Franchise profile: SME accountancy service TaxAssist Accountants
TaxAssist Accountants provides a wide range of accountancy services to SMEs and the self-employed and has evidenced strong and consistent growth throughout recent years, at a time when many accounting firms saw growth slow considerably.
Last year a ground-breaking franchisee-assisted management buyout (FAMBO) resulted in the largest deal of its kind ever seen in the UK, with franchisees themselves joining TaxAssist Accountants directors as part-owners of the business.
Q&A subject: Karl Sandall, Group CEO, TaxAssist Accountants
Franchised since: 1995
Number of franchisees: 195
Network turnover: £30m
Turnover growth last year: 9.1 per cent
(1) Where does TaxAssist Accountants stand in its sector?
After consistently winning awards in both the franchising and accountancy sectors, TaxAssist has grown to become the 25th largest network of accountants in the UK according to the annual Accountancy Age survey. We currently service over 54,000 clients from more than 245 shops and offices in the UK.
The last few years have witnessed a number of global financial events which have challenged many businesses. However, TaxAssist has continued to perform well in all areas, racking up double-digit growth year on year, a rate which has in fact outpaced many larger firms – including the “Big Four”.
(2) How do you differ from other accountancy practices?
TaxAssist do things differently in both its way of thinking and way of working. Traditionally, accountancy practices lack visibility, commonly positioned behind a door with a brass plaque. TaxAssist broke with tradition and convention, providing a breath of fresh air in the accountancy world with our retail shop front concept. This was developed to appeal specifically to the small business target market, increasing accessibility and visibility, and encouraging walk-in trade. The shop front concept has proven to be extremely successful, with over three-quarters of the network now operating from these premises.
(3) Tell us some of your highlights in recent years?
Business has been good! I think winning Franchisor of the Year awards in 2010 (Gold) and in 2015 (Bronze) from the British Franchise Association stand out as the main highlights. It was such an honour for our successful business model to be rewarded by our industry figurehead. Indeed, we have now won this award in every available colour: Bronze this year, Silver twice and Gold.
Feedback from franchisees on the business support we provide is most encouraging and last year we not only maintained the 5-Star rating we were awarded by an independent research company, we increased our score on the previous year. Two particular franchisee success stories that come to mind are the first franchisee to hit £100,000 sales in one month, and the first to sell their business for £1m.
(4) How and why did the FAMBO deal come about?
The company’s chairman and founder, John Westgarth was looking to retire, so I and my fellow directors oversaw a unique MBO, which saw franchisees happy to back the existing team and invest in the franchise. The franchise is 32 per cent owned by franchisees, 53 per cent by the senior management team and 15 per cent by longstanding external business partners.
What further proof would someone considering joining TaxAssist require than to know that a good number of the network have themselves invested in the franchise? Together we all believe in the model and have committed plans for continued future growth.
The deal was only possible because as a network we have deep mutual respect between franchisor and franchisee. Our franchisees breathe the brand, so who better to own a share of it.
(5) What have been the key drivers of your sustained growth?
Over the last 20 years the support on offer has grown and evolved, to provide first rate initial and ongoing training and support packages for franchisees and their staff. This includes help lines providing comprehensive support on accounting and tax issues, lead generation, marketing campaigns, localised and national PR and a raft of additional service providers for franchisees to offer an enhanced service to their clients.
There is no doubt that the move from home-based to office and shop front premises has also helped enormously in terms of building a brand and helping franchisees build their businesses bigger, faster.
(6) What role has franchising played?
Through franchising we knew that we could grow in a controlled manner with a network of individuals who have all bought into the franchise and care as much about their business as we do.
Franchising is a proven, tried and tested route into self-employment and the banks are supportive in providing funding as there is a lower rate of failure than going into business alone. It is also worth noting that franchising remains an exceptional mechanism that enables small business to compete effectively against larger businesses.
(7) Following strong UK performance, you’re now franchising internationally as well?
TaxAssist is a proven business model so why not export it? Our pilot master franchisees [responsible for developing the brand across a large area or entire country] in the Republic of Ireland have now been operating for five years and continue to report impressive figures.
We have sold master licenses already for Canada and Australia and also have plans for New Zealand, the USA and parts of Europe.
(8) Three key attributes you look for in franchisees?
The TaxAssist franchise takes on both accountants and business/finance professionals and has found that they make equally good franchisees. What is important is that candidates have plenty of energy, a friendly persona and have a desire to succeed and exceed their goals.