Are you buying a business or a brand?

Many people decide to buy a franchise instead of starting their own business because they seek to profit from the advantage of an already established brand, says Sally Anne Butters, Director of Coconut Media.

A brand is so much more than just a name and logo, for many people it’s a personality, a feeling that they get whenever they come across, purchase or interact with a company, product or service. That is why a strong brand is so essential for anyone buying a franchise; any new business is a risk but the comfort of knowing what you are really getting into will set aside some of those start-up nerves. Therefore, it is important to assess the strength and longevity of the brand that you buy into. In the best businesses, you can go to any branch of the company and get the same positive experience. That’s why it’s important to ask your prospective franchisor how they manage their brand and if they have a designated person in their head office that operates as a Brand Guardian, co-ordinating brand messages and ensuring that everyone in the company sings from the same hymn sheet. A good indicator that a due process has been established across the network are brand guidelines that will help you produce, for example, promotional literature and point of sale displays in line with the brand. Having established that these criteria are met is comforting to many people and is a key decision-making factor for them. Mark Spence and Matt Richmond from Mac Tools couldn’t agree more. “I had always dreamt of owning my own business. I knew that Mac Tools would provide me with all of the same benefits of owning a business but would also give me the added security of working under the name of a large, well-known brand that I knew would not disappear a few months or years down the line,” says Mark. “In the three and a half years I was in the motor trade, we had three separate dealers from another tool company and periods with no one at all. The Mac Tools guy was the same from start to finish,” adds Matt.

Franchising gives companies the option to build their brand on a global level. Franchises such as ActionCOACH, The Original Poster Company and Baskin-Robbins are all global leaders in their marketplaces. “I decided to buy the Baskin-Robbins franchise because I have grown up with the brand and its products. I have really fond childhood memories of Baskin-Robbins, my family and I would go there for a treat and I always wanted to be involved in a business with a sweet factor. The power of the Baskin-Robbins brand is truly a competitive advantage. Guests buy with confidence knowing they are dealing with ice cream specialists,” says Baskin-Robbins franchisee Azmeena Dewji-Aliu. There is no doubt that the ice cream market is highly competitive and that there are a number of recognisable brands operating across the globe so how does Baskin-Robbins compete? They set themselves apart and make themselves memorable with brand differentiators – new locations, new flavours and products and a vibrant family friendly brand. These evolving brand differentiators are key to any business’ long-term success as they ensure that the brand cannot be easily pushed out of the marketplace.

Jim Johnston, the UK General Manager at Baskin-Robbins, knows that it’s the consistency of their brand and differentiation of product and service offering that underpins their success. Jim says: “It’s a huge market with lots of competition. Other large brands have decided to focus on the take-home ice cream market while we are focusing on the whole experience in-store.” So what should you be looking for in a franchise when it comes to buying a brand? Should you choose a franchise with a well-established brand or a younger franchise that has the potential to develop into a strong brand?

There are definite advantages to both but, at the end of the day, it is most important that you are able to 100 per cent agree with and emanate the company’s brand and ethos. The best way that you can get a feel for this is to spend some time with existing franchisees and the head office team; a great opportunity to do this is on a discovery day if the franchisor offers these. Brands are also built on trust and just as a business’ customers need to trust them, so must someone buying a franchise. A franchisor should always be open, communicative and ready to provide the information you require. Transparency starts off a strong relationship and will bring the right franchisees into the business.

In general, consumers value brands over price because of the trust they have in the quality or standard of service the brand provides. You should consider what is offered by the franchise opportunities that you are looking at in terms of their products and/or services. Their product and service are going to be your product and service, so it is important to identify how consumers view the brand. You can easily find out what they think by searching online for Facebook pages, conversations on blogs or trade websites.

Consumers are risk-averse and they will look for recommendations from friends, work colleagues or even strangers online before engaging with a new brand and you should do the same when researching your franchise options. The British Franchise Association (bfa) is always a good starting point. As an industry body it assesses and accredits franchising companies on an ongoing basis. Finally, it is really important that you choose a brand that is ready to innovate as the marketplace changes and new technology comes along. Not all franchises will suit internet sales but all will benefit from an online presence for communicating with potential customers. Some will naturally have new product lines constantly in development, such as new seasonal greetings card ranges at The Original Poster Company. Others will innovate their services through following new ethical standards and using eco-friendly products – like commercial cleaning franchise Total Clean. What is imperative is that a franchisor can demonstrate to you that they have the flexibility to adapt and the skills to innovate to keep the business fresh, the turnover growing and the brand strong.