Lifestyle

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With more than 450 million sandwiches consumed in Australia every year at a value in excess of $7 billion, the once humble sandwich bar is now big business.

Katherine Sampson has captured a large slice of the market.

Through her Healthy Habits franchise, Sampson has an empire of 28 franchise stores nationally that are tapping into a community demand for healthier takeaway food choices. Out goes the fatty bacon and egg sandwich, and in comes a smoked salmon sandwich on light rye with salad and a dash of tzatziki – or whatever configuration you would like from the extensive menu.

The business is also delivering healthy profits. Healthy Habits has become a regular on lists of the fastest-growing companies in the country and, predicting a turnover of about $27 million for the 07/08 financial year, is the leading gourmet sandwich bar player in the business.

Doing the hard yards

It is been an interesting and sometimes difficult journey for Sampson since she decided to take a chance in 1992 and buy the sandwich bar in which she had been an employee.

The purchase signalled the start of a hectic decade. While juggling the birth of her second child and dealing with the emotional turmoil of a divorce, Sampson worked tirelessly to open a second, third and then a fourth store in 1999, 2001 and 2001, respectively.

“By 1999 when I opened my second store, I was a single mum with a two-year-old and a five-year-old,” she says.

Sampson is no stranger to an 80-hour week, and says that it is not unusual for her day to begin at 7am and last until 1am. These hours, she says, should come as no surprise to those starting in business – she considers them “part and parcel” of running a business.

Rather than being daunted, however, by the demands of her family and business on her already dwindling time, Sampson decided to jump in even deeper and consider her expansion options.

“I thought about franchising,” she says.

In 2004, Sampson began working with a franchising consultant and within a year she had taken on her first franchise partner. The Healthy Habits brand now has stores in Victoria, the ACT, New South Wales and Queensland. While growth and recognition are proof of her success, Sampson admits it is tough work.

“Since I commenced franchising the hours have been very long and the financial pressures enormous.”

Open to learning

For Sampson, a passion for her business and love of learning has helped her overcome some of the hurdles involved in running what is now a multi-million-dollar business.

“I often say I would rather learn from someone else’s experiences rather than my own mistakes, because mistakes are often costly,” she says.

For this reason, Sampson has constantly sought advice from a key group of specialists.

“The most important thing I did initially was employ people and companies experienced in franchising to help me set up the business.” Sampson employed a franchising company to help with a business feasibility study, financial modelling, manuals and systems. She hired lawyers to help prepare a full package of franchising documentation. And she paid a brand strategist to revamp the business logo and remodel the stores.

“I also worked with an experienced franchise recruitment company who were vital in helping me choose the right franchise partners for the business.”

The other essential element is self-promotion. Sampson believes the service of a PR consultancy is essential for any business starting out.

“Have a story to tell and make sure it’s consistent,” she says. “(You also need to) make sure your brand delivery is uniform in all your marketing messages.”

Cash flow is king

Like many businesses, managing cash flow continues to be the biggest headache for Sampson.

“Money has been the biggest issue and continues to be a hurdle. Head-office support, travel, IT, maintaining and updating our website and company cars all add to these costs.

“So make sure you have enough back-up funds in place before you take the leap and expect it to cost three times more than you budgeted.”

However, Sampson stresses the point that managing cash flow does not mean avoiding spending money at any cost.

“I’ve now realised that money makes money – and that you need to spend money to make money.”

For entrepreneurs starting out, Sampson says they must be conscious of the amount of time it takes to get a business up and running.

“I often say that if I knew then what I know now, I would never have gone into franchising. It’s not that I regret it – it’s just that it’s been 10 times harder than I would have ever imagined.”

There are some useful strategies to survive.

“Don’t ever give up,” she says. “I’m on an express train and there’s no getting off for the moment – that’s how it will feel sometimes.

“Expect to work long hours. I often work through the night and have even been known to sleep on two beanbags in the office.”

Nevertheless, the future for Healthy Habits is looking bright – and Sampson has no plans for slowing down.

“I hope to have 100 stores in Australia, stores in New Zealand, Dubai, Bahrain, South Africa, Asia and the United States!”

It is all part of a life philosophy of pushing herself to the limit and having no regrets.

“Go for it,” Sampson says. “It’s better to have tried and failed than to die wondering!”

Entrepreneur’s diary
The hardest part of running a business is...
Finding and managing the right people.
Attracting and retaining staff is all about...

Being an employer of choice. Staff have to be attracted to the brand, the office has to be cool, the pay rates have to be fair. You have to keep people interested and offer them advancement opportunities.

What keeps me going is...
The desire to provide for my kids as a single parent.
I admire...

Donald Trump. I am totally inspired by people who have worked hard and succeeded in business on their own with no partners to share the responsibility with.

One word that describes me is...
Passionate.
A healthy strategy

Key ingredients driving Katherine Sampson’s Healthy Habits: Employing the right consulting company to set up the franchising model.

Hiring a brand strategist to revamp the corporate logo and infuse the brand culture into every aspect of the business.

Setting up a fun, vibrant and informative website as a ‘window to our business’.

Surrounding myself with a fantastic and motivated team. I couldn’t afford to employ the most experienced people, so it was important that they had the right attitude.

Buying existing sandwich bars located in prime positions in prominent shopping centres on the east coast, and revamping them into Healthy Habits stores.  This gave us a footprint and allowed leasing agents from other shopping centres to see our stores.

Choosing the best franchise partners to help expand the business. We decided not to take people with a ‘cheque and a heartbeat’ but rather people who were as passionate about Healthy Habits as us.

Promoting our brand with PR. We are extremely lucky that the media have taken an interest in Healthy Habits and this has been a way of growing our reputation, without the cost.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

 

Published on: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

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