Growing up in a family of 12 children, Brian Bazely learned several important life lessons from a very young age: a sense of resiliency, a hard work ethic, and care and consideration for others. It came with the territory, and these traits dovetailed perfectly when Bazely set out to build his career later in life.
“We were taught at a very young age that it’s OK to make mistakes, just to be honest about it and to always be respectful and put people first,” says Bazely, CEO and co-founder of Driverseat Inc. “This can manifest itself in different ways, but for me, it’s about my passion for business and seeing franchisees succeed.”
The unique role that franchising plays in helping others is what eventually pushed Bazely to launch his own franchise brand Driverseat, together with his brother Luke. The siblings knew they wanted to run their own business, and they wanted it to be something that would contribute to the community around them. It was about building a brand founded on integrity, respect, social responsibility, and honesty.
When they introduced Driverseat to the Canadian market in 2012, it was a novel and entirely new concept: a franchise providing ‘drivers for hire’ to people who needed someone to drive their car for them. It could be a designated driver after a night out on the town, assisted transport for an elderly client, or a chauffeur taking someone to the airport. Whatever the reason, the aim was to deliver a low-cost, more convenient alternative to traditional options like taxis and ride-sharing apps for those who already owned their own vehicle.
“We created a business that allows people to take their asset, which is their vehicle, and use it,” Bazely says. “People are aging, so they may not have the same freedom with their driving anymore, or they might be busy professionals who need someone to chauffeur their children around, or they might like to go out and have wine with dinner. There wasn’t really a great option for them to get themselves home, safely, in their own vehicle.”
Bazely didn’t just wake up one morning and, on a whim, decide to start his own franchise. A lengthy career primed him for his current role and equipped him with the requisite skills. One could say the ball got rolling with his decision as a young man to study business at Western University, only to drop out when he ran out of money and start working to fund his studies. “As one of 12 children there wasn’t a lot of cash lying around, so I decided to work to support my going back to university,” says Bazely. “I enjoyed the work side so much, I never went back.”
Instead, Bazely forged a lengthy career at Toys R Us, where he rose to the position of director of operations for the company’s 85 stores in Canada. This was followed by a tenure at The Beer Store as executive VP of retail for the $3-billion, 700-store Ontario chain. With such a sterling resume, Bazely’s climb up the corporate ladder seemed predestined. But mid-way through his career he switched gears and bought an Anytime Fitness franchise, eventually becoming the franchisor for the brand in Canada.
The surprise move was prompted by a desire to connect with the Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. community he lived in and to ease up on his business-related travel to spend more time with his family. Little did Bazely know, the decision would set him on a new career path that would one day see him launching his very own franchise brand. “It was my first foray into franchising and I completely fell in love with the concept,” says Bazely. “I loved working with franchisees and the idea of building something that would allow them to prosper in their own business.”
But eventually, says Bazely, “I really wanted something of my own. I wanted to leave a legacy.” Driverseat was a concept that checked all the boxes and fulfilled the aspiring entrepreneur’s overarching desire to help others. He built the new business as a franchise from the start, preparing all the branding, marketing and communications material well in advance. “Everything we built in the earliest days was centred around franchising,” says Bazely. “Every aspect revolved around the idea of creating a franchise package for our franchisees that would tell them how to run the business and make money out of it, and provide them with library images, standards, logos, etc. We built all of that before we even launched.”
With his experience as both franchisee and franchisor, Bazely was perfectly positioned for his new role, while his brother Luke, who has an engineering background and is now the company’s president, developed the tech side of the business. A good deal of their initial investment went into the technology required to guarantee a smooth and successful operation. They needed to make sure they had the required analytics on their end to grow the business and deliver the ease-of-use that tech-savvy customers demand. Today, all Driverseat bookings are funneled through a central system managed by the company’s head office and drivers can easily be ordered with a push of a button
Start-up costs for franchisees are at the low-end – around $35,000 – primarily because the business operates as a home-based model, but a scalable one. Territories are based on populations between 80,000 and 100,000, and franchisees can grow their operation into a large network of drivers who use their own cars to get to clients. There is also a transactional B2B shuttle service that was recently introduced and is now available in about half of the company’s territories.
While it may be a home-based model, that doesn’t mean Driverseat franchisees are homebodies. On the contrary, franchisees need to actively promote the business in their community, whether it’s visiting restaurant and bar owners, participating in neighbourhood festivals and fairs, or pitching story ideas to the local media. They also need to be savvy communicators on social media, posting regularly on dedicated Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts. “Social media is a significant part of what we do,” stresses Bazely. “It’s how we market and build our brand, and we spend a lot of time teaching our franchisees the basics of this and the analytics involved.”
While the company’s team of franchisees come from a diverse mix of backgrounds – there are financial advisors, corporate retirees and even former Driverseat chauffeurs – their work experience is far less important than their work ethic and personality. First and foremost, they need to be sociable and comfortable reaching out to new people. “You have to be the face of this business and enjoy shaking hands and meeting people,” says Bazely. “It’s more about a franchisee’s ability to communicate effectively and be passionate about their coachmen and the customers than it is about their experience.”
Today, Driverseat is a 24-franchise unit operation spread out across four provinces: Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, its strongest market. The plan is to double that number in the next 12 months, with two more franchises already set to launch at time of print. The company is also expanding outside of Canada. It is in talks with a master franchisor in Jacksonville, Florida, and in early-stage discussions with interested parties in Australia and Chile. Bazely’s long-term goal is an ambitious one – he wants to grow Driverseat into a global, 2,000-branch operation spanning 20 countries.
Not bad for someone who, out of necessity, dropped out of university. That said, Bazely did eventually return to complete a one-year executive management course at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
The executive-turned-entrepreneur has been invited back to lecture as well, reaping one of life’s sweetest rewards.
By Roma Ihnatowycz