Claire Leathley, aged 50, and Charlotte Baron, aged 27, are the formidable mother and daughter team behind Belvoir Walmgate, in York. Celebrating their third year of trading, Claire and Charlotte have big plans for the business and haven’t looked back since taking on the franchise.
Ten years ago Claire set up an agency for the City of York Council working to reduce the number of people on the homeless register utilising private properties for tenants. She set that business up from scratch and after four years, she was head hunted by a local company, owned by two women. She moved to the largest independent agent in York and spent two happy years there, until they sold to a big corporate.
Claire explains why working for a national company wasn’t for her. “A corporate national company offers many positive things to many people, but I knew that wasn’t the right fit for me. I wanted to be able to meet the client and follow them through the journey to ensure I was delivering the quality of service I’d promised them. I was head of a team and had a good wage, but I felt like I needed to be doing something more. I wanted more than just a good job, so I began to look around for an alternative.”
Meanwhile, Charlotte had graduated with a degree in business and marketing from Northumbria University. She then spent a year at Disney, where she learnt excellent customer service skills and then went to China for a year. When she came home, Charlotte was working in a different branch of the same corporate and was also dissatisfied.
At first, Claire thought she’d set up a business with her husband. She says, “My husband and I had been looking to buy a business. He spotted the Belvoir business was up for sale and suggested that myself and Charlotte could do it.
“We met the franchise team and it immediately ticked the boxes for us. We had no preconceptions about Belvoir, but everything we saw that day was really positive. We’re not generally impetuous, but we came out feeling ready to go with Belvoir almost straight away.”
Charlotte agrees, “The level of customer service and the ethics behind Belvoir gave us a really positive feeling. In addition, they were choosing us, as much as we were choosing them, so it felt like not just anyone could take on a Belvoir business. We did consider building our own agency, but the support network Belvoir gives us was a major benefit.
“We felt supported from the first meeting. They were giving us people to speak to and a list of all the other Belvoir franchise owners to ask for advice. Every step of the way there was someone we could talk to about business plans, development and gaps in our knowledge, from accounts to VAT. All the information and legal support, along with the really strong branding, wouldn’t have been available if we’d gone it alone.”
Claire says that “positive mental attitude” is the secret of their success and this was put to the test, when floods hit, five months after they opened.
“We had trouble getting funding in the first place and then the place flooded and everything was gone. We thought we were done for, but really it made us stronger. Everyone rallied round; the software team set us up an office in my house and people said they’d seen we’d been flooded, so decided they’d support us by giving us their business. Charlotte was living 13 miles away then, so it wasn’t easy, but we look back now and think nothing’s as hard as that was.”
At the moment, Claire and Charlotte do most of the work themselves, with a part time admin and a part time viewer to take off some of the pressure, but they’ve got big plans for the next five years. Claire says, “We aim to have a staff of five by then and maybe another office. The aim is to at least double in size, but we both want to remain an active part of the business because it’s our personal service that has built up the reputation of Belvoir in York.”
Claire adds, “The support, branding and networking opportunities we’ve gained through Belvoir have been invaluable. If you pick the right franchise you can really benefit. You’re instantly part of something and although you pay each month, and it does hurt, it gives you so much back. We get on so well with all the franchise owners and know we can pick up the phone and get that instant advice and support.”
Charlotte highlights the key characteristics you need, “To make a franchise work, you’ve got to be ambitious and self-motivated. Nobody’s going to tell you to get into the office and pick up the phone. It’s also good to have a partner and the mix of life experience and age. The benefit of a partnership is that you have that joint investment and you know you can leave the office knowing they’re as invested as you are.”