Elmar and Lydia van der Merwe, and Jorge Santos - cleaning up in England with Fantastic Services. Photo supplied.

The Van Der Merwe’s are literally cleaning up in England, as are other South Africans like Jorge Santos who moved to London, aged 24, to seek his fortune.

“Twenty plus years later and I still love this city – its culture, energy, and opportunity,” he told SAPeople.

A South African of Portuguese descent, Jorge was operations director of a well-known restaurant group in the West End of London, when the pandemic forced the group to temporarily shut all its sites. Jorge was forced to stop and reassess his future.

“I had wanted to start my own business but never had the capital or truthfully, the nerve,” says Jorge. “Not for one moment did I imagine that whilst on a reduced salary (because of lockdown) that I would even think about investing in my own new business.”

But it was Covid that made him realise he was looking a gift-horse in the mouth. It was mid-pandemic, and Jorge had to juggle a fast turnaround of tenants moving out and in of his rental property. He booked a company, called Fantastic Services, to deep clean the property in preparation of the new tenants moving in. And it unexpectedly changed his life.

“It was the efficient yet thorough Fantastic Services employee telling me he had more work than he could attend to, that the penny dropped. Here was an opportunity.

“I had been a Fantastic Services customer since 2013. I had noticed their growing presence across the city for property support and cleaning services… and suddenly I realised my skill set of providing a service, managing large teams, and ensuring excellent customer service could transfer to this industry; so on a whim, I made that crucial call.”

Other South Africans – accustomed to excellent service and with an entrepreneurial mindset – have done the same thing. Some invest in a franchise as a soft landing in the UK; others – like Lydia and Elmar van der Merwe (who moved to London in 2002), were well established in the UK but needed a business that would allow Lydia to stay home with their newborn baby.

“I had our son in 2020, during Lockdown!” says Lydia, who hails from the West Midlands. The young family now lives in Kent and was attracted to Fantastic Services as a business with flexibility that would allow them to “enjoy a good work and family life balance”. Elmar, who grew up near Johannesburg and lived in both Durban and Pretoria, had his own business in South Africa and was eager to be a business owner again. “I wanted a business idea that excites me,” says Elmar, “so we started our own business with Fantastic Services.”

Like Jorge, and many other South Africans in the UK, the Van der Merwes were already customers of Fantastic Services, and say the transition to Area Development Master Franchisees has been “fantastic”.

As with Jorge, their franchise is in Surrey, an area popular with South Africans abroad. They provide services in the Redhill area, while Jorge is bringing the Fantastic Services brand into a new area – Guildford. Jorge says:

“With an initial investment of less than any restaurant start-up, I immediately had my own company, website, IT & accounting support, marketing know-how, with full training, and essentially guaranteed work from day one, and all I had to do was recruit Professional Cleaning Service & Handyman Teams to partner with me in providing the services to meet the increasing demand in the region.

“I am aware that signing up my first three working franchisees may be my biggest challenge. However, it is encouraging to hear first-hand from other Master Franchisees in the UK, once the initial teams are on board, this has a knock-on effect to attract others. The sky’s the limit!”

The Van der Merwes, who married in 2015, admit they never would have thought of moving into the home support services industry, and therefore so easily could have overlooked this opportunity.

“Now we realise we should have made this move to join Fantastic Services years ago. We feel completely re-energised, supported and in control of our future. It is incredibly reassuring to see the client enquiries coming in for ‘our areas’, just off the back of the brand, even before we are officially up and running.”

Jorge adds: “Whilst I have kept expansion figures on the conservative side for year one, so we can invest in attracting and training the right teams, I have ambitious plans to really grow this winning formula in the Hampshire, Surrey, and Berkshire areas within the GU postcode region and beyond.”

All three believe it’s an opportunity well worth considering for other South Africans, and invite anyone who is interested – both as a customer or franchise owner – to contact them.

If you’re in the UK or thinking of moving to the UK and want to set up your own business, Lydia says: “We can work alongside you to provide you with all the tools and resources to set up and manage your business. We are continuously marketing our presence in this region to ensure that your schedule is filled and that your business is a success with expansion opportunities. You, on the other hand, will do the most important part – which is to carry out the services to the required quality and standards, and manage your customer relationships.”

If you are interested in joining Jorge or Lydia as part of their teams, or investing in your own Fantastic Services Master Franchise elsewhere in the UK or South Africa, please feel free to contact them directly and they’ll be happy to help.