The chairman of The Franchising Centre entered franchising in 1976 and now uses his own experience to advise others
When did you enter franchising and what positions have you held?
I became a Safeclean franchisee in January 1976. After a couple of years I also took on the role of franchise director, then eventually sold my franchise to go full-time as managing director. It was a family company but it wasn’t my family and I left when we couldn’t agree a management buyout. After a few years as franchise director for a national window company I started in franchise consultancy in 1991 and have been involved in that ever since.
What does it mean to you to be chairman of The Franchising Centre?
It pleases me to have achieved my original vision which was for the business to become the UK’s first choice advisors to potential and practising franchisors. I’m also proud of our team’s shared purpose which is “to visibly enjoy the process of working together whilst enabling our clients and ourselves to create and continually develop increasingly valuable businesses”. Above all I love it when we work with clients like Water Babies, where various members of our team, over a period of several years, have helped them grow from a kitchen-table business to an international network.
What have you achieved in this position?
We’ve progressed from being ‘three franchising people trying to keep their heads above water’ to building a team of twenty franchise practitioners in the UK with associates in more than fifty overseas markets. In parallel with that I spent many years as an elected director of the British Franchise Association, where I was instrumental in the creation and adoption of professional standards for consultants and lawyers, and the development and introduction of their Qualified Franchise Professional programme.
In general, what are the franchising issues you most care about?
The issue that engages me most is the number of businesses that start franchising without taking the relevant advice. They don’t realise what’s involved; they don’t realise how long it will take; and they don’t realise the amount of funding they will require. Yet there’s nothing to stop them trying to recruit franchisees, which they then do badly and support them poorly. Those franchisees and the franchisor eventually fail. That leaves them with a poor view of franchising, which doesn’t help any of us when it can all be done so much better.
What are the challenges facing the franchising industry as a whole today?
If you look around the world there are many countries where ill-informed legislators are preparing laws and regulations which could potentially damage franchising. Often they are doing this in ignorance of how the franchising relationship works. They don’t realise that the franchisee and franchisor are totally separate legal entities. They don’t realise that most franchised outlets are run by local people providing great service and employment in their local community. We need to get that message across to these legislators.
Which areas of the franchising industry could stand improvement?
Franchising as a community is great at preaching to the converted. We have a number of franchise-specific publications and events which are read or attended by people who work in franchising or who are interested in acquiring a franchise. What we’re useless at is telling the franchising story to people who don’t know about it. People who don’t realise they could grow their existing business through franchising or who don’t know they could start their own business through franchising. I repeat that franchising’s biggest challenge is to get its message and news of its success stories to a much wider audience.
What drew you to franchising in the first place?
Alongside our employment within a UK-based but US-owned cosmetics company, a friend and I had been operating market stalls at weekends. I got the taste for being my own boss and taking my own decisions and wanted to start a proper business. I came across franchising, which was in its infancy in the UK, this being even before the bfa was created. That seemed to be a safer option with its promise of a proven system backed by training and support, and so it proved.
How important is franchise consultancy to a business?
Think of us as “franchising franchising”. We’ve worked with hundreds of businesses and we’ve developed proven systems for creating and managing franchised networks. Once the franchise has been created we provide initial and continuing training and support for our franchisor clients and their staff. Over and above that we monitor trends in franchising practice around the world and make sure our clients know about new and better ways of doing things. We do the things most franchisors don’t have time to do for themselves.
What are the main considerations when building a successful brand?
Before you build the brand you need to build the system. Develop a way of doing what you do differently and better than anyone else does it. That’s not just how you deliver the products or services, it’s how you market and sell them, it’s how you train people to do everything, it’s how you administer and account for what goes on, it’s how you research and implement improvements. You then build the brand by making sure everything looks and is delivered as it should be wherever it is seen.
What advice would you give to those considering master franchising?
Don’t even think about it until you have a franchised network operating successfully in your home market. Then be very clear about which overseas markets take priority. Start with those that have most potential for your product and service then look for an established franchise community there. Finally don’t under-estimate what it will cost you to get prepared; how challenging it will be to find qualified candidates; and how long it will take before your international operations are profitable.
If you had your time over, is there anything you would do differently?
We’ve done it now but I would definitely start sooner on identifying and developing the next generation of enthusiastic franchising experts who will take our business to the next level. In parallel with that I would take more notice of new technology which can benefit both our own business and those of our clients and their franchisees. Putting those two things together has transformed the service we can provide to develop franchised networks and to recruit franchisees in our clients’ domestic markets and in many countries around the world.
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