Dave Connolly spent over 20 years running his own woodworking business before buying his Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise.
Dave Connolly spent over 20 years running his own woodworking business before buying his Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise. A Black Country man with a love of sport, Dave, 52, is married with three grown- up children and one grand-child.
I’d been reading about the success of some much larger franchise companies in the UK so thought I’d look into it. At my age, 50 when I took it on, I didn’t want to be starting from scratch again and I liked the fact that I was part of an established business but that I could still maintain a degree of independence. I did my research on the internet and although I wasn’t actually looking for a chimney sweeping business when I saw that beautiful logo it almost smacked me between the eyes and I thought ‘Bingo! That’s the one for me!’ and my sign written van is still one of my best methods of advertising. People just love it.
I first got the idea of being a chimney sweep when I struggled to find someone to sweep my own chimney. I was let down by two then the third on who turned up did a terrible job. He didn’t mask off the opening, he didn’t hoover up, just shoved his brushes up my chimney and disappeared leaving a terrible mess. After that experience I thought there might be a market in it, so when I saw a chimney sweeping franchise opportunity it seemed as if it was meant to be.
For 20 years I’d had my own business in the woodworking industry. A few years ago we became an agent for a larger firm who wanted us to expand, build showrooms and an educational centre; it wasn’t for me. I liked the independence of managing my own time and diary, so I sold up my share.
The training I received in Newbury was great. I learnt so much about how to sweep chimneys with a variety of burners and even today if I have a problem I’ll ring Peter to take advice. Even though it’s essentially a manual job there’s still paper work to be done and Louise has been great at helping me with that, especially when I’m not sure about something, I just have to pick up the phone and ask.
Obviously the first skill you need is to be good at general DIY. I’d restored a house before doing this so I knew that wouldn’t be a problem. As long as you don’t mind working with your hands and getting a bit messy you’ll be fine. I think you need to be patient, honest, punctual and reliable too, and it’s important you can get on with people; the clients have to like you to let you into their homes. I wouldn’t say I stop and chat for hours after a sweep but I certainly do more than pass the time of day. If they are elderly I may be the only person they’ve spoken to for a while so I always make time to stop and talk and have a cup of tea with them if they offer, even if I haven’t really got the time to drink it all.
I think it’s useful if you have a degree of business experience to begin with because being a Wilkins Chimney Sweep isn’t just about putting brushes up chimneys, it’s about building a sustainable business and eventually expanding your own team of sweeps. You also need to be able to work within the franchise model, to follow the process and heed the experience of the franchisor.
The best thing about being my own boss is that I get to make my own decisions. Although I’m working within the guidelines of the franchise I still get to set my own prices, negotiate with suppliers, decide what I’m going to do on a day if I haven’t got any sweeps booked etc. I’m well aware that whether I succeed or fail is absolutely down to me. I really enjoy the day to day interaction with customers; recently I was flagged down on a road whilst out in the van; this chap did a u turn in the road and pulled up behind me. I thought I must have done something terribly wrong...until he said ‘I’m desperate to have my chimney swept can you help?’ Made my day that did! You don’t get that sitting behind a desk!
I’d say if you are good with your hands, don’t mind a bit off soot and want to run your own business then do it. I’ve discovered I’m really happy up on top of a roof; I usually take my camera up with me and take some photos, not only of the client’s roof so I can show them if any of their tiles are cracked or missing but I also get some shots of the beautiful views. I’m lucky, I get to see the world from an angle not many people do. I love it.
Wilkins have never let me down, they have been there EVERY single time I have needed them. I’ll ring Peter if I’ve got a question; last time it was a Saturday morning and he talked me through the problem step by step, brilliant and if they can’t talk at the time they always ring you back. The support they have given me has been great.
My goal is for everyone in my territory to think ‘the chimney needs sweeping... I’ll ring Dave at Wilkins Chimney Sweeps’. I’m going to continue marketing the business, building up my client base, and hopefully sweep lots more chimneys!
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