Gordon celebrates silver anniversary with Franchise Development Services

Gordon Patterson talks to Fraser McKay about how he obtained the rights to operate FDS Southern 25 years ago and earn a reputation for being one of the UK's leading Franchise Consultants.

It was while pursuing a career in agriculture that Franchise Consultant Gordon Patterson sowed the seeds for a career with FDS Southern, which celebrates 25 years in September 2010.

"I started life on a farm in Northern Ireland and went to the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to study in the faculty of Agriculture," explains Gordon. "After graduating in 1971, I entered the Department of Agriculture in NI in an advisory capacity to the farming community. I thoroughly enjoyed my advisory work in Co Antrim; however, I realised that being in the Civil Service was not to be my lifetime career. After two and a half years, I was given an opportunity to manage a distribution business in the UK that had franchise rights from a Swiss-based franchisor company."

It was in this capacity that Gordon moved to Newbury, Berkshire and after 12 years of national and international experience in franchising, he decided the time was right to start his own business. "I attended The Franchise Exhibition at the Barbican in London," continues Gordon. "There I met Franchise World and signed up to attend two of their prospective franchise owner and franchisor seminars. It was at this exhibition, that I also bought The UK Franchise Directory from the FDS stand."

Impressed with the publication, Gordon decided to visit the FDS head office in Norwich in 1985 and meet the company's Managing Director Roy Seaman, who had established the business four years earlier.

"When I began to appreciate the nature of the FDS business and the services it provided, I became excited about the possibility of contributing to the expansion of franchising in the UK," says Gordon. "I quickly saw FDS as a vehicle that could help me achieve that objective. I suggested to Roy that he franchise his business to me and that I could trade as FDS 'Southern'. He responded with immediate enthusiasm. This quickly resulted in my acquiring the rights to FDS Southern in September 1985 and joining the training programme on October 1."

Gordon has witnessed many changes in franchising during the 25 years he has been with FDS, as he explains: "The British Franchise Association had only been formed eight years earlier and its founder members were generally brands that had come over from the USA such as KFC, Ziebart and Holiday Inn. There were then some indigenous brands such as Dyno-Rod, which soon developed into growing interest from businesses throughout the UK to expand by franchising. Year on year, momentum was building for people to invest in franchises and companies to see it as an effective route to expansion. Previously, I had travelled to the USA and Canada and so witnessed the tremendous growth of franchising in those marketplaces. I was convinced that over the coming decades this activity would transform the UK marketplace in terms of the number of people and businesses involved in franchising. That certainly happened and it has been very satisfying to have been part of this dynamic and growing sector."

For his first five years at FDS Southern, Gordon had concentrated on consultancy, helping businesses to structure themselves for franchising and launch on the marketplace. One of the early brands Gordon consulted for was Carewatch, whose Founder Kevin Lewis he still works with to this day by providing consultancy services for Caremark.

"I worked with Kevin in the creation and launch of that franchise," says Gordon. "After some years, a major care provider in the UK then bought it and the brand remains a leading success story in franchising."

About 20 years ago, Gordon consulted for Wiltshire Farm Foods unaware that their Franchise Manager Gary Rigby would subsequently become a key part of FDS Southern when he joined the company as Gordon's business partner in 2005.

Another company Gordon helped launch as a successful franchise operation and, like Wiltshire Farm Foods, he works with today - is Snack-in-the-Box (SITB). The SITB franchise opportunity was launched through The Franchise Magazine and, like FDS Southern, the publication is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

"I still have a copy of that first issue - it was only a few pages and promoted some of the early brands in franchising that were around 25 years ago," he remembers. "At that time, I had no expectation of The Franchise Magazine being the first franchise title to be distributed nationwide. When The Franchise Magazine began to effectively penetrate the wider marketplace nationwide through the news-stands, it opened up a new door of opportunity."

"With The Franchise Magazine becoming the UK's most powerful tool in generating quality prospects, I began to service clients in their ongoing promotional activity," continues Gordon. "We then, in effect, developed two arms to the business. One was consultancy, which helped to create and launch new franchises and the other was The Franchise Magazine, which provided a marketing strategy for franchisors to effectively recruit franchise owners. The business then changed to focus equally on these two areas of activity.

"For more than 20 years, we have been the only specialist franchise consultancy company in the UK to also be publishers thus enabling our client franchisors to effectively promote their franchise through our own in-house media. This point of distinction remains. As a result, I have enjoyed the opportunity not just to consult for businesses and launch their franchise, but also to stay with our clients in the ongoing promotion of their franchise. In that way, I have been able to enjoy long-term relationships with clients, which have lasted for five, ten, 15 and even 20 years."

Among the client brands Gordon and FDS Southern have helped over the past decade is Northwood, who he has worked with from day one.

"Northwood has now become one of the leading brands in residential property management in the UK," says Gordon. "More recently we helped to launch the Caremark brand that within the last two to three years has opened over 60 offices in the UK and is experiencing an ongoing growth momentum that is very exciting.

"We have also worked with the management of Rohan to launch their outdoor clothing franchise and only last year, were involved in providing consultancy to Orange Retail. They are now actively developing their retail shops through franchising and have become the leading brand in the UK with the acquisition of T-Mobile."

A more recent change Gordon has seen has been the introduction of FDS's websites.

"With the printed copy of The Franchise Magazine," says Gordon "clients would receive almost all of their enquiries by telephone. More than four years ago that began to change when TheFranchiseMagazine.net was launched. It totally changed the business forever as client advertisers began to receive their enquiries through people registering online.

"TheFranchiseMagazine.net and soon after TheUKFranchiseDirectory.net both became key media for penetrating the prospective franchise marketplace. As a result, our advice to clients had to be adopted to suit the new evolutionary developments brought about by the internet."

As well as his UK franchise consultancy work; Gordon has been an active figure in his Irish homeland and the international marketplace.

"Over the past 25 years, I have consulted for many Irish brands. One of the earliest ones was Eddie Rockets based in Dublin, which is now a highly successful operation in Ireland with more than 30 restaurants trading. More recently, I have been involved in consultancy for 'the streat', which this year won the Irish Franchisor of the Year award.

"In the early days I was involved with the Dwyer Group in Texas together with bringing Rainbow Carpet Dyeing and Cleaning into the UK. Subsequently, I was involved in facilitating Drain Doctor coming to the UK and working with Freddie and Jan Mitman in its development here. My most recent international project has been with The Academy of Contemporary Music based in Guildford, in taking them successfully through a franchise structure into the USA."

Gordon has enjoyed every minute of his quarter centenary at the forefront of franchise consultancy with FDS.

"Providing services under the FDS brand has been a tremendously rewarding experience over these last 25 years," says Gordon. "To work in the structuring of a new franchise, launch it and then stay with our clients in the development of their networks has been very satisfying. In the process we have facilitated in the creation of thousands of new job opportunities through our clients who offer management franchises. It is very exciting to have been and be at, the cutting edge of this development through all sectors of business activity."

Gordon also intends to make the most of the growing opportunities available, as the industry's future looks set to keep growing.

"Ever more companies have identified franchising as an effective route to business expansion," explains Gordon. "On the other hand, there is an increased awareness of franchising and an ever greater desire for people to be business owners enjoying a reward commensurate with their effort. I feel confident that business format franchising, especially of a management type, will remain an important growth area within our economy."