Lessons to be learnt from unforeseen ‘issues’ as the network grows
As you may well have noted in the first two parts of this series, there was an inordinate amount of groundwork that simply had to be done prior to bringing the Ovenu franchise opportunity to the market. And, what made this entire project even more challenging was the fact that we were bringing a new concept – a premium quality oven cleaning and valeting service.
Author: Rik Hellewell, founder and managing director of Ovenu
However, having run a five-year pilot scheme and with things running along nicely by way of some strategically placed adverts in media that we knew would bring results, the recruitment of franchisees went very well and still does today.
We started to put a good number of fully-equipped vans on the road and with a trained franchisee operating the businesses in their local area. We even started to see a modest return on our investment.
And here’s where I’ll start to highlight one or two, let’s call them, ‘issues’.
First up is the apparent failure by a lot of franchisees to comprehend that an agreement is, by definition, something that you sign having read it and understood the terms and, by doing so, you agree to do things as set out in the document. The real ‘head-scratcher’ though is that, having a franchise agreement drawn up by the most highly skilled and qualified franchise specific lawyers, doesn’t matter a jot if the franchisees treat it as some sort of ‘pick & mix’ arrangement or they simply ignore the terms.
An early example was the calling of our first annual gathering as the agreement stated. We had eight or so franchisees at that time and only five turned up despite the agreement making it perfectly clear that coming along to our annual meeting was compulsory.
Perhaps the non-attendees didn’t understand the meaning of compulsory? Might they have inadvertently missed that part of the agreement? Could it be they didn’t take the advice in the agreement itself to have it checked over by a legally qualified professional? Or did they think it really didn’t matter? No matter the reason, the nagging question that followed was what to do about it? How to deal with non-compliance? And that is the ultimate balancing act.
These were tough questions for sure, so we figured there would be answers to be gleaned by attending the next British Franchise Association meeting.
At the meeting I listened to what the attending suppliers to the sector had to offer as there were twice as many suppliers and consultants as franchisors or their representatives. The advice on dealing with non-compliance ranged from ‘go hard on them’ to ‘go legal on them’.
What was abundantly clear from the start were three key points and they are as valid today as they were 20 years ago.
Attempting to gain total compliance from a network of franchisees is a pipedream.
Going down the legal route is extremely expensive in monetary, mental resolve and time terms.
Even with a ‘slam-dunk’ case, you can easily lose.
From a personal perspective, I’d like to see the UK franchise sector look to follow the Australian model, where franchising is ‘governed’ and where there is federal law in place.
The primary problem in the UK is that the franchise sector is ‘self-regulating’ and the agreements between franchisors and franchisees fall under the extremely subjective Common Law where it is often the case of there being no correct answer.
And, the UK could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of both Australia and the U.S. by having a set of legally binding Disclosure Documents put into the public domain.
Equally challenging to mental resolve is the passing of franchisees. Over the years we’ve had the misfortune to deal with this tragedy on five occasions. It’s a ‘situation’ that is highlighted in the franchise agreement but an awful lot harder to deal with in reality than the wording suggests and nothing prepares you, as a franchisor, for such awful events.
Dealing with tragedy is one thing; handling franchisees’ negligence is another altogether. For example:
1. The franchisee who spent many a time creating awareness of his new business only to report to us a couple of weeks later that he had no responses at all. On checking his phone line, it came to light that he had forgotten to divert his phone to the call centre facility to take his incoming calls.
2. The franchisee who despite having every single artwork template imaginable plus access to our retained advertising agency, took it upon himself to place a couple of adverts in his local newspaper having changed our distinctive black and green logo to black and blue.
3. The franchisee who ‘forgot’ to declare on his application questionnaire that he was allergic to cats – not just a bit of an allergy; rather one that triggered the most severe reactions once he’d completed his first couple of jobs in clients’ homes after induction training.
These are just a couple of many examples of non-compliance and/or having the ability to follow simple, basic instructions that are laid out very clearly in our Operations Manuals and, since 2017, our online videos and other guides.
The most frustrating part is getting to grips with the fact that, no matter what training and support is in place, some franchisees will inevitably want to ‘do it their way’.
Putting all the requisite ‘checks and balances’ in place to pick up on these ‘issues’ as quickly and as efficiently as possible is hugely important and takes a lot to implement, plus a significant financial outlay.
It’s not surprising then to find that prospective franchisors may ‘topple over’ at this point as frustration simply gets the better of them.
In more recent years, the advent of the internet has raised all manner of different challenges and opportunities.
On the plus side it has given rise to a multitude of advertising and promotional opportunities, often for little or no additional cost to franchisors and franchisees, along with a tremendous opportunity to spread the word about pretty much anything far and wide and at lightning speed.
On the negative side, the same opportunities give franchisees every option of doing things incorrectly, with the ultimate aplomb and with no chance of redaction. It also accounts for a dearth of copyright infringements along with an avalanche of plagiarism problems.
So, would I go down the franchise route for Ovenu in today’s world in favour of growing a business in the service industry organically?
The honest answer is that I probably would. But, and it is a huge but, I would make sure that every lesson I’ve learned was put into play to replicate the model I have today, and to consider extremely carefully what I think the future might bring.
About Ovenu Ovenu is one of the leading UK and international domestic oven cleaning and valeting specialist. All cleaning products used by Ovenu are environmentally friendly, bio-degradable and conform to the latest government REACH regulations. Ovenu’s Carbon Remover is also approved by the Vitreous Enamel Association.
The Ovenu valeting process involves dismantling key components of an oven and placing them into design-registered equipment, which uses non-caustic, non-toxic and biodegradable products to clean the oven parts.