Franchising exists because franchisees are able to follow in the footsteps of others. The franchisor establishes the original business and then it’s piloted at arms-length before franchisees replicate the intellectual property. It stands to reason that most franchisees join established businesses where the model has been well proven and many others have joined the system before them. But when a brand first comes to a new country, there may need to be some variation on how the model operates – and somebody has to be the first franchisee, following no one and blazing a trail that others will follow.
The first franchisees to join the new venture are likely to need a different approach and skill set to those who will get involved once the business is established. As we enter into more countries for the first time, the major quality that I look for is what I refer to as the ‘pioneer spirit’. One of the biggest elements of the pioneer spirit is the upfront understanding that there will be hiccups along the way. Rather than getting frustrated at this eventuality, the pioneer franchisee is able to communicate openly and constructively to effectively pave the road for those that come after them.
The early franchisees to join a network will likely be more risk orientated, more entrepreneurial and will also see themselves differently. As an early franchisee, the share of the overall franchisee voice that they command will be greater. This can be appealing to a prospective franchisee so it’s important that the franchisor engages with pioneer franchisees and listen to the contributions they seek to make. At this dynamic stage of the business, vital lessons can be learned that can lead to the future success of the entire network.
Franchisees who help to develop a business in a new country are different to most franchisees. The pioneer spirit this type of character embodies is unlikely to seek an opportunity with an established business, preferring to be involved in the early development stages. They may also not wish to stay with the business for the long-term. Once the franchise is established the early joiners may become frustrated as the pace of change slows and the business settles into the replication of a proven system. Their frustrations can make for difficult relationships unless the franchisor is able to recognise and accommodate their entrepreneurialism by allowing them to take a mentoring role for others or be involved in the research and development of the business.
So just because a franchise network doesn’t have tens or hundreds of franchisees it doesn’t mean it’s not a great opportunity. For the right individual with the right skills and mindset, being a pioneer in a new country can present a commercial and competitive advantage.