'In economic downturn we find greater demand for our services'

With ambitious plans to reach a network total of 200 franchisees in the next couple of years, Auditel Founder and Managing Director Chris Allison provides an insight into Auditel's holistic approach to cost management

Gordon Patterson: What is the origin of the Auditel brand?
Chris Allison: Originally, Auditel was a licensing operation which trained people in utility bill auditing, but in 1997 we launched as a true business format franchise. I developed the offering to include the management of all utility services including communications. Then, in 1998 we became a Full Member of the British Franchise Association.

Gary Rigby: What are the distinctive features associated with the Auditel business?
CA:We have a unique system for managing business costs. Unlike traditional cost consultants, brokers and agents, we don't just focus on cutting prices in the short-term by switching to the supplier that offers the lowest headline price. Our holistic 'Total Cost of Purchase' approach means we take all the costs associated with overhead expenditure into account and make recommendations based on what's best for the client, not the supplier. As we work on a no win, no fee model,our clients only pay us when, and if, we can demonstrate they've saved money as a result of our service. This means the Auditel service is completely self-funding. I'm delighted to say that our franchisees become valued advisers to their clients maintaining a relationship over many years.

GR:What are the services provided by Auditel?
CA: Our specialist overhead areas include communications, energy, business consumables, water and sewerage, premises management and finance related services, but we also work with carefully vetted third party experts across a wide range of other overhead categories.

GP:Are current developments in the UK marketplace affecting demand for services?
CA:Now that the UK economic situation is facing a downturn, we find an even greater demand for our services. The calls for help have shown an increase for a number of years. I believe that more and more businesses realise that they simply don't have the in-house expertise required to deal with such an ever-changing and complex marketplace.

GR: What kind of ongoing support services are supplied by Auditel to its franchisees?
CA: Our initial training programme consists of two five day residential courses and one three day follow up course aided by comprehensive manuals. Additionally, our intranet, the Auditel Information System, provides a rich array of all kinds of information and a means of immediate communication within the network. In their first year new franchisees have regular reviews to ensure they are meeting their business objectives. Thereafter, lifelong training and professional development is delivered in a variety of ways, including additional workshops, online tutorials, supplier training days, Regional and Local Meetings and the Annual National Conference.

GP:Is an Auditel franchise a good earnings opportunity?
CA:Certainly. Some of our Affiliates are earning six-figures annually - one actually makes an income of £200,000. Our business model is one of the most flexible in the marketplace enabling franchisees to increase sales through team building. Although most are sole practitioners, we have many who operate with a partner and even one business operating with six people - last year they achieved sales of £375,000.

GP:How large is the Auditel network and are there any target geographical areas being focused on?
CA:Currently we have over 100 franchisees in the network. Since our people are able to market anywhere in the UK - there are no fixed territories - the whole of the UK is still open. We reckon there are around 400,000 potential clients out there. We have just over 2,000 on our books, so there is plenty of room for new franchisees to do business!

GP:What is the goal-plan for Auditel over the next five years?
CA:To realise the true potential of the Auditel network, we want to grow to 200 franchises in the next five years. We also need to increase our client base and continue to develop the capability of managing both the smaller and larger accounts. Finally, I want to ensure we retain our position as the premier consultancy in our core discipline of cost and purchase management.

Interview by Gordon Patterson and Gary Rigby