Sally Stone was searching for superb scenery and a relaxed pace of life when she bought a small stone cottage in Brittany, on the Atlantic coast of France.
At the time, Sally was working as a director in a marketing company; the Breton cottage just a part-time retreat. But a year later, in 2002, she lost her job to cost cutting and needed to find something else.
The cottage needed renovation and the work she was doing on it sparked an idea. Sally had no experience starting a business, but that wasn’t going to stop her. She and her business partner bought the neighboring cottage to make a bigger permanent home from which they could run the business—a full property-management service that could turn its hand to anything. The pair moved to Brittany full-time and their business, Les Bons Voisins (LBV), “the Good Neighbors,” was born.
“We started out caretaking second homes for people,” Sally says. “But we soon found ourselves tackling all kinds of problems from removing hornets’ nests to tracking down elusive shades of paint.” LBV became a one-stop-shop for people who wanted to feel secure about their home when they weren’t there.
Sally had always thought the LBV business model could work anywhere in France. More than 300,000 foreigners own second homes in France so the market was already there.
The profile of people moving to France full-time has changed. Younger people seeking a better lifestyle are moving in but need a source of earned income. People thinking of providing similar services in other parts of France contacted Sally and the franchising idea took off. The trickle of franchisees became a flow and Sally has overseen 55 franchise start-ups in total. Today LBV looks after more than 1,000 properties owned by clients of all nationalities.
Franchising is well regarded in France since it is highly regulated and offers reasonable protection to franchisees. Sally is keen to make sure the business is right for would-be franchisees. “We also give new franchisees an intensive training course. Our package enables them to get their business started within six weeks.” Normally, it takes much longer in France. The central office in Brittany provides ongoing support to franchisees and access to LBV’s network.
Sally’s can-do approach extends throughout the LBV network. “Our motto is ‘no job too small, no project too large.’ Clients know that when they arrive for a relaxing vacation they won’t find a leaking roof or waist-high weeds in the garden.”
Part of the LBV ethos is to use French artisans (tradesmen) wherever possible to carry out specialist work. Sally says this is a win-win situation: French tradesmen get business while clients boost their standing with the French by using local labor.
“Do I miss my company Mercedes and power suit? Occasionally, on a bad day. But living in a wonderful place and working for yourself—it’s hard to beat.”
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