Mike Harris Of Oven Rescue: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Success isn’t linear. I think many entrepreneurs have the idea that starting a business will bring sustained year-on-year growth, and once you battle through the first two years you’ll only grow. But that isn’t true; I’ve battled through incredible years, followed by some of the worst. In reality, success isn’t a continued upward trend — it’s a journey of ups and downs.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Harris.

Mike is the founder of Oven Rescue Group, an oven-cleaning franchise that operates nationally in the UK. Having started the business 14 years ago, the business is one of the most successful oven-cleaning franchises in the UK, with close to 50 franchises across England, Scotland and Wales. His cleaning expertise have been featured in national press, such as Ideal Home and The Mirror, while his business knowledge has lead him to write for publications such as StartupObserver and London Loves Business.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Starting from the trenches of field-based sales in the office supplies industry, I gradually climbed the ladder, transitioning from a sales manager role to regional sales manager, and eventually to regional sales director across various businesses.

However, the pivotal moment came when I was headhunted to lead the southern and western regions as a director for a worldwide office supplies company. Managing four offices and hundreds of employees, I was deeply involved in the intricacies of the business, even participating in a management buyout.

As part of the management buyout, and at the age of 40, I found myself facing redundancy. Although I knew it was coming, I didn’t have a plan in place and wanted to use the time to figure out what I really wanted to do. It was during this time that I stumbled into the world of franchises, purely by accident. Determined to pivot away from the corporate grind that had consumed much of my career, I vowed never to wear a suit in vain again, setting the stage for a new chapter.

After taking some time out on holiday in Spain, I met someone who was running a solo oven cleaning business out there, and I started looking into the idea of doing this back in the UK. He was really helpful and open to helping me on my journey, so he came back to the UK with me and shared everything he knew. And the rest, so they say, is history.

I managed to get up and running through connections in the lettings industry and lots of networking. I worked on my own for two years before opening the franchise and taking people on.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I spent years travelling all over the world for work, meeting people from all walks of life, so have plenty of stories about those days. But it’s the people who have given me the most incredible stories.

For instance, when I worked in sales, I hired a hungry 18-year-old who was determined to smash any target and record we had. Starting fresh out of education, he spent the first few years learning everything about the business, and processes, and absorbing as much information as he could. Now, more than 20 years on, he’s grown into an incredibly successful man with an amazing job, but he’s now also a wonderful husband, father, and friend to those around him. And it’s the stories about the people that I find the most interesting.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

‘Work hard and be nice to people’. This is a simple one but one many people forget. When you work for yourself, there is no one to do the work for you, so it’s all down to you. Likewise, you never know whose paths you’ll cross and when, so if you leave a good impression on everyone, you’ll never be worried about bumping into anyone.

I’ve crossed paths with so many people over the years, and you always remember the ones who weren’t pleasant to deal with.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

From a consumer perspective, the professionalism and expertise of our team shines through, and this is something that starts from the very beginning. When people contact me to discuss opening a franchise, it’s by no means an interview, but I use that time to understand them, their history, and their motives and drive. This initial conversation has, so far, helped me to onboard the right people who have made a success of their franchise. Most of our franchises grow via word of mouth, and that’s a testament to their individual work.

For budding franchise owners, the first attraction is the initial setup cost versus the opportunity. The oven-cleaning market is huge, and the model works everywhere, meaning the ceiling for earnings is virtually limitless.

The setup cost itself is something I strive to keep as low as possible, and is actually lower than similar franchises’ (£9,000). This opens up the pathway to franchising to as many people as possible. There is also the option to utilise a government-backed loan or other business financing to cover the set-up costs.

One of the franchisees who’s been with me since he was 19 (he’s now 31) was really unsure about what he wanted to do with his life. He had been working as a football coach for a while when he went to a franchise expo with his dad. His dad had run a business previously, so was inspired by him to look into entrepreneurship. After looking into franchising, we spoke a couple of times and he came on board. He quickly got up and running and started reaping the rewards almost immediately. Over a decade on and he’s not slowed down. He’s recently taken on a second area so is incredibly busy, but is proud to be able to support his young family. He was able to buy a lovely home for his family, goes abroad twice a year, and drives a luxury SUV as a result of his hard work and determination. And it’s stories like this that really make me proud of the franchise and how it can literally change people’s lives.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

I did a lot of research before committing to a franchise, and worked one-on-one with a solicitor and BFA mentor. Both of these were critical in helping me to make the right decision — both personally and professionally.

They helped me to understand the market and the opportunities for different industries, as well as thoroughly understand what it means to own a franchise. Although moving from being an employee to self-employed is a big step, swapping employment for owning and running a franchise is a wholly different experience.

Knowing I would not only be responsible for my own career but also that of others, was something I had to seriously consider whether I could take on, so talking through the options with experts helped me to focus on what I wanted to get out of starting out on my own.

Although I was armed with the knowledge on oven cleaning, I wasn’t set on oven cleaning from the start and did explore other options before committing. But oven cleaning seemed a bit like destiny after meeting someone in the field. It also made good business sense; it’s not seasonal meaning you face little to no downtime, repeat business is almost guaranteed if you do a good job, payment is immediate, and the whole process is transparent — customers know what they get and the cost before they book — and it’s something people actually want, rather than calling you because they need you to fix something.

I’m a big believer in opportunities coming to you and grabbing them with both hands. And oven cleaning seemed to be that ‘stars aligning’ moment.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

The hardest thing at the beginning was getting the name out there and building a reputation. Oven cleaning wasn’t a new idea, so being seen as credible was a big hurdle and it took me a while to build myself up. I put a lot of work into this in the early days — travelling around the country to exhibitions and showcasing the business, as well as spending time leafleting my local area and speaking to as many people as possible. So much of the early success in particular I put down to being a people person. I spoke to anyone and everyone to get them to buy into me and the business.

