Q and A with London House's MD Godfrey Lancashire

London House's MD Godfrey Lancashire reveals what it takes to be a successful franchise owner to FDS Southern consultants Gordon Patterson and Gary Rigby.

Question: What exactly is the role of the London House franchise owner?
Answer: London House International is the UK's leading commercial and financial investigation company. As a London House franchise owner, you will be an investigator in the banking, legal and insurance sectors providing a range of services to banks, finance houses, law firms, insurance companies and the rest of the credit industry. As a commercial investigator, your core business will be gathering information to advise clients about fraud and bad debt decisions.

Question: Given the economic climate, how is the marketplace today in terms of the need for the London House services?
Answer: There is a high demand for our services at all times but in a recession and downturn, of course, we do become busier as more and more clients face cash flow difficulties and require help with overdue invoices and our banking clients require information about their customers to help them survive.

London House is a member of the Credit Services Association, the UK's only trade association for related businesses and in the last 12 months, 20 million individual cases were handled by our 300 members representing some £15 billion of debt. Of those 20 million cases, 15 million required tracing - in other words we needed to find their new addresses -and that is one of the specialities of London House. You can see how busy we are!

Question: When did you start franchising and what coverage do you now have of the British marketplace?
Answer: We opened our first three franchised outlets in 1995, 15 years ago. We now have 63 franchised territories from Glasgow in the north to Exeter in the south west. We still have development potential for a further 25 good territories.

Question: What is the essence of the package that you deliver to the franchise owner?
Answer: Our franchise is a full business format, white collar franchise. We offer two weeks' residential training, a comprehensive Operations Manual, and a library of documents and forms held on the franchise owner's systems. We operate a fully-staffed help desk, visit local offices, and provide regular updates and news bulletins, seminars and conferences. All initial stocks of stationery are included in the start up package.

Question: Are any premises required with your franchise model?
Answer: It is not necessary to have any business premises.

The majority of franchise owners start by operating a home office and then decide whether to move into serviced offices over the development of their franchise in two to three years time. By working from home we can of course keep costs to a minimum.

Question: Do you have any specific prime areas available?
Answer: Yes, there are still opportunities throughout the UK. Interestingly, we still have some key London postcode areas available - London South West, London South East, London East and London North. In addition, other key areas include Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Cambridge.

Question: What are the key benefits of owning a London House franchise?
Answer: You will enjoy constant variety and meet people and businesses from all sectors, not only as potential clients but also sometimes as the subjects of our enquiries! There is flexibility to the working day and a sense of achievement when completing an assignment which helps a client reach a cost effective decision. Franchise owners work well together and there is an excellent team spirit.

Question: What kind of assignments do your franchise owners undertake?
Answer: Tasks might include interviewing a bank's customer to discover their latest financial circumstances, finding somebody who perhaps does not want to be found, tracing hidden assets, taking witness statements, serving legal process and assisting litigation teams, perhaps with the repossession of assets and becoming involved in our drugs screening programmes and offering other forensic services.

Question: Do we understand that you hold a key position within your trade association?
Answer: For almost 14 years I have been a Director of the Credit Services Association, the UK's only trade body for related activities. The Association is now over 100 years old and I had the privilege of being President from 2005 to 2007.

Question: Do you liaise with the Government with respect to services provided in your specialised sector?
Answer: Yes, this is something that I am involved with as part of my role as Director of the CSA and it can be both fun and definitely a challenge, particularly as we are going through a change of Government just now. I have been able to deal with not just Government but also Shadow Ministers and the regulators including the Office of Fair Trading, the Information Commissioner and others to put across our view of the debt problems in the UK, how they could be avoided, how the vulnerable can be protected, and how we ensure that the people who should pay face up to their responsibilities.

Question: What kind of person are you looking to appoint as a franchise owner for London House?
Answer: We are looking for professional experience - not necessarily in a related sector - and excellent interpersonal skills; somebody who would enjoy constant variety in a challenging and professional role, mixing with the professional and corporate communities. Being tenacious and having good common sense are also clearly assets.

Question: What do you see to be the longer term future for your business activity?
Answer: To date we have concentrated on the UK marketplace but the world is getting smaller and we are working increasingly overseas and many overseas clients are now asking for our help in the UK. We are, therefore, seeing a growth of transactions both ways and with the power of the internet our growth is definitely likely to be international.