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Interview With Fibrenew CEO, Michael Wilson

(3 minute read) Fibrenew is a niche service mobile franchise business that specializes in the restoration of leather, plastic and vinyl in the automotive, aviation, commercial, marine, medical and residential markets.

To know and understand the unique culture at Fibrenew is to get inside the mind of CEO, Michael Wilson. In this sit down interview, he answers questions about his background, Fibrenew’s inception, where the company is today and where it’s headed.

Tell us about the Fibrenew franchise concept.

Michael Wilson: We are a mobile operation that specializes in the restoration of damaged leather, plastic and vinyl. What makes us unique is that we are not a reupholstery service. Our products and techniques have our technicians repair holes, cracks, fades, stains, burns, etc. on any type of leather, plastic or vinyl ‘in situ’. This means that we repair the damaged items without having to remove them. It could be on furniture in a home, office or hotel, it could be on a vehicle’s seats, armrests, dashboard or panels, it could be leather, plastic or vinyl in a boat or plane, it could be medical exam tables or gym equipment, etc. We repair it on location and at a fraction of the cost of replacement.

How and when did you become involved with Fibrenew franchise?

MW: The previous owners of the company were just starting to franchise the concept and I had recently lost my construction company because of the devastating recession that had just happened. In a round about way, I bought my franchise out of an act of desperation – and I’m sure glad I did! It turned out to be one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. My wife and I then had the opportunity to purchase the entire company in 1994. It was shortly thereafter that we pushed hard to expand the business across Canada, into New Zealand, USA, Mexico and Australia. I was the first franchisee, and today, we now have more than 230 locations in 5 countries around the world.

What was your background prior to joining Fibrenew?

MW: I’ve lived a very interesting life. I was born in New Zealand and grew up there spending most of my youth hiking in the southern alps and surfing the local beaches. After leaving New Zealand I spent 2 years in the outback of Australia, and 3 years in the Canadian High Arctic where I worked as a surveyor. I was an international yachtsman sailing my own boat, which I built in England, and other people’s boats around the world. I was a yacht builder and then I became a house builder, (now I am a company builder). I had my own construction company in Calgary just before I bought the Fibrenew franchise. I operated my own franchise for 7 years before purchasing the entire company and franchising it around the world.

What are some of the advantages of being a Fibrenew franchisee?

MW: The ability to generate a great income and if you work hard and stay focused on growing your business, a great income. I think the fact that we run a flat rate royalty system is a big advantage in the eyes of franchisees as well. This means that you really are your boss because there is no financial reporting, no red tape, etc. You are free to make as much or as little as you wish and you are charged the same rate. We are here to support you and guide you, but ultimately you are in control of your success. Another advantage is the fact that in most markets there is little to no competition. We are an extremely niche business and our franchisees appreciate that.

Who is your ideal franchisee?

MW: There are a few ‘hard-set’ criteria meaning that first, you have to be able to distinguish colour adequately. Matching colour is at the heart of out repair process so this is a must. Secondly, you should like working with your hands and using tools to a certain degree. Third, you can’t be afraid to talk to potential customers about how you can help them. Some call this ‘selling’ but it’s really just having a conversation with your neighbour, your kid’s coach, local business owners, etc. about what you do as a Fibrenew technician. The thing is, everyone has leather, plastic or vinyl in their home, vehicle or place of business. That means there’s a never ending list of people who will need your services. You just have to let them know what you do and how you can help them. Prior business experience is a nice to have but it’s not a show stopper. We will teach you those skills. Our business model and programs have been developed over the past 28+ years – it’s very refined and we know it works. If you stick to our template, there is a very good chance you’ll succeed.

Tell us a little about the Leather, Plastic and Vinyl Restoration Market?

MW: Simply put; the potential our franchisees have in their local markets is near limitless. Leather, plastic and vinyl can be found in homes, offices, planes, boats, medical clinics, hospitals, schools, bars and restaurants, cars, trucks, buses, trains, hotels and on and on. Inevitably, all this material becomes damaged and the cost of replacement can be astronomical in some cases. That’s where we help. Not only is our service more economical than full replacement, the turn around time can be faster as well – we save our customers time and money. That’s why they love us so much and are quick to refer us to their friends.

As to Fibrenew’s place in the market; our experience, knowledge and the quality of products and systems is second to none. We continually re-invest back into our business with the development of new products, systems and software that help our franchisees grow their business. This is a big reason why we have never stopped growing since we started franchising and why we’re a leader in the industry today.

What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?

MW: Staying the course is one of the most important lessons. What I mean is not giving up on a plan – not just in business but how that relates to your life as well. One’s business is the most important thing that you’ll ever own. It’s not your home or a vehicle or a cottage – it’s your business. I say this because it’s your business that will pay for your home, your vehicle, your cottage, your retirement, etc. Giving up on your business or not giving it the attention it requires is really doing yourself and your family a disservice. With Fibrenew, I never strayed from the course and never quit even though there were times I wanted to. I chose to endure and it has served me and my family very well. The same holds true for franchisees who have been with us for years. We have some franchisees who have been with us for over 20 years. In that time they have built a successful business, paid for their homes, their vehicles, their cottages and now have a nest egg that will fund their retirement. There are tremendous rewards that await those who stay the course.

Do you have a mentor and is their someone you use for inspiration?

MW: Absolutely – I have had a number of mentors in my lifetime. I have always looked for business and life inspiration outside of myself.

What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a franchise?

MW: It’s simple. Due diligence is a must. Whether it’s with Fibrenew or another franchise system, phone at least 10 franchisees. We have every phone number of every Fibrenew franchisee on our website. Anyone who is looking at our business must call at least 10 owners. After talking with existing owners, you should go and spend a full day if not two in the field with a franchisee to see what it’s like. For us, we would rather you spend a day with a franchisee over a visit to our head office. What we would show you at head office is important, but not nearly as important as the real world experience you will receive by spending time in the field. The other piece of advice is that there is no short cut around hard work. When starting any business, whether it’s a franchise or an independent business, hard work is the key ingredient. The cliche is true; you have to be willing to invest not only money, but blood, sweat and tears as well.

In your opinion, why do you think that Fibrenew franchise would be a great opportunity for someone?

MW: I’m biased of course, but yes! Not just because I’m the CEO but because I started out a franchisee myself. I know first-hand that Fibrenew provides the potential to generate a great living while maintaining a desired lifestyle. Work-life balance and flexible scheduling is a fantastic aspect of owning a Fibrenew franchise. There is no ‘bricks and mortar’, everything is mobile based so that means that you’re able to set your own hours and work around family scheduling. We have quite a few franchises that operate as a husband and wife team, father and son team, mother and son team and a brother team. We’re now starting to see some senior franchisees pass the business to their children or sell it to new owners after years of building it. It’s wonderful to see this multi-generational aspect now start to evolve in our business. I think this in its self presents a great opportunity for someone who is looking to build a business, provide for their family and eventually have a legacy that can carry on.


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    Meet the author

    Jesse Johnstone

    As the President of Fibrenew, I have the privilege of working with an exceptionally talented team at Head Office and in the field with our franchisees. Witnessing the achievements of our Franchise Partners in their businesses is a source of deep fulfillment and gratification.

    See other posts by Jesse Johnstone