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mbos client interview with nicola mills, mba founder and group managing director, prm

From The Wireless to wasabi…

Nicola Mills, right, started out as Promotions Assistant at radio station FM104.7 in Canberra. She is now the founder and Group Managing Director of PRM (Pacific Retail Management), one of Australia’s fastest growing franchise companies – with 30 stores around Australia across 3 brands, and annual group revenues of $10 million. In 2010 and 2011 she was ranked #26 on Smart Company’s list of Australia’s leading female entrepreneurs.

The phenomenal growth of PRM’s brands is built on the skills and experience Nicola gained from working in radio – at Melbourne’s Fox FM, Adelaide’s SAFM, and later at Sydney’s 2Day FM as Assistant General Manager & Marketing Director, where her work was recognized with numerous awards.

“Yes, that background in the trenches of commercial radio has been a key pillar of PRM’s success. In those tight ratings battles you get to understand brand strategy, strategic positioning, marketing with flare, leadership, organisational and human behavior. All those experiences in competitive radio proved invaluable later on.”

Awards & accolades

Her history of winning awards and accolades in radio has continued in business. Since launching PRM in 2007, Nicola has led its brands to frequent appearances in BRW, Smart Company, Fast Franchise Magazine, and to international recognition – winning two prestigious franchising awards. And this phenomenal business growth is just beginning – she predicts 200+ stores by 2016.

“We have an excellent expansion plan in place – and a lot of interest from investors and potential franchisees. Our first great success was turning around the Go Sushi brand – it was about to go under when we bought it out in 2008. We fixed it up and it’s now booming – Go Sushi made BRW’s Fast Franchises list of Top 50 Growth by Revenue. It gave us big runs on the board. We clearly know what we’re doing, and how to turnaround a dying brand into a winner – and during the worst of the Global Financial Crisis! That achievement carries a lot of weight in the business world”.

From PRM headquarters in Sydney’s Hunter Hill – “we’re about to move offices as the business is growing so fast, and we need more room” – she explains why PRM has multiple brands rather than focusing on one.

“I learned a lot from my time in radio, and how to handle multiple brands at Austereo (radio group). I had the skills and foundation, so I knew I could put those practices into action.”

“Go Sushi on it’s own is a strong brand, and makes good money for the franchisees, but I also wanted a ‘brand with a heart beat’ – one that would be profitable, yet make a difference in the world. Enter Wasabi Warriors, which has a mission – to help people ‘eat good, do good, feel good’ about their choices. Wasabi Warriors has a bushido – a code we live by, and the franchisees live by, and it’s an exciting brand. Wasabi Warriors is the franchise brand to watch in Australia.”

So, how is a brand like Wasabi Warriors like a media brand?

“To start with, Wasabi Warriors was built on extensive research, careful strategic positioning, brand character and personality – and a deep and powerful emotional connection with the audience of consumers, investors, franchisees, and suppliers. Our deep understanding of the brand is just as clear as at a winning radio station. E.g., ‘Wasabi Warriors is a premium sushi brand in the quick service restaurant category – specifically targeting lunchtime crowds in high traffic areas, with a broad appeal for under-40s’. Sound kind of familiar?

“Think of it like a cross between a Today station now, and Nova 969 when it was on top – sexy, leading edge, fun, positive, broad but deep appeal … and meaningful – there’s genuine substance to every detail. It has strong and positive messages about sustainability, healthy eating, and local community involvement.

“Wasabi Warrior’s mission is ‘eat good, do good, feel good’ – and it’s different to other brands in many important ways … convenient, fresh and healthy sushi prepared to a menu by sushi Masterchef, Hideo Dekura – environmentally sustainable food sources, packaging and business practices that look after the oceans, animals and the earth – and a close involvement in each store’s local community. It’s got a heartbeat. It’s a high quality, high value brand.”


And when you launched Wasabi Warriors, did you use the same principles you used for launching a station, show, event or promotion?

“Yes. Using the same principles used to launch stations like Brisbane’s B105 and Sydney’s Nova, though applied to a quick service restaurant franchise, we launched the first Wasabi Warriors in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall to rave reviews! And the next two are about to launch in Sydney’s MLC centre and in Adelaide.”

“PRM is strategically well positioned to increase the amount of stores exponentially within a very short time-frame. Key to how fast that will happen is the quality and passion of the (owners) who get on board”

You had a spectacular radio career and, at 2Day FM, were at the pinnacle of the industry – so why did you leave?

“After so many years, while I was enjoying the friendships, the intensity, and being in an industry that is a little above the ordinary – I was also putting in many hours, effort, and stress for someone else.  I love hard work, and being part of something that makes a difference – I just wanted to do that with a bit more autonomy. Radio teaches you a lot, but there is a time when you need to take more control of your own destiny.

“For example: we now have over $10 million in turnover, 14 key executives, and 200 people across the group – yet my dog Tarne (who was a puppy when I started the business from home) still comes to the office every day.”

“We have built a crèche for team members who have had children (including me), and we have a culture of work place flexibility. Our team works hard and they’re rewarded well. We can have all these things that are important to us, because it’s my business. To find this in the corporate world would be difficult.”

And why did you specifically choose to go into franchising? 

“As the saying goes: ‘Be in business for yourself, but not by yourself’.  80% of new businesses fail because people think they can do it all. To succeed you need support.  People come out of the corporate world, out of high paying jobs thinking they are invincible.  They forget the support of the marketing, programming, or finance teams.”

“If you go it alone, you have to be all those people, and very few people can do that.  In franchising, you get to own your business, but have a back up team in marketing, operations, and finance to help you along the way. In business it’s not how much money you have to start the business, but how resilient you are, how much family and friend support you have, and how willing you are to ask for help if things get tough – that’s what differentiates the average from the most successful.”

“Some of the franchisees are multi-store owners and are turning over up to $2 million a year.  They get the freedom of owning their own business, AND they get all the marketing, and operational support they need.”

So, what are the key similarities between a successful media executive and a successful franchisee (owner)?

“Wasabi Warriors is the best example – as it’s so similar to a dynamic, living media brand. In a Wasabi Warriors franchisee we’re looking for people who understand the importance of these key success principles:

  • Have a killer team, and a second-in-charge who can sustain the business if you get sick or need a break
  • Work with people with deep experience – at the very least they’ll appreciate the pitfalls
  • Really truly successful business people have a great attitude, and a great support network – make sure your partner or family are behind you when become your own boss.”

Finally, do you have any tips from your years in radio to share?

“I can’t do better than this quote from Walt Disney: ‘the simple things, done right, are often the biggest innovation of them all’.”