Franchising is fighting back

Paul Gosling reports on initiatives to improve the skills of managers and get rid of rogue operators
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The Independent Online
THE FRANCHISE movement reacted with irritation, even anger, last year when doubts were expressed about some of the claims made for the sector. Some critics said franchising had a higher failure rate than was acknowledged. Worse still, it was alleged, there were growing numbers of crooks trying to sell worthless franchises for a mint.

Behind the scenes, the British Franchise Association is fighting back. It is now considering proposals to become an institute, with a new regulatory framework designed to keep rogue traders at bay. As a first stage in cleaning up the sector, a new training scheme has been launched that will provide national vocational qualifications (NVQs) for middle managers in franchises, and could also offer higher qualifications for more senior managers.

A distance-learning course leading to a Certificate in Franchise Management opened as a one-year programme in April, and 12 managers are completing its first module. This will lead to an NVQ level 3, roughly equivalent to an A level, and those passing it will be eligible to progress to an ordinary MBA.

The CFM course costs pounds 1,600 per student. It brings together basic management training with a focus on the skills specifically needed by franchisors, and particularly by the recruitment and support managers the course is aimed at. It is accepted that these positions require more interpersonal and motivational skills than do managers in other businesses. The ethical and legal basis of franchising forms another key element of the studies.

Midland Bank is sponsoring the course, which is being run by the Management Development Partnership based at Nottingham Business School. Cathryn Hayes, national franchise manager at the Midland, says: "This will help to push up standards. It will lead to more consistency across different franchise networks, and give participants the opportunity to talk to their counterparts and spread good practice."

Brian Lewis, managing director of Cash Generator, a franchisor, says the course will help to differentiate legitimate franchise operators from any rogue traders: "We believe it is the way forward. Not everyone who offers a franchise has the best intentions, and creating standards marks out the best companies."

David Balcon, national training manager for Snap-On Tools, agrees: "The industry has needed this for a while. There is a feeling that franchising is not as clean as it could be." Mr Balcon is a participant in the pilot course, and says he is impressed: "It is not too disruptive of normal work. If you are doing things properly, it is really just gathering evidence to show what you are doing. Things just fall into place."

John Bright is chairman of the BFA's training committee as well as chairman and managing director of Greenall's in Partnership, the pub group's franchising arm. The company has two new staff on the course and Mr Bright is happy with their progress. "This is the first time the industry has had a vocational qualification," he says. "People can do the job during the day and put the skills they are learning into practice within the framework of an NVQ, to judge and assess their performance."

Robert Looker, accreditation manager at the BFA, says there is no conflict between the courses it is developing, and the franchise management diploma provided by Middlesex University: "They are complementary. Ours is delivered on more of a skills basis, theirs is more theory. Ours is aimed at front- line and strategic managers, with a view to moving on to degree level if they wish."

Mr Looker says the biggest benefit for franchisors will be in overcoming a skills shortage. Several members have told the BFA of their frustration at not being able to take on people with the skills to recruit and support franchisees, with each company forced to operate its own internal training programmes. Now the companies will be able to use externally provided training, on a more cost-effective basis.