Interview with Michael White, Founder and CEO of Drug-Safe Australia

“The fight against the Drug epidemic crosses state borders and is a national concern and franchising enables us to deliver our solutions through our franchisees to every corner of Australia.”

Eden Exchange recently spoke with Michael White who is the Founder and CEO of  Drug-Safe Australia Pty Ltd. Michael established Drug-Safe Australia Pty Ltd almost 20 years ago. Since then, he has led the alcohol and the drug screening industry in addressing substance abuse across Australia and the South Pacific. Michael spoke to us about his experience growing Drug Safe Communities, as well some insights for entrepreneurs interested in entering the franchising and drug-screening industry.

Thanks for speaking with us Michael.  Firstly, what triggered the idea for Drug-Safe communities? What were you doing before founding Drug-Safe Australia and why did you get into franchising?

I launched Drug-Safe Australia in the late 90’s after I lost a business colleague to a heroin overdose. While I was totally unaware of his drug abuse, which had been occurring for 15 years, it started a domino effect of consequences, such as loss of clients and loss of my business through the embezzlement of cash to support the habit. I made the decision at that time to take responsibility for my future and not allow circumstances to decide my career going forward.

Over the next two decades, I grew the business to be a market leader and trailblazer however in 2016 I came to the conclusion that we needed to develop a different business model to offer a broad coverage of professional field operatives, supported by the experience and knowledge gained through building the larger business.

I believe our business model genuinely suits franchising. I felt that the franchising sector in Australia, needed fresh innovative and life-changing brands. Drug-Safe Communities fits this need perfectly.

In a unique model such as ours, the credibility of an empowered local business owner working with other local businesses is critical to success. The fight against the Drug epidemic crosses state borders and is a national concern and franchising enables us to deliver our solutions through our franchisees to every corner of Australia.

Drug-Safe communities has franchise territories available all over Australia. What areas are you particularly focusing on?

We are facing a national drug crisis, so we are focusing on getting our proven system across every state and territory. Some areas of immediate focus include major cities, townships with a high concentration of industrial estates and areas in mining communities.

What advice do you have for someone looking to own franchise for the first time? What’s the key message you tell new franchisees?

Franchising is a journey. When you are new to the industry, it can be overwhelming and at times challenging. There are plenty of franchises to choose from, and effective due diligence is critical.

“Running a franchise involves a combination of self-driven entrepreneurship and ability to comply with the required structure and process. You need to have both these skills to succeed.”

We encourage franchisees to do their homework before entering into a franchise agreement. When I mean due diligence, I mean the process of gathering enough information to make an informed decision. Part of this is not just working on the expected financial returns in running the franchise but also taking into account changes to work/life blend and the culture of the franchisor.

If you do not feel right at the end of this due diligence process and you are doubtful and uneasy, just don’t do it. You need to feel good both in your ‘head’ and your ‘heart.’

If you have never run your own business before, it is important you speak to as many successful franchisees as you can find and learn about their experiences and stories.

Running a franchise involves a combination of self-driven entrepreneurship and ability to comply with the required structure and process. You need to have both these skills to succeed.

My critical advice to prospective franchisees, the fundamental core message or question I would ask is what I call the “Big Why.” As you know, most new franchisees are attracted to this sector looking for a change of career/lifestyle and a desire or expectation to achieving more. Part of this is increased financial reward but also wanting to do something meaningful with their lives. So the “Big Why” is “Why” do they want to become a Drug-Safe Communities Franchisee? I believe this is the magic question that needs to be at the forefront of any decision process before entering the franchising world.

What type of background and experience does a new franchisee need to have? What are some of the key factors that make running a Drug-Safe Communities businesses unique?

While having prior business experience is beneficial, we are open to discussing our model to anyone who has the vision to make Australia safer, through the implementation of our Drug-Safe solutions. Our franchisees need to have a genuine interest in changing lives through helping their local communities but also have the ability to foster an entrepreneurial mindset. Our current franchisees come from all walks of life ranging from medical, mining to teaching backgrounds.

Obviously the key skill sets required includes an excellent ability to communicate and network, a willingness to work as part of a passionate and driven franchise family and the desire to learn and grow. All of these translate into a highly successful and profitable franchise model.

“ We are open to discussing our model to anyone who has the vision to make Australia safer, through the implementation of our Drug-Safe solutions.”

We have a truly unique franchise system. It enables our franchisees to run a profitable business and also help their local communities in the fight against Drugs. This is our most important point of difference. Our model is not easily replicable and we do not have a high level of competition. It is not your typical retail franchise where you need to be open for long hours and work seven days a week. The model suits owners who want to run a profitable business without cutting into their personal and family time.

