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Since a young age, Denise Hutton-Gosney has loved the performing arts.

Her passion for the arts has allowed her to travel the world on cruise ships and dance at the famous London Palladium and the West End. She has even performed as a trapeze artist at the iconic Millennium Dome.

In 2000, Denise decided to put her passion into action and founded Razzamataz Theatre School. Fast forward to today and the business has over 50 franchisees across the UK and Ireland.

At the heart of Razzamataz is the drive to provide kids with exceptional training in dance, drama, and singing.

We spoke to Denise about her business journey, taking on the Dragons in the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, and how she built a franchise business empire.

Where it all began

Denise was born in a small town called Renfrew, just outside of Glasgow, Scotland. Since she was a child, she has always thoroughly enjoyed performing.

Denise says: “I was brought up in a two-bedroom council flat. My parents didn’t have much money. There were four children. I laugh about this now because for the first 10 years of my life my bedroom was a tiny airing cupboard that I shared with my sister.”

Denise didn’t do dancing from a young age, because her parents just couldn’t afford it. But an advert in the paper for dance classes caught young Denise’s eye and her childhood passion for performing ignited. “As my siblings got older, my mum managed to scrape together enough money to get me into a dance class.”

Then, after landing her first professional dance job, it all spiralled from there.

At the age of 26, Denise began to consider her future. It wasn’t clear exactly what she wanted to do, but she knew she would like to start giving back. Performing arts had changed her life and Denise wanted to help other children reap the benefits as well.

In 2000, she took the plunge and opened her first Razzamataz Theatre school – offering dance, drama, and singing in Penrith.

Suddenly Denise was running classes every day of the week in different areas by herself to keep up with demand.

To take her business to the next level, Denise decided to franchise her well-loved school. Not only did it allow her to have a well-deserved day off, but it also helped more students access the amazing benefits Razzamataz offers.

First Denise started small. By remortgaging her flat she was able to join the British Franchise Association (BFA). She also enlisted the help of a solicitor and consultant to get all the necessary paperwork in order.

She soon sold three franchises internally to teachers already involved in the business. And with that, the Razzamataz franchise powerhouse was ready.

Taking on the den

Few are brave enough to take on the Dragons in Dragons’ Den but Denise certainly was. As a fan of the BBC show, Denise knew that her business plan would be of interest to them.

In 2007, Denise appeared on Dragons’ Den and managed to secure investment backing from fellow Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne.

Denise explains: “Duncan was an investor for seven years and that catapulted us into the limelight. We became the honey they all wanted. Big brands approached us and we worked with two in particular for 12 years. This enabled us to expand to where we are now.”

Although Denise always planned on growing Razzamataz steadily, Dragon-backing meant that the business grew much quicker than expected – it is currently heading towards 60 franchises this year.

The key to success

The success of Razzamataz wasn’t down to luck. It was Denise’s drive, passion, and the amazing franchisee support network she had carefully created.

“In the early days, you can get quite excited when someone wants to buy into your brand. But I’m pretty sure every franchisor would tell you that they have made the odd mistake.”

The key to building a franchise? Respect and trust. Denise has worked hard over the years to build a real community, a place where her franchisees feel supported.

“A lot of my team have been with me from day one. That shows they like working for our brand and have loyalty. But it’s a two-way thing. That is what makes a long-term relationship.”

Denise explains that most of the Razzamataz franchisees tend to come from word of mouth. Business franchise directories and advertising channels also have played a huge part in the growth.

Although it can be difficult, it’s important to understand when to say no.

“I’ve said no to quite a few people. I’m more than happy to say no if I think it’s not the right fit for them and us. I don’t want to see anyone have to lose money and close their business down. Likewise, it’s not good for our brand or the students, so we’ve been quite particular about who we bring into our network.”

Quality control helps to keep the Razzamataz franchise strong. Denise and her head office team carry out audits to ensure brand compliance, GDPR and safeguarding every term.

“In terms of software, all our franchisees use the same system. It’s super easy enough for us to go in and have a look at what they are doing. As well as see what areas they need support and help with, such marketing to a certain age group etc.”

A final word of advice

With her years of knowledge and experience, Denise has a wealth of useful advice on how to set up and run a successful franchise empire.

Her final top tip is: “Never be too shy to ask for help. Never be scared to admit that you don’t know the answer. Always ask questions and don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. We all have an error of judgement sometimes. Pick yourself up and move on.”

A big thank you to Denise for speaking with us. If you have big business plans too, here are some handy links to help you get started.

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