CHIPS’ KITCHEN BOARDROOM

Juggling family and career is a challenge faced by many women looking to stay in the world of work.

But two North East women have found a way around it that means they can be there for their children at the same time as running successful companies.

Julie Waites, a partner in The Franchise Company, and Debra McCabe, Franchise and Marketing Manager at video games retail chain CHIPS, have joined forces to expand a successful enterprise.

Both mothers begin work after dropping their children at school and often hold their meetings over coffee in Debra’s kitchen. This informal setting does not stop them making business decisions worth thousands of pounds as they jointly plan projects such as exhibiting at franchise exhibitions and holding franchise conferences for the Chips franchise network.

Julie’s company, which is based in Darlington, is the North’s largest franchise consultancy and one of the largest in the UK. It works with more than 40 companies across the country, advising on all aspects of franchise development both in this country and abroad.

Franchising is the granting of a licence by one party, the franchisor, to another, the franchisee, which entitles the franchisee to use the trade name and the business methods of the franchisor. Each business is owned and operated by the franchisee, but the franchisor retains control over the way in which the relevant products and services are marketed and sold and the method of running the business.

CHIPS was established in the early 1980s selling video games and games consoles. By the late 1990s the company was thinking about franchising when it was approached by someone who wanted to become a franchisee. At this point, recognising the need for franchising expertise, CHIPS teamed up with The Franchise Company to help develop the franchise system, assist with the recruitment of franchisees and provide ongoing assistance with the specialist requirements of this aspect of the business.

Now recognised as the UK’s leading independent games retailers and recently voted Independent Retailer of the Year, CHIPS has hugely benefited from the link with The Franchise Company.

In the past four years CHIPS, which is based in Middlesbrough, has grown from six company shops to 21 outlets. By summer this number should have increased to 30, and a lot of this success has been planned over cups of coffee in the ‘kitchen boardroom’.

Julie’s two children, Ellie (5) and Aimee (3) are dropped at school and nursery in the morning. Their Grandma cares for them three afternoons a week giving Julie three full days to work, and she finds time for meetings with Debra on Friday mornings, when they are both also child-free.

Julie said: “You don’t realise until you have children what a juggling act takes place. I am not sure if I fit the family around the business or the business around the family. Being a mother has definitely made me more efficient in my business and improved my delegation skills. The business has actually improved because it has to be able to continue to operate effectively on the days that I am not physically there. I now fit five days work into three and a half days. I have tremendous staff and couldn’t do it without the support of my family, but the result is a busy and fulfilling life.”

Julie added: “Working with Debra is great because she and I certainly recognise each others issues and empathise with each other’s lifestyle.”

Debra said the kitchen is actually a good place to hold meetings because there are no interruptions such as telephone calls. “I need to work. To be at home all day when you have worked for 20 years would be hard. Although I am contracted to work three days a week for CHIPS, it is very flexible. In reality some weeks I work the equivalent of at least five days a week but I have an office at home so I am able to work from 8pm to 1am if that is necessary. I am paid to do a job rather than be in one place for a fixed number of hours. If one of the children is ill I can care for them and fit the work around them.”

She added: “My son Finn (5) is at school and a private after-school club three days a week. My daughter Elle (4) has just started the school nursery in the mornings and goes to private nursery three afternoons a week. In effect that gives me four days with them because I have Saturday and Sunday as well. To me that is a decent split. It is great working with Julie. We have a good business relationship but we also understand the pressures on each other. If I have to end a phone call because one of the children needs me she completely understands. We just pick up where we left off later on. Both of us are flexible enough and happy to work outside our “normal hours” which is a great bonus for both businesses.”

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