Fortify your franchise

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The Independent Online
The arrival in the franchising arena of such names as Complete Weed Control and hi-fi manufacturer Bang & Olufsen is testament to the view of Richard Cracknell, national franchising co-ordinator at Barclays Bank, that "apart from banking just about everything can be franchised", writes Roger Trapp.

However, Mr Cracknell warns that many business opportunities that appear to be franchises - while sound enough ventures - do not genuinely fit the description. Pointing out that the privatised rail operations - while described as such - are not true franchises, he says that four criteria have to be met. These are a brand, a tested and proven system that can be transferred easily, support for the franchisee at all stages and the nature of the agreement.

And whether a would-be small business operator is going down the franchise route or opting for some other kind of venture, there are several areas of concern, says Mr Cracknell.

First, prospective franchisees need to look carefully at the franchiser's approach and record before making any sort of commitment. In particular, he says, they should avoid the hard-sell approach where time constraints are put on the decision-making process. They should also be wary of verbal commitments that are not backed up in the agreement and be cautious about organisations that will not let them talk to existing franchisees.

Conscious that the British Franchise Association, which is holding its latest exhibition in London later this month (18, 19 April), has co-operated with leading franchisers and their advisers to clean up the concept's image, he also urges investors to deal with franchisers that are members of the organisation and have not had previous failures.

Second, franchisees need to assess their own strengths and weaknesses. "If you don't like meeting people, there's no point in looking at retail, for instance," he says. Equally, investors need to ensure that they have the backing of their families and are not expecting the quick returns that are sometimes implied.