Quality over hype - Identifying ethical Franchisors

The 1967 BBC comedy 'Never Mind the Quality...' concerning a pair of tailors at loggerheads over quality of service captured a dubious ethos that franchisors must avoid. BFA South West Regional Chairman and Swisher Development Director Marilyn Keen reflects on the importance of identifying ethical franchisors through the British Franchise Association

I was a mere child when 'Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width' was broadcast - but its messages have stayed with me: 'Forget whether a product is good, it's all about hype.' 'Never mind if the quality is poor, if it has 'bling' everything is OK.' 'Providing a bad service to customers doesn't matter if the spin has the right buzz to it.'

Does this sound familiar? Historically, franchising has not had the best of reputations. 'Get rich quick schemes', 'pyramid selling'...these were some of the criticisms levelled at the sector. How many times have you looked through a magazine, website or exhibition and wondered if the concept advertised lives up to the spin?

Thankfully there are many reputable franchise networks in the UK working together with their franchisees to ensure that the products or services they provide are efficient, professional and of high quality. In many ways the franchise industry has come of age: membership of the British Franchise Association (BFA) has grown from strength-to-strength, franchisors frequently get together to exchange ideas on best practice, and the franchise community has worked hard to improve its reputation - there are certainly less 'cowboys' out there.

On a personal and business level, within Swisher we have always been drawn to the top end of the market. Professionalism and a good reputation have always been our aims and when we started Swisher we were determined that this ethos would continue. Swisher is, and will remain, a quality brand.

At Swisher we need to know that we are doing the best we can for our network, so that franchisees will succeed if they work hard. If we have a willing, able and talented franchisee who is burning to build a good and successful business, as an ethical franchisor we must be there to help him on his way.

If you are looking for a franchise it really is important to do your homework. Not only must you talk to the franchisor, you must also speak with the franchisees, consult the banks and carry out as much research as you can. The BFA runs seminars on franchising and what you should expect from your franchisor.

It really is important that a franchisor is a member of the British Franchise Association. It is the best assurance of ethical franchising that any prospective franchisee is going to get.
Of course, the BFA cannot give guarantees, but full membership status is an assurance that the BFA has been through the franchisor's paperwork, looked at the accounts and spoken to the franchisees.

Franchisors have a responsibility and commitment to ensure that all franchisees are well trained. By ensuring our franchisees know what is expected of them, what to do and how to do it, Swisher ensures everyone in the network speaks with the same voice, reflecting the ethos of the organisation and complementing the Swisher brand.

Once you have done your homework and are sure that you wish to join a specific franchise network, you will be asked to pay a franchise fee and enter into a franchise agreement. It is recommended that you should instruct a franchise lawyer (an affiliate of the BFA) to go through the agreement, but bear in mind that you will probably be advised that the franchise agreement is strict and in favour of the franchisor.

It is necessary for franchisors to police and protect their brand and their network. Any franchisee or situation within the network that denigrates the brand must be speedily rectified. It is by franchising that we build our businesses and by sales we encourage our customers to use our services and our products. All franchisees must appreciate the importance of the brand and that it is only by operating in a professional and ethical manner that the brand will be enhanced.

To maintain quality, all of the various strands have to be brought together. Most organisations have manufacturers and suppliers, staff and customers. Franchisors have an additional, most important, element - their franchisees, without whom they will not be successful.

The relationship between franchisor and franchisee is so important that it can be likened to a marriage. So many marriages now end in divorce, both parties must make sure, before entering into the franchise agreement, that the franchise and franchisee are suited to each other.

It is important for a prospective franchisee to ensure that the franchisor is running an ethical and professional franchise. Are the franchisees providing the services and products that their customers want and are their customers happy with what is being provided? If so, we should all be able to say: 'Never mind the width, feel the quality.'