May 16, 2023

Running a successful Theatretrain business with a great work-life balance

Theatretrain franchisee, Jess Fairfield, was interviewed for "Which Franchise" recently. Here's how it went...

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing prior to buying your Theatretrain franchise business?
I am a trained dancer and singer.  Before buying a franchise business, I worked travelling the UK and abroad as a performer, then as a teacher and choreographer.

Can you also tell us about Theatretrain? 
Theatretrain is a performing arts school franchise for children aged 3 to 18 years.  The operate across the UK, providing high quality training to children of all ages and abilities.

Why did you go down the franchise route? What made you choose performing arts? And why Theatretrain?
I chose this industry as it is one I have grown up in, trained and worked in my entire life, so it is perfect for me!

To be honest, I wasn’t looking to buy a franchise specifically, but when the opportunity came up to take on the Welwyn-Hatfield branch, it seemed like an excellent opportunity.  It worked so well that I launched another branch 4 years later!

There are a few performing arts franchises around which I knew of, but had always preferred the idea of Theatretrain before even considering buying a franchise.  I found some of the others very impersonal money making machines, and others very poorly run.  I like the relationship and personal approach Theatretrain offers without them hanging over your shoulders.  You are very much allowed to run your own business.

The bonus of being part of a franchise of course, is the access to support and resources you would not have running a business alone.  Websites, merchandising, advertising, CP, branding, marketing assets, support, knowledge, training and more.

How did you raise the finance?
I already had some savings which I used for this.

What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?
I had an initial interview with HQ, and then a two day training session to get started with the business and running my school.

Over the years training and upskilling opportunities have been more frequent and diverse from annual teacher conferences to monthly marketing online training sessions.  There is always someone available to speak to, and to offer help and support when required.

How would you describe your day-to-day role as a Theatretrain franchisee.
I am the Company Director – the business owner and manager.  There is lots of admin to do now my schools have grown so much.  And I spend my Fridays and Saturdays on site with the children and teachers in classes.  I opt to run the business entirely myself without an admin assistant but have a team of 11 teachers!

I do work full time but fit this around school hours for my daughter and take plenty of time off over the school holidays.

Provide information on challenges overcome as well as your key successes to date.
I think my key successes are building the schools to where they are. I started with one class and 9 children in 2013 in Welwyn-Hatfield. I now have 6 classes and 160 students with regular holiday workshops running too.

Royston, I started from scratch and have 10 classes with 195 students, also with regular holiday workshops in place.

I have done all this through hard work and dedication!  But it has really paid off and I genuinely love my job!

During Covid, we switched our classes to online Zoom sessions during lockdown.  They were hard work and amazing at the same time!  It was such a lifeline for all of use though and amazing to still be connected with the students.  We often all talk about it now.

Once lockdown eased, we worked hard as a whole company to ensure we complied with all legislation to keep our children and staff safe whilst being able to operate face to face classes. Again, this was tricky, but the children embraced it and loved being back in class.  It is something we still look back on and talk about with fond memories, whilst being hopeful we don’t ever have to go back to that time again!

Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?
Becoming a franchisee has totally changed my life!  Running my own business is a challenge I enjoy!  I have gone from running one school whilst working part time to this being my full time, flexible job.  I feel a huge level of pride in my schools and myself. 

I am more financially sure now and enjoy every day at work with the variety that comes with it.

It has enabled me to be a full-time Mummy to my daughter and step-sons too.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I do my best to keep work to school hours aside from the weekend classes which my daughter takes part in and loves!  Like with all jobs, there are more busy and hectic times of the year.  But I am able to schedule my admin to times when best suits, and can take plenty of time off over the school holidays for family time.  Working from home for the admin side of things makes the work-life balance more achievable and flexible in itself.  I do have to be disciplined and organised, but I enjoy that!

If you are a multi-unit franchisee, can you tell us why your franchise is ideal for those looking for a scalable opportunity? 
This franchise is great as a multi-unit opportunity as there are various ways of doing this.  Within one territory, you can have multiple schools/classes/sites/operational days thus being able to really progress and grow the business as much as you want to.  There are also opportunities to open additional franchises in new territories in which you can do the same too.  So there really is scope to progress to large scale.

Having multiple sessions in the same territory really opens the door to more students taking part and appealing to a wider market in which to grow the business.  In the same way owning an additional franchise would do the same.

If you have staff, how do you retain your best staff and keep morale high and productive; how do you incentivise your staff and recognise success?
I am lucky to have built a good team.  My teachers have always stayed with me for an extended period of time and generally only leave due to personal circumstances.  We have a fun work/friend relationship.  I give them all the support they need whilst allowing them to plan and use their own creativity.

Jess 169432

We have staff meetings as appropriate and I am always sure to buy them Christmas presents etc.

I pay good hourly rates which has recently gone up and am sure to pay their monthly invoices very quickly.

The additional classes, workshops, etc. I run gives them extra opportunities to earn more money which they really appreciate, especially in the school holidays when their work naturally drops.

I am very open and honest, so we always have a clear dialogue and as a team we celebrate our work and successes with each other and with the children.

HQ have additional training opportunities for staff too which is an added bonus for them. I always ensure that anything extra they do is either paid or doesn’t leave them out of pocket and is ultimately good for their own career development.

Can you tell us about any community involvement, including any local partnerships, incentives or charity work you are involved in? 
I have done work with the council in both territories to provide workshops to children from low-income backgrounds to give them opportunities they may otherwise not have. 

I also run after school clubs for a discounted price from our weekly sessions.

As a company we support and raise money for Theodora Childrens Charity.

I also give raffle prizes to local schools fundraising as often as they need them.

What is the most invaluable piece of advice you could give someone looking to buy their first franchise? 
Research the franchise which is the best fit for you.  Speak to other people who own franchises with those companies to hear about their experiences.  Be prepared that, to begin with, profit margins may be low, but you can grow these with your work and support from HQ.

In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?  
Someone who is organised and a hard worker.  Someone who is brave to get stuck in and willing to try.  Not everything works perfectly first time!  Someone who is happy to upskill to make their business successful. Someone who is passionate about the company they will become a franchisee of, and the product in which they are selling.  If you don’t love your product and love your job, it will be so much harder!

What are your plans for the future?
To continue to grow my schools and streamline my own operations to further improve work-life balance.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would take on an additional franchise that came available for sale but I didn’t move quickly enough to take it on. 

Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

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