, combined with a two-week “try before you buy” training and work experience program, ensures that only the truly committed are on board for the Buffed Franchises Development Program, a 12-week course that takes the franchisee through the finer points of small business ownership.
Goals for lasting social change aside, Buffed operates like any other franchise chain, albeit with a beefed-up training arm.
Each shoe-shining station represents one franchise, which is owned and operated by a franchisee.
A franchise costs $5000, which includes a licence to operate on a particular site, the shoeshine stand station, the equipment and all the training the owner needs to get to work buffing shoes.
Like any franchise, Buffed has had the same issues trying to make entry into the operation as easy and attractive as possible and setting up workable finance arrangements, not least because of the chequered credit history of many of their prospective franchisees.
“It’s not so much about trying to secure hugely discounted interest rates; it’s more about giving credit to someone with an unfortunate credit history, or maybe a no-deposit loan, or perhaps a set-up where we waive repayments for the first two to four weeks,” Ball says.
“Our [franchisees] don’t necessarily
need cheap finance but they do need more favourable terms.”
To this end, Buffed is in the final stages of negotiating finance arrangements with a number of financial institutions.
Still in its infancy, Buffed has three stands operating in the Brisbane central business district. Ball admits that the operation has
faced some challenges during its initial phases.
“The uptake in big office towers has been a bit slower than we anticipated,” he says.
“You’ve got places wanting to become more environmentally conscious but not so much of a concern for social enterprise.
“We’ve really had to work on communicating the initiative well – but now we’ve got the demonstration projects up and running, we’re using them as our greatest advertisement.”
Buffed hopes to have up to 90 franchises operating by the end of the year.
If all goes to plan, an appearance on future BRW Fast Franchises may not be too far away.