Tony Urwin: 'It's a Family Affair'

Many families are attached to franchising, either as franchisees or franchisors. Tony Urwin explores the pros and cons of family franchising

Whether you are a franchisor or franchisee, your family will often play a big part in the development of your business. In fact, the concept of family is often used as a metaphor for the whole spirit of franchising. Many new franchisors who come to me for help in developing their franchise systems operate as family teams. They are often couples who have grown a concept from scratch and are now running a successful and well established business.

Family teams such as this bring with them many advantages for a new franchise network. Together, they present a united vision of the company ethos and they tend to place great personal value upon their business. As a result, they will often be more understanding of the unique relationship between the franchisor and their franchisees. They are more likely than employers of a large corporation to appreciate and encourage the entrepreneurial spirits of their franchisees and allow them to develop their individual businesses in line with their own ambitions, rather than concentrating exclusively on their objectives for the franchise.

Family franchisors are often very good at recruiting husbands and wives as their franchisees. The advantages here are fairly obvious, as these franchisees present a ready made team. Each partner is likely to bring their own strengths to the business, and strengthen the network through the increased diversity of talents within it.

Of course, couples working together can bring some problems too. It becomes harder to differentiate between home and work time and if work is causing one partner stress, this is more easily transferred into the home relationship.

These situations must be managed carefully, both for the sake of the business and the relationship.
New franchisors Paul Lister and Karen Hudson have worked together for several years and have recently launched the British Blinds franchise opportunity in the UK. 'Karen and I have built up two businesses in the past, the second of which is our window blinds manufacturing business,' Paul explains. 'When this started to go well we began to look for the best method of expanding the distribution arm of the operation.

Franchising really made sense to us because it gives us the opportunity to build our brand nationwide and benefit from the increased motivation of franchisees.

'Acting as a partnership has really helped us to keep focused over the last few months, when we've been working with Franchise Development Services - Northern to put together our franchise system,' he continues. 'There's a lot of information to take in and jobs to be done during the development phase, so it was great to have support from someone who cares about the project as much as I do. After all, our family's future relies on the success we can achieve as franchisors.'

Karen sees the British Blinds opportunity as an ideal franchise for a couple to invest in together. 'Ours is a mobile franchise operation, which is important for investors who are eager to keep their overheads down by avoiding retail property costs. The job involves visiting customers to measure up and provide advice on their options for window blinds, placing the order with the British Blinds factory and then returning to install the finished product.

'If a couple are running the business together it gives them the opportunity to divide these tasks between them according to each other's strengths. One partner may be better at handling administration while the other enjoys the more practical aspects of the job. Of course, it goes without saying that we expect both members of the partnership to have great customer service skills!'

I asked Paul and Karen if there were times they found working together to be particularly difficult. 'I think managing holidays has proven to be the hardest thing,' says Karen. 'We're both involved in our businesses on a day-to-day basis and it's difficult for both of us to be away at the same time, let alone allow ourselves to relax and forget about work when we do get a holiday.'

Explains Paul: 'Our long term plan is to bring in managers to oversee specific aspects of our operations as the franchise network grows. We view the British Blinds franchise as a long term investment and hope to pass the business to our family one day. In order to do that it's important that Karen and I make plans to ensure that we don't remain indispensable. We've worked hard to get our businesses to where they are today, and we know that we must continue to work hard over the next few years to build up our brand and the franchise network.'

Franchising is often compared to a family relationship, with the franchisor providing the knowledge and support of a 'father' to the growing franchise businesses. Ultimately, the success of the franchisor/franchisee relationship depends on mutual respect and support. Neither the franchisor nor the franchisee business can survive without the co-operation of the other and it is this special business inter-dependence that makes franchising work.

On a personal level, as my business has grown over the years, we have welcomed several new members into the Franchise Development Services - Northern team, effectively creating an extended family around the business. Building strong relationships with franchise lawyers, specialist trademark lawyers, manual writers and designers has allowed us to offer many new franchisors sound advice and specialist skills at a fair price.
Mutual trust plays an important part in these relationships. We are working together to achieve the same end result, ethical and well-developed franchise systems for franchisors in the North of England and Scotland.