How have franchises that rely on people getting out and about in their cars faired during the pandemic?
In May 2020, AA president Edmund King told the BBC that, based on the analysis of official figures and his organisation’s own monitoring, traffic volumes in Britain were “akin to those in the early 1970s”. Cabinet Office data from March earlier in the same year also showed that motor traffic had dropped by 73 per cent compared with pre-pandemic outbreak levels.
So, how have franchises that rely on people getting out and about in their cars, such as windscreen and auto repair brands, faired during the pandemic? And what should franchisors and franchisees in this sector be considering moving forward? David Overton, managing director of windscreen repair franchise Optic-Kleer gives the lowdown.
“For our windscreen repair professionals, the usual base of operations includes retail parks which had significantly less footfall than normal during pandemic restrictions,” said David. “Despite not being able to operate from some of our supermarket and retail park locations throughout lockdowns, our franchisees were instead able to pivot and operate for longer periods from their DIY store locations – which throughout the pandemic had a larger customer base. It’s been important for us as franchisors to give guidance on how our franchisees could pivot their approach to daily operations.
“It’s important to understand that there are two types of purchase – an emotional purchase, such as buying a new watch, and a stress purchase. For those essential workers still out and about on the roads, our service was also considered essential. But even for those not needing to be out in their cars often, vehicles must be maintained to be used safely for the weekly shop or just to ensure they’re road worthy for emergencies – fixing your windscreen is a stress purchase. So, despite there being fewer cars on the road, people found time to complete those stress purchases.”
John Speare is an experienced franchisee and also delivers the training for any new Optic-Kleer recruits. His expert training ensures franchisees are able to repair customers’ windscreens and start earning an income from the day they launch their business. During the pandemic, John has seen how franchisees within the network have been able to continue working with a few adaptations.
“Even with our service being classed as a stress purchase, our customers often need to be reminded of that chip in their windscreen. Seeing Optic-Kleer set up in a car park as they go about their weekly shopping trips is a great reminder to get that windscreen fixed. So, the bread and butter of our relationships with customers and the basis of our trading is usually through our supermarket and retail site car parks. Having the flexibility to operate from DIY stores during the pandemic was excellent when other non-essential retail sites were light on visitors. DIY stores remained open as essential traders and were extremely busy, with customers renovating their homes or gardens throughout lockdowns,” said John.
“The option to prioritise these locations allowed franchisees to continue to trade successfully. There’s no doubt that it helped with sales because it gave us the opportunity to work from busy sites, filled with potential customers. For our franchisees, it’s all about finding the best places within their territories to trade so that they don’t have to rely on call outs. Trading from DIY store locations gave us the visibility we needed to keep business at a steady pace.”
Since he became managing director of the brand in 2014, David has refined the Optic-Kleer model by streamlining the organisational infrastructure, introducing smooth IT systems and forming robust contracts, agreements and relationships with retail partners. Having been a franchisee before becoming franchisor, David has a unique understanding of what franchisees need to become more profitable. His focus has been on delivering the complete package for all franchisees.
Documenting and advising on safe working practices for franchisees during the pandemic restrictions was obviously a priority for many franchisors since early 2020, but David believes it would have been a mistake to only concentrate on that. He knew that as the franchisor of the brand, he needed to act on the crisis of the pandemic. Not only by ensuring his franchisees could operate safely, but also by beginning to look towards the future for his franchisees’ businesses.
“Whilst we secured a contract with Tesco for our franchisees some time ago, we’ll soon be announcing a 600-site deal with another major retailer. It’s important for a franchisor to look ahead and innovate so the network can emerge stronger from any economic downturns. Negotiations like these with large retailers are extremely important for our franchisees,” explained David.
“Then it’s all down to communication. As the economy opens back up, a brand’s online presence, from review sites to their own websites, is more important than ever before. We can all see the increase of motorists on the roads and so it’s our job to give customers the confidence to re-engage with our services in a wider number of locations again. Customers will subconsciously notice your environment, if it’s clean, if you have hand sanitising stations available and, in what we’re all calling the ‘new-normal’, you’ll have to be prepared for questions. Keeping your website up to date, so customers know what they’re coming back to and if you have any new customer policies in place, is essential too.
“Every business is a cog in a bigger wheel. People rely on us to get them back on the road – whether you have a van delivery to pubs or parents driving the kids to school. Communicating our COVID-safe operations clearly online will give customers the confidence to return. Everyone has their role to play as we set out on the road to recovery.”