The Ovenu brand was formed in 1994 by Rik Hellewell and, over 20 years later, Rik is still the owner & Managing Director. He explains …
“The original idea behind the general oven cleaning concept was subliminally given to me by a good friend and business colleague, John Taylor, back in 1992 following his return from a family holiday to New Zealand where John had stumbled upon a mobile BBQ cleaning service.
This was one of those ‘off-the-cuff’ comments that remained in the back of the mind for a long time before action was taken. And it wasn’t until the back end of 1993 when we started to hatch a plan to significantly modify the somewhat shaky system that John had witnessed a couple of years earlier. We needed to bring something a bit more sophisticated than a cut-off oil drum filled with washing powder to the party!
We knew that our idea was going to be extremely popular in due course but we wanted to implement large scale expansion plans without the use of sub-contract labour per se. We also wanted to protect our ideas, thoughts & equipment and, most importantly, to set about proving that the entire concept would be financially viable.
First off was to dream up a Company name that could be registered as a Trademark. We wanted something vaguely ‘clever’, something memorable but couldn’t be a name made up of real words as this wasn’t permitted for Trademark purposes.
Ultimately we decided to use the phonetic abbreviation of ‘making an oven look like new’ … OVENU.
So OVENU was (eventually) registered as a Trademark and has been now for over 20 years. The registration was, and still is, vitally important as this prevents anybody from using anything identical or even phonetically similar. (It’s probably quite comical these days to be reading this on a computer screen or even a mobile device as, back in the day, the registration process took what seemed like ages using paper, envelopes and stamps! At roughly the same time that we we’re getting off the ground, Tim Berners-Lee was working hard at perfecting the World Wide Web).
Next on our agenda was to design and register a premium quality heated dip-tank assembly (rather than the rusty old oil drum idea) for cleaning all of the removable parts from an oven, including items that would be adversely affected by the most common ingredient of shop bought oven cleaners, namely caustic soda.
We had already noted by reading the ‘Warnings’ on aerosol tins that using caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) would mean that a lot of internal and external parts of a domestic oven could be damaged. This somewhat ‘flew in the face’ of what we were planning on offering consumers … an oven valeting service which involves cleaning each and every component back to brand new.
As an apprentice trained mechanical engineer, the designing of our process tank was pretty straight-forwards. The hardest part was to bite the bullet involving the cost of the extremely expensive hygiene-grade material that we had chosen! But that’s just one of those things … if you’re going to do anything, it might as well be done properly and, as we planned to charge well for our service, we weren’t prepared to compromise on quality anywhere down the line.
We sought, and obtained, a Registered Design for our equipment at the Patents Office and we’ve maintained our registration ever since.
Exactly the same set of challenges presented themselves when searching for suitable and appropriate cleaning materials. We needed products that worked well but didn’t contain the dreaded caustic-soda.
Fortunately, having been heavily involved in the carpet & upholstery cleaning business for over 10 years previously, I knew lots of the right people to chat with and discuss our new requirements. A good job really as we couldn’t just ‘Google It’ as we could today!
By this time we’re into early 1994 and almost ready to get the show on the road. We’ve got a smart name to trade with, top-notch equipment and excellent products. Now we just needed to practise like mad and learn how to take all of the parts from numerous different ovens, cookers and stoves to pieces, clean them to perfection and put them all back together again.
By this stage you’ll be forgiven for thinking that my middle name (if I had one) is ‘lucky’. Why? Well one of my friends going back 40 years or so was a driver for a skip company and he had access to dozens of ovens for us to practice on; so we did. We spent hours & hours for what seemed like days on end learning what was possible and what wasn’t.
By April of 1994 we were all set … well almost. All we needed now were some fee paying customers!
A couple of weeks later with advertising & marketing duly ‘sorted’, we arrived on Monday 18th April 1994 at our first OVENU client’s home and, a few hours later, we were £36.00 better off!
John and I worked well together for many months until he and his (then) young family relocated to Somerset.
The ultimate objective, as I mentioned earlier, was to grow the business and the brand across the UK but we’d always wanted to do this under the remit of having others run their own business under our branding and with our help and support. Research using all of the resources available at that time suggested that franchising was potentially the best way forwards.
The majority of the ‘wise words’ suggested that it would be prudent to run a pilot scheme for a year or so to prove viability before launching the business as a franchised opportunity. I didn’t sit comfortably with this idea; I just didn’t consider a year to be long enough. We therefore ran the pilot scheme for FIVE YEARS. And that was a full five years often working at least 6 days a week as popularity grew. This turned out to be the right thing to do as we were subsequently able to provide a far better representation of our business model to those who were becoming increasing more interested in working with us.
