There’s no exaggeration here: Spencer Nikkel’s move to Saskatoon seven years ago was nothing short of spectacular. Just a few years later, the 25 year old would open the city’s first-ever Driverseat franchise – a much needed service for a city ranked among the highest for drunk-driving deaths in Canada.
“It’s pretty significant that through our designated drivers we get to help with impaired driving,” says Nikkel. “People love waking up in the morning and seeing their vehicle in the driveway.”
Humble, self-effacing and ambitious, who knew this Manitoba native’s simple decision to go into business, right out of school, would reverberate so positively throughout the community? And that’s in more ways than curbing the toll of drunk-driving crashes the city mourns daily.
Nikkel’s Driverseat franchise offers a truckload of affordable shuttle services – ranging from airport transportation to assisted transportation for seniors and the vulnerable population to subsidized rural transportation – which almost anyone can benefit from. And they even provide services that don’t automatically spring to mind, such as transportation for people who purchased a vehicle in another province. With just a click of their easy to use app, a Driverseat coachmen can transport that vehicle back to Saskatoon, just in the nick of time.
Nikkel’s business has also opened up tons of career opportunities. “Our designated drivers love the brand and continue to join for different reasons,” says Nikkel, “Our oldest driver is 70 and he loves driving as a post-retirement hobby.” Offering both full-time and casual positions, the brand regularly attracts people who want to earn money on their own time and schedule.
So with all these benefits, it’s not surprising he was recognized by Driverseat’s franchisors earlier this year. He was awarded with two internal awards, one presented to the franchisee with the best, first year in franchising, and the other (the Early Achievement Award) for smashing some big company records.
They are honours he remains grateful for, for a number of reasons. But mostly, Nikkel is proud of the awards because they validate the impact he’s made in lives of the people of Saskatoon: “It shows me that we’ve been well received by the community.”
Within hours of launching Driverseat, Nikkel’s wife delivered their first born child.
“There were a lot of long hours initially,” says Nikkel and seemingly no time for Nikkel to achieve his trifecta of franchise success: a business that’s profitable, socially responsible, and flexible.
But while many business owners accept that for what it is – shoving one goal to the side to put long hours into achieving another – Nikkel had no intention of doing that. “It was almost like a backwards approach. So instead of sitting back and waiting, I almost forced myself to put less hours into the business.”
The result? The savvy entrepreneur figured out a way to run a franchise more efficiently, which led him to hire more well-trained staff that afforded him the time to simultaneously make a profit, add value to the community and bond with his family.
It also gave him more time to sharpen his entrepreneurial skills. “I’m a member of Saskatoon’s Chamber of Commerce and I also do work with BNI Saskatchewan, which is a business networking group of small business owners.” And he’s part of a Saskatchewan organization for young entrepreneurs called Cypier. It’s just another way Nikkel connects with like-minded peers and generates the solutions imperative to growing his business.
That’s on top of the regular training he does with brothers and Driverseats’ cofounders, Brian and Luke Bazely. In addition to workshops, every year, they host an intensive four-day conference to support the professional and personal growth of their franchisees. “It’s a pretty engaged process. And they go through practical stuff and show you how to prepare for the next year,” says Nikkel. “Having a healthy franchisee network helps to have a great sense of community and if you have a chance to experience the conference or join in on the franchisee chats you’d feel the community that’s there, the people who help carry us a bit when there are tougher points in the business.”
Driving Without a Manual
But when it comes to rules for franchising at a young age, Nikkel dismisses the idea of there being a mythical manual every time. Because what he’s quickly discovered for himself, is that age is nothing but a number.
In fact, even when it comes to handling the often challenging realities of business ownership, like hiring, his youth never factors into the equation.
And much of that attests to the important qualities he has nurtured over the years. Qualities ideal for business owners like positivity and grit (or the willingness to weather any storm).
And confidence. A skill that he developed while getting his Financial Planning Accreditation, Nikkel learned that with confidence (compounded with knowledge and experience) anyone can enter into the world of franchising: “One of the biggest lessons I learned is that if you present an idea well, that’s well-founded and makes sense, people have a hard time ignoring you.”
At the vanguard of the transportation industry, Nikkel’s words couldn’t be any truer. No one can ignore the positive affect one of Driverseat’s youngest franchisees has made in the province’s largest city, especially with the reduction in drunk-driving fatalities and the creation of more flexible jobs.
And this millennial doesn’t believe he’s the only one who can do this. No matter the age, anyone can venture into business ownership and make a difference in their communities right now too.
“There’s no perfect time to start, but the franchise system makes things a millions times easier,” says Nikkel, who despite having all the odds stacked against him – youth, fatherhood, limited resources – set up one of the most successful enterprises in Saskatoon. “Do it. A franchise system has so many things done for you already. All you have to do is execute.”
By Trisha Utomi