The dire economic climate proved something of a teething problem for the young company: “It was so bad that people were posting their keys back to the building societies because they couldn’t sell their houses. Home improvement products weren’t exactly sought after.” But bad timing wasn’t the only flaw in the business’ foundations, says McAleese. “We began to realise we’d made some pretty serious mistakes in the way we started things. We got our locations all wrong, and we knew absolutely nothing about recruiting good managers.” McAleese explains that they’d set up their first few outlets in areas where advertising in wide-reaching newspapers and magazines was very expensive, so they battled to get their message out. “There’s no point in running an outlet if you can’t speak to your customers.” Realising that things weren’t looking good for Sliderobes, McAleese “came running back to Dublin with my tail between my legs”, then started reflecting on how to improve his business model and start growing the company. “We knew we had to rethink our system. So we asked ISO:9000 to monitor all our existing outlets – they really sharpened us up.” That spell of intensive assessment got Sliderobes back on track. “At that stage, we had a good name and a good system, we saw franchising as a low-risk road to expansion.” McAleese explains, “Our big sell when attracting franchisees was, ‘look, we’ve got this tried-and-tested business formula and we’ve made all the mistakes for you so you don’t have to. We’ve found the best way of doing things’”. McAleese knew this structured system would appeal to potential franchisees who would appreciate the security of following a well-oiled business plan. “It’s really putting the family silver on the line – a franchisee wants to know that it’s a proven system, and it’s not going to fail.” Experience is key to being a successful Sliderobes franchisee, says McAleese: “I always choose franchisees with solid management experience – they’ve got to have that edge to help them cope with all the challenges of running a business.” And to ensure the company attracts only the cream of the crop, potential franchisees undergo an intensive two-day recruitment programme. “It’s easier to break out of jail than it is to get into Sliderobes.” Once the franchisees have the keys to the store, McAleese doesn’t step aside and let them got on with it. “We annoy them a bit – check up on them and make sure they’re doing everything by the book to hit targets. You’ve got to be a bit neurotic.” Sliderobes has a turnover of £15m, with 18 outlets across the UK and four more to come this year. And how does McAleese see Sliderobes fairing in the economic downturn this time round? “Oh, we’ll cope much better this time because we’ve got our business model sorted out now. We made all the big mistakes last time!”
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