We were, and still are, able to show how an OVENU business builds and develops over time. We can demonstrate how regularly clients use our service, what level of referral business is generated, how many people move house etc. Our patience and ethical approach in the early days was well worth it.
In April 1999 I formed Ovenu Franchising Limited with a long term friend (Jackie Noble) so that the business was in the public domain and, using the information and data that we collected from our pilot scheme, we started to appoint franchisees throughout the UK. The business has remained under my constant Managing Directorship from day one right up until now; something that we’re extremely proud to mention.
Following adverts in the likes of Dalton’s Weekly, the Daily Express and a few selective franchise specific magazines our network grew steadily and in 2002, with Jackie having decided to spend more time with her young daughter, I decided to appoint franchise consultants to help with franchisee recruitment particularly in the North of England & Scotland.
It was also agreed that we should give the OVENU brand a sharp new livery to reflect our position in the sector and also to reflect our green credentials. This was done quickly & efficiently – the franchisee’s vans all had the new livery applied and all of our printed material also benefitted from our smart new branding.
This is how I like to work and how I like those who work with me to conduct themselves.
I like to get things done and this is a characteristic that sits well with our franchisees. We don’t let the grass grow under our feet. If and when it’s apparent that changes need to be made then we’ll make them!
A couple of examples for you … Our process tanks have had 19 small modifications over the years; nothing radical, rather simple little tweaks and additions that make them more efficient to help franchisees with their day to day tasks.
Our unique product formulations have altered over time in line with numerous changes in legislation, health & safety and re-cycling requirements.
In 2003 we became full members of the British Franchise Association and we held this status until the end of 2013 deciding to withdraw from membership whilst the association was under-going a complete restructuring and possibly becoming a bit more financially astute.
And then along came E-mail and the Internet … a complete ‘game-changer’ in some people’s eyes. But that’s not quite how I saw it. Granted, email made communications faster (please note I’ve not said ‘better’) and the Internet opened a whole new world of information sharing capability. You’ll no doubt see again that I’ve used the word ‘sharing’ and I’ve done this deliberately. My view is that there isn’t so much ‘new’ information out there on the web; it’s more a case of what is already there can, and is, way more accessible than ever before. News simply spreads globally faster than ever and reporting can now be done in real time. But having the new technology is one thing; how it’s used to your advantage is another!
What email and the internet did give us though was a whole new set of challenges and a minefield of technology rules to understand, embrace & implement.
Evolution, such as the advent of the internet, is an example of where our decision to go down the franchise path was wholly justified plus, with my personal understanding of how powerful a good outsourcing policy can be, truly demonstrates how economy of scale works in practice.
Collecting ever increasing amounts of monthly management fees has enabled us over the years to keep way ahead of competitors with a constant re-investment policy. We’re now running version 6 of our consumer facing website and you’re currently reading version 3 of our franchisee recruitment site. An investment in excess of £15,000 back in the mid ‘noughties’ enabled us to build autonomous websites for each of our franchisees. These sites enable consumers to contact their local area franchisee directly and we have the ability to amend the sites via a comprehensive CMS.
And with a similar though process, we introduced a centralised 0800 ‘freephone’ number for prospective clients to call at the same time as the above but we always wanted to keep our franchisees in control over calls to their respective businesses. We therefore invested more into the technology industry and had a system developed to route all calls via the 0800 directly to individuals … something that our franchisees like a lot.
And I’m delighted that we’ve also been able to replicate this theory into overseas projects in Australia (see below video), New Zealand and a couple of European destinations. We’ve also worked with colleagues in the USA helping them to develop a slightly amended business model under a different brand albeit using our technology, equipment and products.
And there you have it, a short potted history from our inception up to today.
So what’s ahead for the future? Well, that’s something that you’ll need to talk to me about personally. One thing that the internet unfortunately brings to the table is plagiarism. It’s rife!
With our sector now looking more like something from the Harry Potter movies with Oven Fairies, Wizards, Pixies & Elves (to mention but a few) along with the myriad of Oven Shiners, Gleamers, Busters, Buffers et al, I’m sure you’ll understand why we’re not divulging exactly what we’ve got planned.
What you can be certain of though is that my individual mind-set isn’t going to change any time soon. I’ll continue to work with our team to ensure that each and every one of our franchisees globally maintains their envied status of being an integral part of the largest and most profitable network of its kind in the world.”