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  • Jun 24, 2015
  • British Franchise Association
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2015 bfa HSBC Franchisor of the Year Awards: Franchisor of the Year – The finalists [Part I]

Previous winners, repeat finalists and new entrants form an intriguing octet of finalists for the biggest award in franchising this year. Between them, these businesses have been franchising for a combined 156 years.

Some are the largest companies in their sector, others are branching out internationally. Many have enjoyed record-breaking years. They operate in a variety of sectors, and are a mixture of single owner-operator brands alongside large management franchises.

Two things they all have in common: innovation and a very strong focus on working collaboratively with their franchisees. Three will be recognised with Gold, Silver and Bronze awards; the other five can consider themselves extremely unfortunate to be part of an exceptional field with no weak links in it.

Here’s why they deserve to win.

Agency Express

Agency ExpressThis is a company that dominates its market, yet continues to grow each year (as it did throughout the recession in a depressed property market). Last year as finalists – this is their third consecutive year at this stage – Agency Express were used by 18 of the top 20 estate agencies in the country for their board services; now it's all 20. That's not the most exciting full house for the business this year either, with news that it's now sold all of its greenfield territories for complete UK coverage.

It would be easy for that success to translate into a company resting on its laurels – but no chance of that here. Managing director, Stephen Watson and franchise director, Ben Brookes have led the team to focus almost obsessively on franchisee lifestyle and profitability in the last year – with predictably outstanding results.

Total franchisee turnover increased by a further 31%; new client companies went up 23%; 15 new franchisees launched (11 of them resales); and 26 new vehicles have hit the road with the red and green Agency Express livery. Forty-three percent of all UK estate and lettings agencies now use an Agency Express franchisee's services, who erect over 47% of all boards displayed.

The growth has been aided by further national contracts negotiated by head office and by exceptional PR, with Agency Express winning 'Supplier of the Year' in all three major estate agency awards programmes recently.

A strong focus on technology has been evidenced in recent years, the company developing its own Signmaster3 board management system at a cost of £1.6m investment by the franchisor. Automating the ordering process for agents has continued to drive strong efficiency, with 100% of orders now received online – another full house.

That system combines with the 'Agents App' allowing customers to order anytime, from anywhere. And to tie it all together, deals have been signed to directly integrate Signmaster3 with all the leading software packages used by agents. That means orders can be received without direct agent input, as well as allowing the system to provide real-time activity reports and financial information to clients.

All that to say nothing of route optimisation software which gets smarter the more its used – calculating individual fuel- and time-efficient routes more effectively over time – and other developments. The improvements have all come at no cost whatsoever to franchisees.

Franchisees are saving time as well as money each day thanks to the franchisor's 100% focus on them. They'll be hoping for four out of four when it comes to awards this year.

Auditel

Auditel“Our business is all about our people,” says Chris Allison, Auditel’s managing director, and it’s a mantra in evidence through the innovations, training and model changes that the company have made in recent years – and the resulting impact on franchisees.

Now in business for 20 years and Full Members of the bfa since 1998, Auditel have grown substantially in services offered (more than doubled), network size (up 50%) and combined franchisee turnover (growth of 70%) during the last five years. There’s been a shift from cost reduction to strategic cost management, with the network increasingly working together on projects to maximise the collective expertise at hand.

New developments have been key to the results. Millions invested in bespoke business tools, created in conjunction with both franchisees and suppliers, has reduced completion time for many projects by 50%, and in some cases up to 90%. A bespoke business management system offers comprehensive resources, analysis and information to franchisees and an intranet/CMS has simplified the process of franchisees working together on larger projects. A marketing hub offers national, local and individual support.

Training is a constant focus for the business. The number of days on offer to each franchisee has risen by a third in the last three years, in parallel with growth in the number of courses, regional meetings, webinars and events on offer. Programmes are tailored to individual skills sets and professional experience and a 45-strong head office team support a network of 200 consultants. Training is offered to two people in any one franchise, not just the franchisee.

The evolution in what’s on offer to franchisees has been matched by developments in the business model itself. There’s been a move from almost exclusively home-based consultants to more office-based businesses, with a corresponding twelve-fold increase in employees across the network. Mergers and acquisitions within the network have accelerated this shift and allowed for scalable growth.

