Bespoke technology may be more expensive than off-the-shelf solutions but investing in tailor-made tech can give franchisors an edge over their competition
Compared to Silicon Valley startups, it is safe to say that franchises aren’t the most tech-savvy of businesses. Rarely are sectors such as coffee, cleaning and care regarded as being ahead of the curve. Yet, not only can franchisors benefit from investing in technology but, by tailoring it to their specific needs, they can provide great service whilst leaving competitors wondering what hit them.
It’s certainly been hard to ignore the slew of technology providers that have sprung up in recent years, offering tech solutions that promise to elevate businesses by automating and simplifying tasks. However, Edward Mauleverer, founder and director of Ed’s Garden Maintenance, the gardening franchise, argues that franchisors are better off developing their own bespoke systems rather than purchasing off-the-shelf solutions. With a background as a consultant advising London’s financial companies on which technologies to invest in, Mauleverer knows better than to rely on one-size-fits-all solutions. So, when he noticed a way that tech could improve his franchisees’ service, he decided to invest in something that was specifically developed for Ed’s Garden Maintenance’s needs. “Instead of buying an expensive wizard box with a lot of stuff we wouldn’t use half of, we’ve prioritised the areas that would make a difference to our business,” he says.
The investment resulted in the bespoke platform EdsJobs. “It does bookkeeping, customer management and scheduling,” explains Mauleverer. “EdsJobs basically manages all the stuff done in an office.” He adds that the system saves gardeners from doing the one aspect of their job that they hate. “Gardeners on the whole don’t like admin,” he says.
However, reducing franchisees’ administrative burden isn’t just beneficial to the gardeners; it also improves customer service by decreasing the risk of franchisees accidentally forgetting to show up for appointments. “It prevents the customer getting upset and the brand being damaged,” says Mauleverer.
By simplifying, streamlining and automating the paperwork, EdsJobs enables franchisees to provide customers with consistently spectacular service whilst slashing the time franchisees spend on administrative chores. “When franchisees have finished a job, they can simply press a button on their phones and it will automatically send an invoice to the customer,” explains Mauleverer. “At the end of the day, they know that they don’t have a lot of admin to do.”
Yet EdsJobs is but one way bespoke technology can improve franchises’ service and client relationships. Coffee-Bike, the mobile coffee-shop franchise, launched an app in 2015 that not only allows customers to see when and where franchisees are open for business but also provides franchisees with a nifty anti-theft solution. “[The bike] is equipped with an acceleration sensor, which recognises even the finest movements and sends it to the Coffee-Bike server,” explains Jonas Dambacher, IT manager of Coffee-Bike. This way, franchisees are warned if someone absconds with their bike and are able to pinpoint its exact location via GPS. While no mobile coffee-making units have been stolen yet, the company’s franchisees are no doubt left with a greater sense of security.
But safety also means being able to have a clear overview of the company, something that The Original Poster Company has achieved by developing its tailor-made cloud sales platform ConsignPak. The software facilitates invoicing, checks inventory and allows franchisees to quickly compare historical sales data. While ConsignPak has reduced franchisees’ administrative burden, Kerry Sherriff, operations manager at The Original Poster Company, urges franchisors not to rush into developing new bespoke technologies. “Research, research, research,” she advises. “[And] take your time – the next big thing may not be the best thing for your network.”
Richard Dancy, marketing manager of Barking Mad, the dog-sitting franchise, couldn’t agree more. “You can end up wasting an awful lot of money,” he says. “We were thinking about launching an app but we weren’t sure how it would help us.”
Barking Mad has instead invested in a bespoke internal online support centre called FIDO, which allows our franchisees to communicate with other franchisees and access operating plans, marketing resources and advice articles. Yet, Dancy adds that investing in tailor-made tech would have been wasted unless Barking Mad hadn’t also spent time and money training its franchisees to use the tools. “That’s something we invest heavily in,” he adds.
While Ed’s Garden Maintenance had the skills and resources to develop EdsJobs in-house, not all franchisors are as fortunate. Thankfully, there is a multitude of developers in the market ready to create the software for them. However, outsourcing tech development isn’t without its risks. “You have to make sure you own the intellectual property of the software,” advises Mauleverer. “I’ve heard many stories where companies have paid someone to develop it only to find out that they don’t even own the software.” Failing to secure ownership of the bespoke solution could see franchises having to pay to use the technology or the developer selling the tech to other companies, which might allow competitors to benefit from the franchisor’s investment.
Ultimately though, tailor-made technology can lead to improved services for customers, minimise franchisees’ administrative burden and ensure that the franchisors’ enterprises turn a greater profit. “By having bespoke technologies, you end up with a very powerful system,” concludes Mauleverer.