Fanfare for the franchise firm

THE UK franchising industry might be worth pounds 7.4bn and account for 300,000 jobs in outlets such as McDonald's, KallKwik and Perfect Pizza, but it still struggles to be taken seriously, writes Roger Trapp.

In an attempt to remedy that the British Franchise Association (BFA) tomorrow launches a campaign to highlight franchising as one of the safest and most successful methods of starting your own business.

The concept is widely assumed to be confined to running retail or similar services. But National Franchise Week will seek to demonstrate that it is far wider in scope and a long way from stale. Franchise companies represent most UK industry sectors, with Thornton's Chocolate, Kenco Coffee and the employment agency, Select Appointments, now members of the BFA.

While the likes of McDonald's will be flying the flag, the BFA and Miller Freeman, the company organising the franchise exhibition at Birmingham NEC, are pointing to the flow of new arrivals.

Among these are British Gas/Elec, a company that supplies gas and electrical service engineers, and the rapidly expanding Stagecoach Theatre Arts School business. The trouble with franchising, though, is that it is prey to the sort of operations which promise huge profits in return for relatively modest investment.

This is one area in particular where would-be entrepreneurs should heed the old adage that if something sounds too good to be true, it generally is. However, it can still be difficult to spot the genuine opportunity amid the raft of get-rich-quick schemes.

Nobody is more aware of this problem than the reputable end of the industry. Which is why the main theme of this week's awareness campaign is keeping would-be investors informed. The trick for the BFA is to protect those eager to take a lower-risk route to entrepreneurship from the less scrupulous operators.

National Franchise Week, sponsored by Sage Software, a leading supplier of software for business, aims to encourage self-starters to contact its helpline if they want to know more about franchising with companies that are approved through their membership of the association.

Existing franchisees will also be on hand to pass on the benefit of their experience to those phoning in.

The franchise helpline number is 0870-161 4000.