RUNE SOVNDAHL, CO-FOUNDER, FANTASTIC SERVICES
When COVID-19 first hit the UK in March 2020, half of Rune Sovndahl’s bookings disappeared overnight. His company, Fantastic Services – at that point a £40m-turnover business that allows customers to easily book services such as cleaning, removals, locksmiths and rubbish collection – appeared to be in danger. The rapid rise and scale of the pandemic left Rune and his team reeling and fearful.
However, once the initial shock had subsided, they began to think more clearly about how they might respond. Suddenly, a sense of opportunity took hold – a feeling Rune remembered well from co-launching the business with a £6,000 investment back in 2008.
Rune says: “The pandemic is a massive shift and it’s leading to a big recession. But the situation excites as well as scares me. Recessions are times when massive change and huge growth take place. So yes this is the biggest financial blow we’ve taken, but if we improve what we do and weather the storm we will come out bigger, better and stronger.”
Fantastic Services, which Rune co-founded with business partner Anton Skarlatov, has 530 franchisees and over 2,000 professionals operating under its banner. So the first thing Rune did in response to COVID after the panic had subsided was to open his eyes and ears. The co-founder says: “We said to ourselves, let’s listen closely to what customers are asking for. And we quickly spotted trends. For example, gardening took off, lots of people moved from London to more suburban areas, and garden office installations became popular. So we shifted our business to provide those services.”
This was a safe and logical move. But Rune soon began to sniff out a bigger opportunity. He saw that several pest-controllers, plumbers and other tradespeople were being laid off by their small-company employers. He says: “These redundancies were the sign of another significant market shift and we started to think: how can we help these people, harness their skills and energy, and turn the situation into an opportunity?”
The question spurred Rune and his team to see Fantastic Services from a new perspective. “We began to look at the company as a group of four main assets – our people, our brand, our booking technology, and the ‘Fantastic Academy’ – an online training portal we use to train our franchisees,” says Rune. “Next, we asked ourselves how, under the new conditions created by COVID, could we best use those assets?”
What Rune and the team came up with was a hugely bold idea. They would use their assets to create 1,000 million-pound franchises over the next decade. And they’d achieve their goal – which would of course lead to a billion-pound company – by opening up Fantastic Services’ assets and sharing its pool of expertise. “We decided to reset and fundamentally change our approach,” he says. “Instead of focusing on the success of Fantastic Services, we would focus on creating the perfect conditions for the success of our franchisees. Because only by concentrating on helping them will we achieve our new goal.”
Therefore, COVID led to a fundamental mind-set shift for Fantastic Services. Before the pandemic, the culture was to control the assets from the top. Now, the culture is to share assets and expertise with abandon. “To suddenly open up and share our secrets and assets has been a big pivot,” says Rune. “We’ve realised that we can help lots of people and companies who are struggling. Instead of saying: ‘We’re Fantastic Services and we’re going to take over the world’; now we’re saying: ‘Let’s work together. Join the Fantastic Services family and we’ll succeed together’.”
So, as a direct result of COVID, Rune and his team are now motivated, excited and working towards an ambitious new billion-pound goal. Of course, the fear still exists. But now Rune is grateful for that anxiety because it is leading to a positive change at his company. The Fantastic Service story is an inspirational example of how it’s possible – if you look hard enough – to find diamonds among the ashes.