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Taking on an existing and high-performing business sounds like a simple plan: but these two franchise owners knew the risks and worked hard to continue the business’ success.
Friends Helen Trembath and Carrie Wilson took over Mortgage Choice in Ipswich, Queensland, after former manager Nick Cook retired from mortgage broking.
Trembath joined the brokerage as an officer manager in 2009 after holding various roles in the property industry, and Wilson joined as a loan writer in 2008 after 19 years managing conveyancing departments in law firms. This meant they had several years working with Cook where they learnt about the business and had consistent support.
By 2012, the two women were managing the franchise and in 2016 Nick transitioned out of the business and asked them whether they would take over.
“It wasn’t a decision we would take lightly because we had a pretty good idea of the commitment it would require, but we were confident that we were good at our jobs, knew our clients and knew we could be successful,” Trembath said.
Wilson said they recognised that operating the business was another step from being a loan writer, and it would require a significant commitment of time and effort.
“It’s not something you can do part-time,” she added. “I was somewhat reluctant to take the next step because I knew there was a financial risk if it didn’t work out. At the time I was a single mother with two children in private school, which meant that I couldn’t afford for the business to not be successful.”
Building the business
The franchise had always performed well under Cook, with it featuring in Mortgage Choice’s top franchise ranking year after year. As employees, Trembath and Wilson worked hard to continue that success, but as business owners with “skin in the game” it added a whole new perspective.
The pair created business plans with goals and targets and knew they had to consistently settle around $4-5million each month, so Trembath came on board as another loan writer.
They increased their settlements by nearly 40% in the first 12 months of ownership, but acknowledge that it was not easy.
“In the beginning we worked for nothing. We had no trail, just upfront keeping us going,” Wilson said. “The business had overheads from paying the lease on the office, to staff salaries and insurance all without revenue, just our own personal cash injection that we had saved in the lead up to taking over.
“In the first six months we visited local lenders and businesses and introduced ourselves as the underdogs to let them know that we would do anything in our power to help their customers and this really helped us solidify strong referral relationships that exist today.”
Trembath said they could not have built the business to what it is now without the team behind them. The average loan size in their area is “modest” compared to other areas in the state like Brisbane or the Gold Coast, which means they needed a “well-oiled machine” to write the high volumes.
“Ultimately, the team is all working towards the same goal – to deliver a great customer experience, which is why I think we continue to be successful,” Trembath said.
“I really value the support that we had from our aggregator in the ownership transition period. The Mortgage Choice Queensland state office were so supportive, they weren’t overbearing and always brought great ideas when they visited the office.”
One way in which Mortgage Choice really helped Trembath and Wilson was things like conferences. Soon after taking over the Ipswich branch, they attended the Queensland state conference where they had the chance to talk to experienced franchisees.
Their loan book was still relatively small and they were working to their limits, but they learnt that in order to grow they had to employ more staff.
They visited fellow Mortgage Choice franchisee Deslie Taylor, who shared her processes with them, which was “eye opening”. They created another admin position, allowing them to break up the loan processing role into two parts and devote more time to marketing.
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