Franchise triumph from disaster

Tony Williams, Managing Director of Countrywide Signs, explains how he and his fellow franchise owners created a highly successful business opportunity from the ashes of Agency Signs

Before we started Countrywide Signs in 1998, myself and the other Directors had been part of the Agency Signs franchise network along with about 50 other franchise owners. However, when Agency Signs went into receivership, the effect it had on the franchise network was devastating. Many of the franchise owners lost up to three months’ turnover, which has resulted in there now being only a handful of former Agency Signs franchise owners trading in the UK – the rest having ceased trading.

Immediately following receivership, myself and other former Agency Signs franchise owners met to try and find some way through our difficult situation. Four of us, who later became the management team at Countrywide Signs, rescued the trading name from the receiver, Cooper Lybrand. This success provided continuity of trading for the former Agency Signs franchise owner network which, in turn, helped to stabilise their businesses.

Unfortunately, it did not take very long for the more entrepreneurial ex-franchise owners to realise that their territorial boundaries had vanished with the demise of their franchisor. No more franchise network meant no more agreement and, therefore, no more structure. The level playing field that exists for all franchise owners, both new and experienced and strong and weak in a well-organised franchise had been destroyed. Local alliances were formed – stronger ex-franchise owners ignored their former boundaries and started to take work from the weak.

There were more meetings and more discussions to find a meaningful way forward. It was suggested that some sort of club, with its own structure and rules, for ex-franchise owners be formed and be run by a committee. Everybody seemed to have their own ideas as to how to preserve the former network, yet no two seemed to be the same.

Four of the ex-Agency Signs franchise owners – John Ball, Ian Turnbull, Martin Baker and myself – came to the conclusion that the ideas being proposed at these meetings were never going to work in practice. As a direct result, we decided to start Countrywide Signs.

There were only a few months between the demise of Agency Signs and the launch of the Countrywide Signs franchise. We rapidly realised that we had to act quickly to rescue and preserve the concept of franchising in the estate agency support sector.

Countrywide Signs started to move rapidly and we brought in some of the former Agency Signs franchise owners at no charge to provide them with the security and strength of a franchise network. The business also became a member of the British Franchise Association and achieved an ISO 9001 – all within the first 12 months of trading.

By using the expertise learned during the initial 12 month foundation course supplied by Professor Roy Seaman, CFE and our mentor, Paul Hague, at Franchise Development Services, to truly become an ethical and professional franchisor, has ultimately enabled Countrywide Signs to provide support, structure and stability to its franchise network.

Written by Tony Williams (pictured)