Setting the standard

For a brand looking to build a successful franchise on these shores, the importance of its first franchisee can't be underestimated

Setting the standard

Taking the plunge into franchising is a daunting prospect. Whilst it’s the ideal way to grow one’s business at a pace that may not otherwise be possible, it doesn’t come short of challenges. One thing that’s sure to test new franchisors more than anything else is the hunt for quality franchisees. Given that they’ll be serving as the friendly face of your brand in neighbourhoods across the country – and hopefully generating some profit too – getting the best people on board is absolutely pivotal.

In terms of knowing what sort of person is the best fit for your franchise, the individual or individuals you turn to first can serve as a fairly useful marker. Granted they may have ticked all of the boxes on a specification document but there’ll be other qualities that made them the ideal candidate and an example for every other franchisee to follow. What better way to demonstrate the importance of getting the first franchisee right than by hearing it from those who have been there and done it already?

Dunkin’ Donuts”

It’s been 20 years in the making but Dunkin’Donuts – the American donut and coffee chain – finally landed back on British soil late last year. The company has set its sights on 150 openings across the UK in the next five years as it looks to take on the other big players in the donut and coffee arenas. Harrow in north London provided the backdrop for the first of a new wave of Dunkin’ Donut outlets. It’s the first of 25 stores that will be opened in the country by DDMG, a partnership between three experienced Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees from the States and local pair Jignesh Patel and Ketan Patel.

As Jim Johnstone, director and general manager of Dunkin’ Brands UK, explains, a successful track record in the sector was an absolute must along with a sizeable amount of capital. “We were looking for people with experience in either retail or QSR (quick service restaurants) – and who also had experience of developing stores at a good pace,” he says. “We are not looking for single operators. We are looking for people who have got plenty of funding and can make an investment in the early years so the payback over the next 15 years of the franchise agreement will be worthwhile.”

To reinforce the importance of DDMG to Dunkin’ Donuts’ growth on these shores, the Harrow store will also act as a training base and test site for innovation. “New franchisees coming into the system with their management teams will train with Harrow and any store design or tweaks will be tested in Harrow,” Johnstone says. “They are incredibly good people to have on board from that perspective.”

Whilst the Harrow store was first to open, DDMG’s pledge of 25 sites was matched by The Court Group, a consortium chaired by British businessman David Sheepshanks, which has opened outlets in Chelmsford, Cambridge and Woolwich. A third franchisee also opened their first store in Hounslow recently, funding the venture through a sizeable property portfolio. “The first three franchisees are very similar in terms of what they bring to the party,” Johnstone concludes.

Premier Sport

It takes a certain type of person to train children to become the country’s next sporting stars. For David Batch, chief executive of Premier Sport, a potential franchisee who doesn’t bring a friendly face and positive attitude to the table is unlikely to make the cut. And as demonstrated by the company’s first ever franchisee, a bit of sporting know-how doesn’t go amiss either.

Five months after starting the business, Batch turned to Karl Fox, a former professional footballer for Cambridge United, to help start building the Premier Sport brand in the UK. “At that time it was much more of a job-based franchise and Karl had all the relevant coaching qualifications,” says Batch. “But the best thing about Karl was his conscientiousness.”

More impressive is the fact that Fox was a mere 18 years of age when he took the reins. Still with the company 15 years later – at 33 – Fox has an additional franchise under his belt and is managing director of one of Premier Education Group’s subsidiary brands, a physical activity scheme called The Golden Mile. “Karl has always believed in the model and not tried to deviate from it. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel,” says Batch. “The biggest assets I can attribute to Karl are loyalty and trust, as well as belief in the business. Karl realises, as do we, that we can always evolve and improve but we do so in a manner which is more akin to a partnership. If it’s done properly, everyone benefits.”

Premier Sport will soon boast more than 100 territories across the UK and Batch believes having the best possible personnel on board from the very start has been absolutely key. “In the early days of being a franchisor, the biggest challenge is having the courage to turn people away,” he says. “Recruiting the right people is always a challenge even now, so I would advise people to talk to other experienced franchisors about their processes and why they have them. You can save yourself a lot of time by getting these processes right – it’s more likely to lead you to the right person first time.””

Right at Home

Establishing an overseas brand in the UK is no walk in the park and Right at Home, the elderly care franchise, faced the familiar challenge upon its entry to the British market in 2010. This had a telling impact on the process of finding its first UK franchisee and identifying the necessary attributes. “Despite global presence and being a market-leader in the US, Right at Home was not a recognised brand within the UK,” says Ken Deary, managing director at Right at Home UK. “We were only prepared to engage with a potential franchisee whom was as excited as we were about the opportunity that Right at Home UK presented. Furthermore we were looking to identify key skills such as leadership, communication, innovation and charisma that would inspire like-minded others to enquire about joining our team.”

Following a rigorous recruitment process, Right at Home named Tim Haigh, now owner and managing director or Right at Home Sutton and Epsom, as its first franchisee in the UK. Haigh had previously been head of communications at Reed Elsevier, the multinational publishing and information firm, before deciding to look into the opportunity presented by franchising. Needless to say, he had all the attributes that Deary sought in a first franchisee. “Early discussions indicated that Tim ticked many of the boxes in terms of qualities which we were looking for, such as passion for the industry, making a difference and a great attitude,” says Deary.

Haigh has since gone on to become chairman of Right at Home UK’s Franchisee Advisory Council, with his own franchise outstripping initial financial projections. “Tim has been liaising tirelessly with us to further develop the brand and business model and has been a great ambassador for the Right at Home UK brand,” Deary adds. For a franchisee, being on the same wavelength as the franchisor is an essential part of a successful relationship – something that Deary concurs with. “They will be representing your brand, therefore a shared ethos is essential,” he says.”

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod