Ask these key questions before signing on the dotted line, Marty Flanagan advises
When investing in a franchise, many decisions come into play. Which sector do I want to operate in? Should I opt for an owner-operator model or a management franchise? Do I want to run my business from home or invest in retail premises?
When researching international franchise brands, a whole host of other areas are taken into consideration as well. While ultimately a worthwhile investment - some of the most well known and trusted franchise brands originated off UK shores - there’s certainly a lot more to factor in when enquiring about non-UK origin franchises.
I’ve spent 25 years working across multiple sectors of the franchising industry and, despite the service or product differing, the questions from UK prospects are often very similar. The four most common ones, listed below, are all worth referencing and if answered suitably can provide you with a comprehensive view of the franchise before you sign on the dotted line.
If the franchise support team is based outside of the UK, will that impact the standard of guidance I receive?
In a nutshell, no - because any quality franchisor will have put the necessary structure in place to support their franchisees to a satisfactory standard.
But ask for assurances from a franchisor that the standard of the support won’t be compromised because of your proximity to their headquarters. You want tangible evidence that the entire support and training package will be accessible at your own convenience.
At Code Ninjas, for instance, our support centre is based in the US, where we launched in 2016. However, we’ve put considerable policies in place to account for the 5,000 miles between Pearland, Texas and the UK.
Firstly, our support structure is organised in a way that means our franchisees have consistent access to the right people in the right departments at the right time. We also host regular digital town hall meetings and provide internal communication tools, so our franchisees can come together and build their own online community.
Has the franchisor researched the UK market and evaluated the demand?
If a franchisor is handling the growth in a new market in-house, rather than bringing in a master franchisee or UK development manager, how can you feel assured that they have a solid understanding of the market?
Most franchisors should consult with a franchising expert specific to the UK market who has a full range of knowledge on the demand for that specific model, product or service. These specialists can also advise a brand on other components of operating a UK network from elsewhere in the world, including managing tasks like sourcing premises, allocating territories and understanding market trends.
Expanding into a new country is a costly and time consuming task, so while you’d assume the franchisor wouldn’t make the move unless it was warranted, you are within your rights to ask them why they’ve chosen this strategy.
What initiatives has the franchisor put in place to raise awareness of the brand if launching in a new market?
If a brand has only recently expanded into the UK from overseas, it’s worth checking the brand’s presence in both franchising and consumer markets.
Essentially, check to see what the word on the street is about that franchise. A brand is only as strong as its worst review, so scout out any comments from prospective franchisees and find out why they might not have progressed with their investment.
A quality brand will invest significantly in market specific advertising and PR activity to raise their reputation. A simple tip I would always recommend is a quick internet search of the franchise, specifying UK results, and spend some time reading through the coverage. This will give you an idea of how well the brand is perceived in the market and your potential rate of success as a franchisee.
How can a franchisor guarantee the brand messaging translates?
Any franchisor looking to expand into a market with a different language or culture should invest significantly in the resources needed to successfully integrate themselves. This is even relevant for us, as a US-born brand. While we technically speak the same language as the UK, we still work hard to anglicize all marketing copy, collateral, manuals and communications.
We also retain the services of a specialist UK-based PR agency to advise us in ways we can improve our UK standing in the marketplace and help raise our profile.
These are some examples of ways in which brands work with UK partners and suppliers to successfully unify their international and UK networks.
Bear in mind that, without the success of its own franchisees - whether that’s in the UK or anywhere else in the world - having a presence on UK shores just isn’t feasible for any franchise. Although not a prerequisite for success, launching in the UK in the first place is a great indication of the reputation of the brand and the return on investment for you, the prospective franchisee.
By making sure you’re asking these key questions, as well as bringing your own enquiries to the table, you’re bound to establish whether or not this is the opportunity for you.
Marty Flanagan has been vice president of franchising for Code Ninjas since the kids coding franchise launched in 2016. Four years later and the international franchise network is now made up of more than 340 franchisees in the US, Canada and UK.
Before working with Code Ninjas, Marty spent 11 years working as part of the franchise development team for a successful US-based fitness franchise in many markets outside of the US.