Establishing a franchised business across international territories presents a variety of unpredictable challenges. Franchising is a successful business model because it enables partners to take a proven, profitable system and replicate it in multiple locations, but new challenges present themselves when implementing a business model in countries with unfamiliar laws and cultures. These challenges take many forms, from potentially embarrassing, but often amusing quirks in business etiquette to major obstacles in implementing the franchised business model across borders.
As Sky Zone has grown from its home territory in the United States to locations spanning four – soon to be six – continents, we’ve had our share of learning experiences and amusing gaffes. While hosting potential partners from new territories for meetings at our headquarters, we frequently display their national flags in our lobby. Recently, we hosted a visiting developer and proudly hung a sizable replica of his country’s flag. Noticing some awkward glances between him and his associates, I finally discovered the flag was upside down and they were too polite to tell us. The lesson, of course, was classic: pay attention to the details!
Beyond silly gaffes, meeting with diverse groups of international business people frequently provides opportunities to learn many potentially awkward lessons. We thought a teleconference with one of our foreign partners was going poorly, as the exhausting conversation stretched through several hours of incessant questions. Finally, one member of the group sensed our frustration and spoke up, explaining that their business culture pretty much requires them to question everything and they were enjoying the experience!
Cultural anecdotes aside, taking a franchised business across international borders requires a dedicated, creative and highly capable team to overcome a wide array of challenges. When establishing our first locations in Central America, our team had to re-imagine what an ideal location could be. We were accustomed to massive industrial spaces in our home territory, but we had to adapt to smaller footprints for our parks due to the availability of real estate in our target markets. This, coupled with the cost of importing materials from the U.S., drove us to reexamine how we can build the parks at a competitive rate while maintaining the look and feel of Sky Zone’s brand. It required us to reconsider how we source a variety of materials, from the special socks customers wear to jump on the trampolines to the materials we use to construct our parks. We had to identify local suppliers for some materials and find more efficient ways to import other materials to the region through a US-bonded warehouse, which reduced costs.
We faced an entirely different set of cultural challenges when we entered the Middle East. The biggest issue we encountered there was allowing women to jump on the trampolines with a high level of privacy. Our partners devised a very smart, practical solution – installing a massive, automated drape system that could section off a portion of the park at designated times so female guests can enjoy the experience without being seen by men, and scheduling an all-female team of employees during those times to assist and support those guests. They’ve also designed family time and separate hours for men to jump, ensuring everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the trampolines under local laws and customs.
When we expanded the brand into the European market, we were again confronted with an unexpected challenge – a registration issue prevented us from using the Sky Zone name! Our team went to work, re-imagining our concept to develop a new brand, which we could tailor to align our attitude, visuals, and activities to suit the tastes of the European market place. The team had to create a new identity that captures the feeling of freedom our parks instill in consumers as they soar through the air and design a new logo that extends that emphasis on freedom. The result is our new sister brand, Freedome, which is due to launch in the UK in October 2016. Through careful consideration and creative effort, the Freedome team was able to overcome the registration issue and produce a unique experience for the market place that maintains the core concept which has made Sky Zone a success in other territories. Freedome also incorporates everything Sky Zone has learned through its first decade as a franchised business, including features such as the new, interlaced trampoline system that eliminates the need for padding between trampolines. We also added sprung walls for acrobatics and parkour and incorporated exciting new features beyond trampolines, such as climbing walls, a Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course and a zip line area. Freedome’s parks will include the latest in wearable technology in the form of smart wristbands that streamline the admissions process by electronically verifying the customer has reviewed the safety information and completed a waiver. This technology also will allow customers to easily find themselves in pictures taken by our park-wide photo system, which will be available for purchase.
While international expansion presents a variety of challenges for a franchised business, an experienced team can apply imagination and creative solutions to make the concept even stronger. By knowing the core elements that make your business successful and working closely with international partners to identify logistical, legal and cultural obstacles, a franchised concept can grow to become a truly international brand.
Lesley Hawks is VP of International Development at Skyzone. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.skyzone.com or call +1 (562)760-1611
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