A brand is so much more than just a name and logo, for many people it’s a personality, a feeling that they get whenever they come across, purchase or interact with that company, product or service. That is why a strong brand is essential for anyone buying a franchise; any new business is a risk but the comfort of knowing what you are really getting into will set aside some of those start-up nerves.
Ask your Franchisor about how they manage their brand; all franchise opportunities should have brand guidelines to help with promotional literature, point of sale displays and so on but it is important that there is at least one person at head office assigned as a Brand Guardian.
In the best businesses, you can go to any branch of the company and get the same positive experience and this is where the brand buy-in is so strong that there isn’t just one Brand Guardian but every single member of staff takes on this role. This is so comforting to a prospective franchisee that it can prompt a decision to purchase and David Baker who purchased Driver Hire Kingston couldn’t agree more:
“Driver Hire seemed to be a rock steady brand and a well-established big business and that really gave me confidence. I also liked the idea of buying a business that was already up and running and part of network of around 100 offices. Everyone in the head office team was really enthusiastic and from this point on, Driver Hire were the only franchise in the running.”
Franchising gives companies the option to build their brand on a global level. Franchises such as The Athena Network, Cafe2U and FASTSIGNS are all global leaders in their marketplace. The Athena Network launched in Singapore this year after a strong few years in the UK whilst Cafe2U’s successful 10 years in Australia and 5 years in the UK prompted a launch in the USA this Summer as Australia’s Cafe2U MD, Derek Black explains:
“Consumers have been very welcoming of the mobile Cafe2U concept with one of our new American customers quoting: It’s even better than Starbucks!”
There is no doubt that Starbucks is a hugely successful and recognisable brand across the globe so how does a mobile coffee franchise like Cafe2U compete? They set themselves apart and make themselves memorable with brand differentiators – new locations, barista qualities, and an airhorn on their van playing the tune from the Godfather!
So what should you be looking for in a franchise when it comes to buying a brand that is well-established and support you to success or a younger franchise that has the potential to develop into a strong brand?
No.1 on your list is that you must be able to 100% agree with and emanate the company’s brand and ethos and the best way that you can get a feel for this is to spend some time with other franchisees and the head office team; a great way to do this is on a discovery day if the franchisor offers these.
Brands are also built on trust and just as a business’s customers need to trust them, so must someone buying a franchise. Trust fosters loyalty and a franchisor should always be open, communicative and ready to provide the information you require; being transparent starts off a strong relationship and will bring the right franchisees into the business which means you get off to the best start with your franchise and your franchisor.
In general, consumers value brands more than they are influenced by price because of the trust they have in the quality or standard of service so you should consider what is offered by the franchise opportunities that you are looking at in terms of their products and/or services. You can easily find out what their consumers think by searching online for Facebook pages, conversations on blogs or on trade websites.
Consumers are risk-averse and, of course, franchise searchers are too! Consumers will look for recommendations from friends, work colleagues or even strangers online before engaging with a new brand and you should do the same when researching a franchise purchase. There are also experts such as MatchPoint who can help match you to a franchise brand that most suits your skills and attributes if you want a free helping hand.
Finally, it is really important that you choose a brand that is ready to innovate as the marketplace changes and new technology comes along. Not all franchises will suit internet sales but all will benefit from an online presence for communicating with potential customers. Some will naturally have new product lines constantly in development like Mac Tools and others will have occasional updates as new design software makes work processes easier like the printing process at a FASTSIGNS franchise. What is imperative is that a franchisor can demonstrate to you that they have the flexibility to adapt and the skills to innovate to keep the business fresh, the turnover growing and the brand strong.
With around 850 franchise packages on offer in the UK alone, there is plenty of choice available. So how do you start your search? Sarah Carlile, Founder of Coconut Creatives, the franchise industry’s leading provider of marketing services for franchise recruitment, explains what you need to look out for.
Among the total packages on offer, around 350 are accredited by the British Franchise Association (bfa). The bfa is an excellent place to begin your search as well as the many online recruitment websites that list both bfa and non-bfa members. If you are at the beginning of your search and just thinking about your next move, websites such as WhichFranchise.com or SelectYourFranchise.co.uk are a great place to start from the comfort of your own home! At some point you will need to create a shortlist of options and make the leap of faith, this feature will give you some pointers on where to look and what to look for.
