Becoming a franchisee is a career option very few school leavers consider. But for those who take the leap young, it can be the making of their financial future.

When Brad Fretwell left school aged 14 in 2002, he didn't have a career plan.
After a wrong turn in building Brad found himself at home doing not much at all.
Little did he know that shortly after his 21st birthday he'd be a franchise owner.
Brad, who is now 31, and his wife Freya, 27, are proud to have gone from high school dropouts to the youngest-ever Bakers Delight franchise owners at the time.

The starting point was when Brad's mother put her foot down and said the 14-year-old had to get a job and start paying board. She went as far as answering an advertisement for a job at Baker's Delight. "She found the job in the paper and told me to go to the interview," he says.

It was the beginning of a journey that led him to complete a baking apprenticeship and eventually buy the Milford franchise.
In the late 2000s the bakery wasn't being managed as well as it could have been as the franchisee had lost interest, Brad says. "They turned around and asked me if I wanted to buy it."

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He admits that although he had thought he might buy the business one day he was way more interested in cars and his then girlfriend Freya, who had started working for the business part-time while still at Westlake Girls High School.
"Most people say [their relationships] were love at first sight," says Freya. "With us it was love at Bakers Delight."

Brad had savings to cover half the purchase cost, but was also helped by his mother, who although not wealthy was able to help by guaranteeing a bank loan. "I was only 21 and the bank wasn't going to give me the money on my own," he says.
The costs of buying into an existing bakery starts at about $200,000 depending on a number of factors such as location, layout and equipment requirements, whereas investing a new bakery would cost more than $400,000.
Brad had to complete 16 weeks of training to learn how to run the business and then became a fully-fledged franchise owner.

"It was very scary," he says. "It was the scariest thing that has happened to me. But when I thought about it and processed it I thought 'you can do this'. At the time I was the youngest franchisee in New Zealand."

The past 10 years have proved it to be the right decision. At first becoming a franchisee meant he worked much longer hours, starting around 2am until 6pm or 7pm until he could train staff to replace him on the ovens. Freya worked full-time in the shop.
Managing the 15 full and part-time staff was difficult for the couple at first because the staff were their friends.

Brad was determined to make a difference and pull the franchise out of the doldrums. In the first few years the turnover more than doubled, in part because they knew the system and were aware of what the previous franchisee could have done better.
The hard work paid off. The couple now earn 2.5 to three times more than as employees, although much of the returns are pumped back into the business.
The rejuvenation of the store has been so successful that Bakers Delight Milford has become a training franchise for new owners.

The couple, who had their first child this year, anticipate eventually buying another franchise and building it up.
There is a wide range of franchised businesses in New Zealand. Many are in food or retail-related businesses and the trades. In every field there are employees who have progressed to franchise ownership.

Tereza Murray, NumberWorks'nWords, commercial business manager, says about 45 per cent of her franchisees started as employees.
Not all have a teaching background. Franchisees from other backgrounds can succeed providing they are passionate about helping children reach their potential and have great communication skills, says Murray.

Rodney Wayne Bethlehem franchisee Ashley Sterrenburg knew she wanted to be a business owner from when she started her working life as a 15-year-old apprentice. "That "I wasn't the stylist who wanted to be entering awards. My thing was business."
Sterrenburg worked her way through a number of salons until she found herself employed at the Rodney Wayne franchise in Auckland's Glenfield nine years ago.

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The difference, she says, with previous salons was that she received ongoing training in cutting and colour technique and opportunities to learn about management. "There were so many different avenues available through Rodney Wayne," she says.
Sterrenburg then moved with her young children to the Bay of Plenty to be nearer family and took a job at Rodney Wayne Bethlehem. When the opportunity to buy the salon for what she describes as the price of a house, she jumped at the chance.

"A house is not within my grasp quite yet. Buying a business felt better."

To finance the purchase and for support, Sterrenburg teamed up with Stuart Macmillan, her former boss from Glenfield, who helped with capital, administration and management. She points out that although owning more than one Rodney Wayne salon, Macmillan isn't a trained hairdresser. It shows, she says, that there is another route into franchise ownership than up through the ranks.

Moving from hairdresser to franchisee felt like a whirlwind, Sterrenburg says. As franchisee she is on the floor hairdressing only two days a week, compared to five days previously. The other three days are spent performance managing the team and administering the business.

Like the Fretwells she is concentrating on building up capital in the business. "I only take out what I need to survive. Eventually I want to expand and own more than one site."