Andrew Benefield Mrs Fields


established 1988; 265 employees; $9.8 million turnover

Oblivious to the destiny that lay before him, Andrew Benefield was passionately selling the Mrs Fields cookie brand to the public long before he owned it.

As a budding marketing director of a busy Sydney hotel in 1988, he quickly appreciated the power of a tasty treat to woo a client.

On his routine visits to travel agents, the newly arrived

Kiwi frequently brought a batch of Mrs Fields' muffins from a tiny store in Wynyard Station as a ploy to win them over. Twenty years later he is still flogging the brand—only in a more official capacity: Benefield purchased the master franchise of Mrs Fields in October 2006.

Unlike his previous retail experience—ranging from the management of 700 Caltex retail operations to owning several franchises—this challenge, he knew, would make or break him. Mrs Fields' cookies were a household name in the US, but the brand's anonymity in Australia was sobering. The company was founded in California in 1977 after a friend encouraged keen cookie chef Debbie Fields to share her gift with the world.

She received no such support from her husband, who reportedly told her: 'You're crazy—it will never work.' But after a rough-and-tumble ride through the retail world, Mrs Fields finally sold the business to a US private equity firm in the early 1990s for a cool $330 million. She divorced the husband who failed to believe in her.

It's a story that Benefield is keen to replicate— with one significant difference: not only does the entrepreneur have the full backing of his spouse, also named Debbie, but he is partly riding on her own retail success. 'When we got married,

my wife said buying a wedding gown was a stupid way to invest $1500. So she started selling them out of our living room,' Benefield ^ I guess I've always

told Sydney's Sunday understood that you can't

IT- ^ really make serious money


From that

1-11 unless you go out on your

we built two bridal own. At the end of the stores with a turn- day, money is just an idea over of $500,000. backed by confidence. She did most of it

while I did all the back-room work. We had also accumulated houses and assets, and I had saved a lot from previous salaries. I guess the reality [of being a millionaire] really hit home when we had to cash it all up to buy Mrs Fields.'

But it had to be done, Benefield says: 'I guess I've always understood that you can't really make serious money unless you go out on your own. At the end of the day, money is just an idea backed by confidence.' Confidence and self-assurance are qualities he has always had in spades, and he has never been averse to taking a risk.

Benefield moved to Sydney from New Zea-land in 1988 on a whim, hoping simply to get work. For a while, the prospects looked decidedly poor. 'I almost got down to my last twenty cents and was very nearly on the phone to Mum and Dad saying "Bring me home", before I got a job in a hotel chain,' he says. It was a start—one that opened up a world of possibilities and opportunities for the twenty- two-year-old. Benefield moved up and on to other hotel companies, spent five years at KFC, and headed the retail arm of Caltex's service- station chain. But it wasn't enough. 'Eventually I really wanted to do something for myself that would use my skills. Plus I had done pretty well financially up to this stage, so I started looking for a business that would suit,' he says. 'I really had three boxes to tick. One, it had to be a good brand—and Mrs Fields always has been; I just felt it was undermarketed and underpro- moted. Two, it had to have an abundant supply of products. And three, it had to have a positive cash flow.' He paid $2.2 million for the brand and began gearing up to expand nationwide, drawing on his expertise in franchising and letting the possibilities inspire him.

Despite his self-assurance, Benefield knows the road ahead will be arduous as he takes a virtually unknown brand and attempts to etch it into the Australian psyche. So far he has seventeen stores, including three in Sydney, and he wants to make that fifty by the end of 2011.

With a tight marketing budget, he will need to be a smart chess player: 'We will have to be tactical and do a lot of sampling and consumer awareness testing,' he says.

The economic downturn has not hit his business too badly. 'We offer a treat, and at $5 people can afford to reward themselves with a coffee and a cookie, even when times are tough,' he says. 'We're not a discretionary purchase in the same sense as a BMW.'

In fact, all things considered the recession has been kind to Mrs Fields: 'Our business grew in 2008/09 by 11 per cent in terms of turnover,' Benefield says. 'We get our ingredients from the US, so we are hit by currency movements, but one of the things we are looking at now is producing ingredients here. They have now agreed we can source our stock in Australia, which will be a great help.'

Benefield is opening another seven franchises in 2009, helped by the growing number of workers keen to control their own destiny. 'There's no such thing as long-term job security any more, so people want to start their own businesses. We had three times as many applicants in 2008 as we had in 2007.'

Benefield says he is exploring new partnerships, including the possibility of inviting different brands into the Mrs Fields premises to help share costs and increase consumer choice: 'It's about maximising returns from the real estate. We can't be complacent, even though we're doing well.'

Benefield isn't quite your run-of-the-mill self-made millionaire. He loves fast cars, but perhaps not to the degree that one would expect. This entrepreneur would rather have an empty garage and focus his luxury expenditure on motor sport. 'What I do for fun is navigate rally cars. I've had the pleasure of navigating for some pretty impressive people—including a past Aus-tralian Formula 2 champion and a host of state champions.

'Navigating is very similar to being a franchiser,' Benefield says. 'It requires communicating effectively, telling the driver where to go and how to get there.

Then they turn around and blame you when something goes wrong!' As well as indulging Benefield's appetite for risk, his rally-car hobby embodies several of his business principles: 'Enjoy yourself along the way,' he says. 'Believe in yourself.'

Those are messages he loves to preach, especially to his children, who seem to have inherited both their father's zest for life and his interest in what he terms the ancient art of financial success. 'Save,' Benefield instructs. 'I don't consider myself to be a great saver, but I managed to squirrel enough away to enable me to do this. These days, whenever my kids get pocket money, half of it goes into their savings. It is a habit that a lot of us have lost.'

Andrew Carswell

golden rules

Save, save, save.

Enjoy the ride. Enjoy yourself along the way, and don't be too conservative.

Believe in yourself and your research. Don't listen to other people trying to give you shortcuts and get-rich schemes. Stick with what you know.

Champion those around you. I find that if I make the franchisees happy, that filters down through their businesses.

Have confidence. At the end of the day, money is just an idea backed by confidence.

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Источник: Nick Gardner. How. I made-.my first million. 26 self-made millionaires reveal the secrets to their success. 2010

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