Who cares about A-Z? FDS North takes clients from £K to £M, and beyond

Tony Urwin explains how All Trades Network found franchising was the answer to expanding profitably.

Companies choose to franchise their operations for many reasons: to accelerate growth, manage risks, improve efficiency, outwit the competition or to become a national or international brand. Many also franchise for a more basic reason: to make money. Done right, franchising can provide a remarkably good return on investment.

All Trades Network is a perfect example. A Lancashire-based building repairs business serving insurers and homeowners, All Trades Network had been trading for two years when it looked to franchise its operation in 2004.

"Quite simply, we saw the potential," explains Managing Director Keith Roberts. "We were generating £400,000 serving just our corner of the country and projected a ten-fold increase in turnover with full national coverage." Keith and his fellow Director, Cliff Whitehead, had done their research. All Trades Network's professional services had earned the respect and patronage of major insurers, as well as local householders. National coverage would not only expand its market but allow the company to serve the insurance industry as national partners.

According to the company's estimates, building a UK-wide network of corporately-owned offices would have required an investment in the millions, significant liabilities and a seven-year timetable. Building a franchise network could accomplish the same for a small fraction of the cost, risk and time.

While more efficient, franchising was still an investment and All Trades Network wisely chose to look before they leapt. First, the company assessed its internal abilities. As no one within the company had experience setting up a franchise, its staff realised they would require outside expertise. Franchising requires mastery of a complex web of regulatory requirements, legal obligations, market expectations and simple best practice.

Do-it-yourself franchising is a recipe for disaster that All Trades Network chose to avoid.

Next, it looked for a Franchising Business Development Consultancy that shared its vision. All Trades Network found consultancies that wanted a share of its turnover in perpetuity, others that peddled 100-page reports priced like an entry-level Kia and one that prided itself on straightforward value and sustainable business development: FDS North.

FDS North's proposition was exactly what All Trades Network needed: A reasonably-priced feasibility study and accompanying franchise development business plan that could be taken to the banks; a fully managed franchise development programme that includes the production of marketing, disclosure, legal and training infrastructure; personalised instruction on the practices and processes of franchising and invaluable relationship brokerage. Everything needed to begin recruiting a national network of offices was available from FDS North for less than half of the cost of setting up a single additional corporate office.

Finally, All Trades Network put the hard work in to succeed. The All Trades Network franchise launched in 2005. By 2009, the company had more than 30 franchise locations across the country and a turnover of £8 million, a 20-fold increase in its pre-franchising turnover. It was at this point that the company made yet another wise decision: it returned to FDS North for guidance as a mature franchise business.

"We were ready for the next stage," explains Keith. "After four years, we had materials to update, some empty territories to fill. More importantly, we needed an objective look at our market and operations. We knew that there were opportunities for us that we weren't grabbing."

The company returned to FDS North for support. "FDS North, and Tony Urwin in particular, deliver," adds Keith. "They provided us with a workable plan, an attractive franchise package, a profitable business model - for us, and for our franchise owners - and good infrastructure. They also stood by us as we grew. When we needed more help, it was only natural: they know us best."

"Tony undertook a thorough operational review and market analysis, helped us set new long-term goals, retuned our franchise offering and approach to achieve these goals and is now helping us to broaden our service offering. You know, I have every confidence that yet again, we're going to do even better than our most optimistic projections."

A ringing endorsement, but one that must be tempered: All Trades Network has, from the beginning, adopted a long-term view. It made informed decisions, sought professional advice and paced their growth, taking measured risks. FDS North is proud of the service it offers, but even prouder of clients like All Trades Network. It had the vision to seek - and the patience and skill to apply - the professional advice and materials needed to succeed in the UK franchise marketplace. In less than a decade it has gone from a company that measured its success in Ks to one that is using Ms. The next step, under Tony's direction, is to achieve those more attractive Bs.