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Skin In The Game

Skin In The Game

Half of Ableworld’s 32 stores are company owned, while half have been opened under the franchise umbrella

Why do successful companies decide to offer their business model as a franchise? For the country’s largest mobility retailer, Ableworld, it was to expand its trusted brand and capitalise on the growth of the mobility sector.

The mobility industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in today’s retail space. UK demographic and economic forces are very positive for this sector.

There are currently almost 15 million people aged 60 and above in the UK and this is predicted to rise to 20 million by 2030. People are living longer and the millions of baby boomers born in the 1950s and 1960s, now reaching their ‘third age’, frequently need the products and services Ableworld offers.

And since many people in this age group often have final salary pensions and sizeable property equity, they have the resources to purchase equipment like mobility scooters, specialist furniture and stairlifts.

Ableworld opened 10 of its own stores before offering its model up for franchising. The company now has 32 stores across the country - from Scotland to Southampton and Colchester to Cardiff. Half of these stores are company owned and half have been opened under the franchise umbrella.

Having its own stores as well as franchises means Ableworld has ‘skin in the game’, giving franchisees the security of knowing that if the franchisor says something will work, it probably will. It also means a process of continuous improvement exists as company stores and franchise stores find ever better ways of doing business and sharing that best practice.

One of the areas that has improved from the early days is the procedure for opening new stores and bringing new franchisees on board. The need to make sure everything is fully documented and having a dedicated store opening project team means several recent openings have been record breakers, giving franchisees a jump start for their new businesses.

Approximately a third of the Initial franchise fee is allocated to marketing activity around the time of the store opening, with substantial coverage in local press and online.

Franchisee View

This is what Ableworld Gloucester franchisee, Conway Davies, said about his experience of opening an Ableworld store: “I just wanted to thank you and your team for getting us this far. I’m very much aware this is early days, but we couldn’t have asked for a better start.”

Conway later invited his bother-inlaw to join the network and together they have opened two more stores in Wales.

Ableworld’s franchise support managers visit stores on a regular basis to help with ongoing training, brand adherence, coaching and marketing support. This, together with the sort of head office support you would expect from a national retail chain, means help is never far away.

Donna Wilson, who operates the Lincoln and Newark franchises, expresses how she feels about the support offered by Ableworld: “Everyone has been lovely and supportive. I’ve spoken to other Ableworld franchise owners and they’ve been very encouraging - it’s nice to get help and advice from others with more experience of running their franchise.

“Head office have been brilliant. You can pick up the phone and get help with any aspect of the franchise. Nothing is too much trouble and you can pick the brains of people with many years’ experience.”

Ableworld’s strategy from the beginning was to build a trustworthy brand, so that the company could capitalise on the market forces referred to above. It has grown significantly both organically and by acquisition and will always consider these options going forward.

However, the management is convinced the main engine of growth as far as the store network is concerned will be via the franchise model. Ableworld is targeting a national coverage of 60-70 stores in four years’ time, with at least 60 per cent of the total being franchised owned outlets. New stores already planned for 2017 include locations in the south west, Scotland, the north east and the north west.

Husband and Wife Teams

An Ableworld franchise is ideally suited to two or more people pooling their skills and several franchises are owned by husband and wife teams.

Franchisees come from a wide variety of backgrounds, such as sales, retail, construction, the armed forces, teaching and health.

No previous experience of the mobility industry is needed, as the company has a comprehensive training programme. Successful franchisees combine a desire to help others with their personal skills and the proven Ableworld franchise system to create a business that makes a difference in their community.

One of Ableworld’s Scottish franchisees, David Gaffney, previously owned and managed three car sales showrooms. David’s wife, Audrey, entered the mobility industry after being a primary school teacher and Maureen, David’s sister, worked as a nursing auxiliary for several handicapped children.

“The only franchise that appealed to all of us was Ableworld,” David says. “When we opened the business, we never realised how rewarding and humbling it would be to deal with some of the wonderful customers who come through our door, who are in need of guidance and advice on products to support their daily living.

“We would definitely recommend the franchise. As for growth, it’s our intention to expand within our generous territory. We see huge potential.”

Multiple Franchise Ownership

Ableworld also encourages multiple franchise ownership when franchisees have mastered the franchise model.

In fact, at least three of next year’s new store openings are likely to be by existing franchise owners.