There are lots of different places to look for a franchise:
- Approx. 30 franchise recruitment websites
- National franchise exhibitions
- National newspapers
- Regular regional exhibitions
- Business and franchise magazines
A good franchisor should be active in terms of promotion as this demonstrates a dedication to the continual expansion of the franchise network. More coverage will ultimately benefit you and the franchisee as you can draw from national accounts rather than just local. Clive’s EasyLearn Pop Music Schools and The Athena Network – Business Networking for Women, are two prime examples, both having recently branched out into the worldwide arena!
Start by making a list of what you want in terms of earnings, hours of work, place of work and style of work. You may plan to maximise on your current professional experience and look for a franchise in the industry you already work in or take the opportunity to set up a dream business by expanding on a much-loved hobby. Whatever your reasons or choices, it is vital to be clear with yourself at this stage as you can use your criteria as a measure to find your ideal franchise.
Once you have made contact with a franchisor they will typically send you their Franchise Prospectus. This document should detail all the basic information you need to see if they meet your required criteria, which will then help you to narrow your search. This will be a really interesting time for you as you will start to build relationships with different franchisors through email, phone calls and face-to-face meetings.
Take note on how the franchisor starts to build a relationship with you (are they prompt with their email replies and friendly on the phone?). This gives you a good indication of what it will be like if you join them as a franchisee.
In November 2011, baby swimming franchise Puddle Ducks was awarded Best Overall Franchise 2011 in the Smith & Henderson Best Franchise Awards. The awards were the first of their kind to review and judge franchisors based purely on the opinions and experiences of their own franchisees. There really can be no higher praise than that of your franchisees and Puddle Ducks are now in the enviable position of being confident that should any prospective franchisee talk to any of their network then they will get a positive response! During your research process, ask to speak to existing franchisees about their experiences so far, a good franchisor should always be happy to offer you the opportunity to do so although be prepared for this to be at the convenience of the franchisee and not yourself, after all, they are busy running a successful business.
Yet how do you really assess one franchise from another? With such a variety of franchise fees and different earning potentials on offer, it can be extremely difficult to compare franchise packages like for like. Do not discount franchises that you initially think could be outside your price range as there may be funding or loan structures available which then make it a viable option. Therefore it is best to check them against the following criteria:
- Return on investment
- Working hours
- Office or home-based
- Hands-on or management set-up
- Length of franchise agreement
- Training and support available
- Size of the existing franchise network
- How established the franchise is
Within this set of criteria, pay particular attention to the level of training and support available. A good franchisor will not only offer a comprehensive, in-depth initial training package, but also deliver continued support through a network of key individuals throughout the franchise period. Originally located primarily in Hemel Hempstead, the Rosemary Bookkeeping Franchise went from strength to strength in 2011 with a record year for both head office and its growing franchise network with consistent, above target growth throughout the UK. This was largely helped by the almost unrivalled training and development package offered to new franchise partners. The franchise has four Directors each specialising in a different, relevant sector for the business – Tax, Marketing, Operations and Training & Support. Franchisees have an initial training period of 10 working days training of which much is tailored to individual needs followed by a regular support and development programme, as well as access to the franchise network as a whole for advice and support.
“Our business has proven itself to our franchise network over the past 2 years and people seriously looking at buying a franchise have realised that our support is unparalleled in the industry,” explains Lisa Curteis, Franchise Recruitment Director for Rosemary Bookkeeping.
As well as the start-up package offered by the franchisor, it is always useful for your decision-making process to know the background and
experience of the key figures within the franchise. A good franchisor will have relevant, proven industry experience. FASTSIGNS, the global leader in the sign and graphics industry with over 540 franchises worldwide has over 25 years’ experience in the sector. Garth Allison, FASTSIGNS’ UK Managing Director, ran the FASTSIGNS Sheffield franchise centre for 9 years with his son Paul before joining head office and you can’t get more relevant experience than that!
Innovation is Key
Never has this been truer than in today’s competitive market. A good franchisor should always strive to bring the latest in technological and intellectual innovations to the table, ideally with a dedicated research and development function within the business. A franchisor who is both prepared to, and has the desire to, continually evolve in their specific sector is far more likely to be successful than those who choose to ignore industry advances. Mac Tools, a highly successful national franchisor based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, pride themselves on continually researching and providing their franchisees with the latest innovative tools, enabling them to offer the latest, most original products to their customers.
Above all, remember that whichever franchise you choose, you are entering into an agreement to work with the franchisor for a number of years. You must like and respect each other, as successful businesses are always underpinned by a trusting and professional working relationship. So spend some time with the franchisor and their head office team to see how the relationship builds and if this will be a mutually-beneficial alliance for your future.