The blend of home and office has been matched by an increase in the number of younger franchisees joining Auditel, giving a welcome mixture of fresh impetus and ideas alongside the experience that comes from excellent renewal rates at five, 10 and 15 years.

With average franchisee turnover up 14% last year, the people that make this business are enjoying a time of rich development for Auditel. Finalists every time they’ve entered this award, they’ll be hoping to go one step beyond this time around.

Card Connection

card connectionIn a mature, stable network such as this, with only resales available for some time now, the focus is squarely on maximising franchisee performance. It’s a challenge that Card Connection have taken on with determination and vigour with a combination of development, innovation and support.

More than £300,000 has been invested in time-saving hand-held terminals for franchisees and new POS material to improve sales, while a new online system facilitates simple benchmarking and sharing of best practice across the network.

Two more BDMs have been added to the team, providing regular face-to-face support on everything from growing accounts to training franchisees’ staff. And new licensing deals have seen strong new product lines of Boofle and Disney merchandise.

Ten head office staff manage 100 national accounts, with some of the convenience sector’s most prominent names on that list. They make a real difference: one new account saw a south Wales franchisee increase turnover by 32%! With 28 head office staff for under 70 franchisees, support is very strong in all areas. The directors of Card Connection have been spending regular hands-on days in the field too, ensuring feedback straight from the coalface to the top of the business.

Growth has been encouraged further with the development of incentive schemes to go with continual updates in product offerings – accessories such as gift wrap (an idea from a franchisee) now form a significant proportion of turnover (5m units sold to date of gift wrap alone) and the in-house card design team release new products weekly, capitalising on trends and keeping franchisees’ offerings fresh.

With sustained growth achieved in a flat market, Card Connection’s initiatives and approach are making a difference for their franchisees. Several have registered more than 6% annual growth in the last year, impressive in a network where the average franchisee stays for more than eight years and many have been part of the network for over two decades.

A full member of the bfa since 1995, this is a business with an enviable record of longevity and sustainability. With iPads and a new app on the way this summer, which will enable franchisees to run their entire operation from anywhere, it’s also one that continues to evolve with the times.

Driver Hire

driver HireFinalists in nine of the last 10 years in several different categories, the supplier of staff to the road transport and logistics industry celebrated 30 years in business and an all-time record network turnover in 2014 – a figure already surpassed by 20% this year. The Driver Hire network's turnover is now almost 50% higher than it was three years ago.

The financials have been driven by average franchisee turnover increasing to the £1m mark, with two breaking through £3m for the first time in 2014/15 and half the network growing by 25% or more. A combination of strong support, close collaboration with franchisees and innovation in services has had a stunning effect; small wonder that three franchisees have been with the business for 20 years.

With a head office of over 70 staff for Driver Hire's 100 or so offices, exceptional training and support is at hand in a variety of areas from marketing to exit strategy, with area development managers available to call upon.

New franchisees access a six-month structured Franchise Support Programme and are encouraged to build relationships with their peers and the franchisor in an online forum, with quarterly meetings in person at each office alongside local franchisee cluster group meetings. A wealth of information is shared with franchisees and a state of the art business information system provides easy access to their own performance trends and network-wide client information.

Last year also saw an innovative year-long project, The Race, take place to incentivise franchisees in friendly competition based on sales success. Franchisees and their staff attended events at go-kart tracks, culminating in a National Sales Day focusing the network on winning more business. Engagement was achieved through hourly web broadcasts updating progress to maintain excitement – and it worked: huge numbers of new clients were won and appointments made. 'Lap 2' of The Race saw similar success; focused on recruitment, it secured work for 2,000 new candidates.

New services have proved hugely successful – in just five years Driver CPC training has created nearly £5m in revenue and seen 100,000 bookings, with Driver Hire in the process becoming the biggest provider of the mandatory training in its sector. Becoming an approved DVLA licence checker has delivered a strong new revenue stream too.

Perhaps the best number of all is that in an online, anonymous survey taken by staff and franchisees, 96% said they were 'proud' to work with Driver Hire. It's been a great year for the business.

Winners of the bfa HSBC Franchisor of the Year awards, supported by Express Newspapers, will be announced at a black-tie gala dinner on 25 June at the ICC, Birmingham, in front of a record audience.

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