Now, of course, it’s much easier; the brand is established and we have a lot of case studies and reviews to use to showcase our expertise.

Although the first few months and years were tough; it taught me that there is no other way to succeed than hard work. The more you put yourself out there, the more you will get back in return.

It also taught me the importance of staying true and honest to myself. I pride myself on being upfront and honest with customers and franchisees on what to expect, and this honesty is something people really value. If you can’t make an oven look as good as new for whatever reason, tell them. Likewise, franchises aren’t going to be turning over six figures in their first year, so set expectations from the offset and you’ll usually succeed.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

The biggest shock was how quickly the business grew. Although I had to put in a lot of work, especially in the early days to build the business up, I remember my first day running the business vividly. I was posting leaflets through doors and had parked my newly branded van on a residential road. Half an hour into leafleting, I got a call from a lady asking me when I could clean her oven. And from there, the phone rarely stopped ringing for months.

It was a million miles away from my days sitting in a boardroom, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

It sounds so simple, but choose something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll be able to sell the idea more easily to potential franchisees, and your customers will also feel the positive effects.

Oven cleaning may not sound like the most exciting career, but I tend to think of it as a whole package. I enjoy seeing the visible change I make, meeting new customers, and visiting customers who I’ve worked with for years.

It’s also important to select a franchise that has staying power and national appeal. When I started Oven Rescue, other oven cleaning franchises were established, but the market wasn’t saturated. As such, I saw a gap in the market to drive demand; most homes have at least one oven, which usually needs deep cleaning at least twice a year — spending on use. This gave me a huge market base and longevity for repeat custom.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

Marketing is one of the biggest innovations we’ve seen. The way people consume media has changed so much over the last 14 years and we’ve had to change with it to ensure we reach the right customers. We don’t do anything like TV advertising and have moved away from paid-for ads. We’re a small business, albeit with national reach, so instead of focusing on the brand itself, we focus on the people behind it. This personal touch showcases the faces behind the franchises and connects customers to their local cleaner. After all, if someone is going to be coming into your house, you want to know who that is.

I also give control of the marketing to each franchisee — after all, they know their local area and their customers best. I arm each franchisee with everything they need to get started, such as hi-res logos and images, as well as brand guidelines, but each franchise has the power to market how it sees best.

Over the last couple of years, the business has reaped the benefits of spending money on digital marketing. Social media is great, but as we know, most people use search engines to find services and get advice. This is something we never really invested in at the beginning, but any company not investing in digital marketing is doing itself a disservice.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

1 . How in control of your destiny you are. This might sound obvious, but there really isn’t a ceiling if you’re willing to work for it, and you get out what you put in. if you put in the work you’ll reap the rewards. Likewise, if you don’t do the work, you’ll likely fail.

2 . How satisfying it can be. Seeing what you can achieve when you put your mind to it is something I never really thought about at the beginning, but now, 15 years on, and seeing what I’ve achieved, alongside my franchisees, makes me so proud. Taking on an area and building it up from scratch yourself is worth more than just money — it gives me a sense of pride. I may have been naive, but I didn’t realise how much that would matter to me.

3 . How connected I would feel to my customers. A lot of my customers have been with me for years, and many of them now feel like friends. Some of my customers for instance have had their own families, moved to their dream homes, and seen their children flee the nest. It’s such a lovely thing to see people move through life and see how they’ve grown.

4 . Success isn’t linear. I think many entrepreneurs have the idea that starting a business will bring sustained year-on-year growth, and once you battle through the first two years you’ll only grow. But that isn’t true; I’ve battled through incredible years, followed by some of the worst. In reality, success isn’t a continued upward trend — it’s a journey of ups and downs.

5 . How much fun it would be. Yes, there are stresses that come with running a business, of course, but I’ve never had as much fun working as I have since I started the franchise. And the fun of it takes away any stress.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

Onboarding the right people has been the biggest driver of success, and I have a robust process to ensure I continue to get in people who fit the business. I haven’t reinvented the wheel with Oven Rescue, but it’s the people who are in place that keep the business thriving. Each one shares my passion for the company and works hard every day to make their franchise a success.

Putting my trust in others and knowing where I need to take a step back has been a humbling but smart move. I’ve learned over the years the things I’m good at, and the things I’m not, so I turn to others to help me plug gaps. This allows me to focus on the things I am good at — and enjoy — while leaving things such as numbers, design and marketing to others.

Finally, being realistic and not running before I can walk has stood me in good stead. I had an idea of what I wanted to build when I first started out, and I’ve taken the time to get every step right before moving onto the next.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

The biggest one is how many people rely on me to keep the business going. Although I don’t employ people in the traditional sense, Oven rescue is still in my hands and I need to make sure the wheels keep turning.

We’ve had an incredible last couple of years in terms of growth, but I know that unexpected things can change all that — the Pandemic taught many of us business owners that. Overnight, things can change and it’s down to me to set us up for the future. As such, every decision I make — whether it’s bringing someone new into the franchise or investing in new areas — is all to cement the future of the business and help it grow.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement that focussed on helping everyone be a nicer person to everyone they meet. There’s no need to be rude, nasty, or angry at someone for no reason, and simply being nice to everyone would make the world a much better place.

How can our readers further follow you online?

They can follow me on LinkedIn and follow the business on the website: www.ovenrescuegroup.co.uk. Many of the individual franchises also use social media, so if you’re interested in following your local one, you should be able to find their socials easily.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.