Our franchisees have access to support gained from our vast experience in this industry, and we are pioneers in this segment as I mentioned earlier.

What type of support does Drug Safe Communities provide once a new franchise has opened its doors?

The journey applies to not only the franchisee but also the franchisor. Our aim is to be the ‘franchisor of choice’ in our industry segment. We have already taken steps and will continue to take action to realise this key aim. Regarding support, we have brought in relevant franchise experts who have a genuine passion for ensuring franchisee success.

Our support extends all the way from the recruitment stage to the training phase along to the complete life term of the franchise agreement. We are currently building a Drug-Safe Academy, which will enable online training and information sharing. We also extensively coach and mentor franchisees. We also hold regular face to face discussions and leadership meetings. We are proud of everything we have achieved so far and are constantly strengthening the foundations of franchise success.

What’s your take on where your industry is heading? What are some significant industry trends you believe franchise buyers need to be looking out for?

I think the Franchising industry has not lived up to its expectations. You only need to look at recent developments like Seven-Eleven. As franchisors, we need to lift our game and put the welfare of franchisees first. A franchisor cannot survive in the long run unless the franchisee is profitable and emotionally satisfied. I think the profitability and welfare of franchisees are paramount and this mindset is needed urgently. Banks have started to tighten lending to franchises and franchisees need to do their homework before buying a franchise. As a member of the Franchise Council of Australia, I am keen to contribute my ideas in helping to get the industry to a better shape that franchisees deserve. Franchising is here to stay in this country, and I am excited about that. I think we will see more technology based solutions being implemented across the industry and the key to success will depend on franchisees building long-lasting relationships with their customers and embracing technology. The same applies to franchisors as well.

What are some of the key achievements you are proud of at Drug-Safe Communities? On the flip-side, what challenges have you faced to get the business where it is today?

When I started I set a personal standard that we do not settle for anything less than the best we can do in all things.  This saw us becoming an innovative leader andlead to achievements  like becoming the first to be NATA accredited, the first on-site service provider with mobile clinics and much more.

We continue to build this franchise. Just like building a big house, we are getting the foundations deeply rooted in the ground. We have achieved a lot over the last 12 months. Apart from having dedicated and empowered franchisees, we have managed to secure excellent franchise support professionals who understand our vision and purpose. We have a very close-knit team here!

It is also normal to have challenges, as challenges enable creativity and growth. I think it has been a learning process for everyone here and we have spent much time getting the support structure to a point where we feel comfortable. Now that the hard work of getting the foundation set is out of the way we will now actively recruit suitable franchisees to join our franchise family.

Where do you see Drug-Safe Communities in a year from now? What are the strategic priorities?

The fight against drugs is not going away, so there is tremendous scope here. There is a fantastic, profitable and purpose-driven opportunity that awaits the suitable franchisee. Our aim is to have a presence in every state this time next year. We will not compromise on franchisee quality and will continue to enhance our support structure and focus on the Drug-Safe Academy. Our other key priority is to partner with relevant stakeholders in combating the root cause of the drug epidemic in this country.

What’s the most exciting part of your job? 

Meeting people who share my concern for the future of our Australian way of life, particularly in the changing attitudes towards Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. Substance abuse is fast becoming the root cause of most crime and violence.  When I grew up, a home invasion involved ants or cockroaches. Today it is violence on a scale we formerly never contemplated. City homes are becoming prisons and streets at night are a war zone of threat and violence.

Recently we worked with a major industrial business who did not believe they had a significant drug issue until we conducted a blanket audit to find out the real story. Almost 20% of their staff and contractors were found to be using drugs at work, but through a series, of education workshops and random screening programs, we dropped the results in the second audit screen to 1.5%. …and we are working to get it to zero. These types of outcomes are what really excites me as every single person we have been able to place back on the rails has a family that has been suffering or worried sick about the future.  So it is not just an individual or business we are assisting it is a whole community facing potential problems that we can have a significant impact upon. I think that is pretty interesting! Moreover, something I am extremely proud of.

Thanks for your time Michael

It has been a real pleasure and thanks for taking the time and interest in what we are achieving.


About Drug – Safe Communities

For over 15 years Drug-Safe Australia Pty Ltd (Trading as Frontline Diagnostics) has led the alcohol & other drug screening industry in addressing substance abuse across Australia & the South Pacific.

Each Drug-Safe Communities franchisee is granted an exclusive franchise territory to operate their new franchise. This means that any new lead that originates from within the territory will be passed onto the franchisee to contact and win as a new customer. 

The territory is designed to provide ample opportunity so that a new franchisee can build their customer base quickly and provide the area to market the services of Drug-Safe Communities to potential new customers.

To view their latest franchise opportunities please click here or call 1300 378 472  for a confidential discussion.