As news breaks that A1 Comms has bought Shebang Technologies’ Purple Partnership franchise business, MD Paul Sisson is relaxing on a family holiday in Spain.
Speaking to Mobile while occasionally pausing to deal with the demands of his offspring, Sisson sounds unusually relaxed for a man who has just engineered the takeover of a franchise retail estate of 100 Go Mobile stores as well as Shebang’s online retail website AffordableMobiles. co.uk.
The acquisition of Shebang’s Purple Partnership franchise business marks Sisson’s return to bricks and mortar retail, just six years after selling 12 mobile phone stores. At the time, Sisson said A1 Comms wanted to concentrate on building its online business, BuyMobilePhones.net.
Sisson’s instinct to focus on his online business has reaped rewards. In those six years, BuyMobilePhones.net has grown to become the UK’s largest independently owned online mobile phone retailer. So why should A1 Comms risk returning to the high street, particularly in these economically straightened times?
‘Because this is a different proposition,’ Sisson insists. ‘It is like comparing chalk to cheese. The stores that I had barely made enough to cover overheads, whereas this is a franchise operation, which has fantastic appeal to me.’
Sisson claims the franchise model is ideally suited to the current economic conditions. He explains: ‘High street operations have to be lean and mean to survive these days and that’s where franchise operations come in. Franchise partners are running their own businesses, they are keen and motivated to keep their costs as low as possible, which means we will not be overburdened by large overhead costs.’
A1 Comms will also bring its considerable expertise and track record in online contract sales to the deal, making for a potent mix, predicts Sisson.
He says: ‘We are the largest online mobile retailer in the UK and we have made a name for ourselves as a big contract connector. Subsidies have been taken out of prepay and so the high street is looking more and more towards contract sales and that is where we, with our expertise in contract sales, fit in.’
So what changes will Go Mobile franchise partners see under A1 Comms’ management? Sisson confirms the company will retain the Go Mobile brand, which he believes remains relatively unscathed despite the recent stock problems under Shebang’s ownership. Partners can also look forward to substantial support from A1 Comms, with Sisson promising better deals in terms of supply, commissions and stock.
He says: ‘Our first priority is to make the existing businesses as successful as possible in terms of giving them the best stock, good commercials and all the networks. That‘s crucial and I want to get all the manufacturers in there to give franchise partners the best ammunition possible to make their businesses a success.’
The rolling refurbishment programme instigated by Shebang last year, which has seen 30 of the 80 operational stores updated so far, will also continue under A1 Comms ownership, Sisson confirms.
Sisson is also keen to reopen the 20 Go Mobile stores that are not trading at the moment. ‘We will get a few months under our belt understanding the business but I would say we will open them sooner rather than later,’ he says. ‘We have 80 stores in operation but there is potential for 100 stores. We will look to open the stores that are shut, if they are viable, so we will be looking for new franchise partners or looking to existing franchise partners to take them on.’
Asked if any new stores are on the cards, Sisson does not rule out the possibility, although he concedes it is not an immediate priority for the business. ‘We will look at that in the future,’ he says. ‘I am sure we will be approached by potential franchise partners and we will look at every location on its merits.’
Turning to the acquisition of Shebang’s online retail website AffordableMobiles. co.uk, Sisson says A1 Comms will continue to run the site under its current name.
He explains: ‘It is just another brand under our ownership and we will run it in exactly the same way as BuyMobilePhones.net. It will be a similar business but with a different website.’
Sisson dismisses the notion that taking on AffordableMobiles. co.uk, with its poor online customer ratings, could tarnish the reputations of A1 Comms and BuyMobilePhones.net.
‘It is up to us to make sure customers know we have taken over and we will bring the site up to the same standard of service,’ he promises.
Looking forward, Sisson says his aim is to continue to grow the business, helped by his new right hand man Stuart Joce, Three’s former head of cross sales, who he describes as having ‘an entrepreneurial spirit and drive to match my own.’
He adds: ‘Our turnover will be at least £120m by the end of this year and that is from an original target of £70m. The turnover for next year will far exceed that with Go Mobile and AffordableMobiles. co.uk adding on around £30-£40m.’
Editor: Carol Millett