Paul Hague talks to Tony Williams

Franchise Consultant, Paul Hague, of FDS talks to Tony Williams, Managing Director of Countrywide Signs.

Paul Hague: Why did you start Countrywide Signs and how has franchising helped its development?

Tony Williams (pictured): We started Countrywide Signs because the previous franchisor had gone into receivership. As the most successful franchise owners of that brand, we were mandated to rescue the trading name for the remainder of the franchise network, so we could all continue trading under our existing identity. There were discussions at the time about forming some sort of ex-franchise owner co-operative but we realised it would be impossible to run a business by committee, so started Countrywide Signs.

Paul Hague: When did you launch your franchise and how many franchise owners do you have in your network today?

Tony Williams: We launched our business in July 1998 and currently have 60 franchise owners in our network covering the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Paul Hague: Have you had to evolve the Countrywide Signs franchise model significantly over the years to keep in line with developments in your sector?

Tony Williams: Countrywide Signs has never tried to keep in line with developments in its sector – it has always been the leader. We spend a significant percentage of our income developing new systems for the benefit of our franchise network.

We provide a business-to-business service to our franchise owners in sales and marketing, business management systems, operational and accounts support. By providing a value-added service through class leading support systems and high standards of service to our estate agency customers, we ensure the growth of our business to the benefit of our franchise network and, therefore, Countrywide Signs.

Paul Hague: What advice would you give to someone looking to invest in a franchise?

Tony Williams: Find out as much about the franchise opportunity as you can before going to meet the franchisor. Look at all appropriate websites and, if possible, speak to the British Franchise Association (bfa) or a reputable franchise consultancy company such as FDS. You should also speak to the banks. Once you believe that a franchise is for you, make a long list of questions and ask them at a discovery meeting. A good franchisor will try to address those questions before you even ask them and will definitely want you to speak to their franchise network so you can form a rounded view of the franchisors competence. Do not commit until you are completely certain and if you are not, don’t.

Paul Hague: What kind of person do you look for when recruiting franchise owners?

Tony Williams: We look for someone who is enthusiastic and positive. Because our franchise opportunity allows a franchise owner to run up to four vans, we definitely want someone who is looking for a management type of franchise, someone who is entrepreneurial, positive and outgoing. We accept that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and know that whatever they are, they can be addressed and overcome provided that the franchise owner has the desire to succeed.

Paul Hague: What advice would you give to anyone wishing to franchise their business?

Tony Williams: Don’t rush into franchising. It’s not just your own business that your decisions affect but the businesses and livelihood of all your franchise owners and their families. As such, being a franchisor is a huge responsibility.

A franchise is a totally different business model from anything that you might have previously been involved with and takes a lot of getting used to. If you want to succeed, use the services of a good franchise consultant.

Paul Hague: How would you summarise the franchisor back-up and support services you provide to your franchise owners?

Tony Williams: The support we provide is in-depth. There is a great deal going on in the background in addition to the business-to-business services described above. We are constantly looking for new products and services for both our franchise owners and estate agency customers. We believe our franchise owners’ time is best spent making money and not sitting at a desk so the administrative systems, as well as the sales and operational support we provide, have to be of the highest quality.

Paul Hague: What are your key objectives to move Countrywide Signs forward over the next five years?

Tony Williams: Our key objectives are to complete our franchise network in the UK and Republic of Ireland, ensure our franchise owners maximise their income potential and develop new markets for our franchise owners to exploit.