Monday, May 31, 2010

Franchising – Structural Capital in action

I had the opportunity to visit a franchising exhibition recently where more than 100 different businesses of various types had put up stalls staffed with smartly attired and neatly groomed salespeople trying their best to convince visitors why their franchise business model was the best choice to opt for as a new franchisee. The businesses on hand ranged from education (coaching classes), fashion clothing, food and beverages, jewelry, real estate agencies, healthcare, solar energy, finance and securities, libraries, childcare, coffee shops, etc. While the diversity of businesses present was tremendous, there was a uniform thread running through all of them that had brought them together to that exhibition in the first place – all of these businesses were capable of growing through the franchisee route. Franchising as a business model is hugely popular and successful especially in the retail world. Next time you have a value meal at McDonald’s realize that you are actually at a franchise of McDonald’s and not at a Company owned Store. If you still have doubts, look at the top of your receipt and you will read the name of the franchisee that is actually operating that particular McDonalds location. It is estimated that more than 50% of all retail sales in the US and one third of all retail sales in the UK come from franchises. Such is the reach and penetration of this model.

Franchising in its simplest form is an arrangement in which the owner of a product, process or service (franchisor) licenses the distribution of these products by someone else (franchisee) in the name of the franchisor in exchange for royalty income. The franchisee brings physical and financial capital to the relationship in the form of location space and cash, while the franchisor provides the know-how of the products and services and the process of selling them. Franchising is therefore an instance where the monetization of intangible assets of the business (in this case, of the franchisor) is easily demonstrated.

The question however is why do franchisors opt for franchising instead of opting for the traditional route of opening company owned stores? Aren’t they giving up some of their profits to the franchisee in the process? Indeed they are, but they are also avoiding the risk of opening a store in a new location when they do not have knowledge of the local business climate. Secondly, they avoid bloating their own employee rolls since the staff at the new location belongs on the roster of the franchise. Finally by opting for the franchise route they convert the need for capital expenditure for opening a company owned store into capital income by way of franchise agreement fees from the franchisee. Isn’t that terrific?

The next question that arises then is that if franchising is such an inviting proposition, what are the key drivers for its success? What are the critical success factors for this model to be successful? The answer to that question in simple words is Structural Capital, in this case the franchisor’s Structural Capital. This has to be developed to such an existence that it can be leveraged in far-away locations without too much of an additional effort on the franchisor. Let’s take an example. Suppose you have decided to open a coffee cafe franchise in your neighborhood because you can feel the business potential for just such a café. You have also identified the franchisor and have signed the franchise agreement and paid the initial fees. This is when the franchisor’s work begins. Based on the size of your shop, the franchisor has to provide you the interior décor plan and organize to have the décor made to specifications including the all important front signage. The signage by the way reflects the franchisor’s brand which itself is a significant portion of its structural capital. Brand building is a long term and capital intensive process. Suffice it to say that a well known brand is highly critical to the success of the franchising model. Next, the franchisor has to provide your café with bean crushing and coffee dispensing machines. Cash registers are next, loaded hopefully with Point of Sale software that connects directly to the franchisor’s central database everyday for sales data updates. Next, the franchisor has to give you access to his ordering system, either phone or web based, using which you can re-order supplies like cups, spoons, stirrers, etc. and maintain your minimum inventory levels. In order to deliver your orders, the franchisor has to update its delivery schedules and processes to include you in the loop. Once you have started your café, the franchisor has to keep track of your daily sales in its central database and invoice you for supplies and royalty income on a monthly basis. If your coffee dispensers develop any type of snag the franchisor has to be able to dispatch technicians to your location as soon as possible. This is the scenario for a simple coffee café. Multiple products/services create more demands on the structural capital of the franchisor. However one thing is clear, the structural capital has to be automated as much as possible in order to accommodate increasing volumes. Structural Capital riding on human hands is a sure sign of non-scalability and hence failure of the franchise model.

In summary, franchising is a very mature business model which has been used successfully the world over by many businesses, especially in the Retail sector, to grow their businesses very quickly. It works because franchise owners are entrepreneurs who are highly interested in their own success unlike store managers whose primary interest is their monthly paycheck. Franchise owners bring local business climate knowledge to the table and they undertake the risk of running the business successfully. A franchisor whose structural capital is automated and scalable has a very good chance of expanding his business through franchising.

No comments: