15 March 2018
Multi-service Options and Tech Upgrades Dominate US Franchise Show
Offering a range of complementary services, harbouring a high-tech advantage or simply having a matchless pedigree or a reputation for untarnished quality are all apparently routes to success in the highly-competitive US franchise market.
While the popularity of franchising in the US offers many opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs looking to license their business models to third-parties, it is not without its challenges. In particular, in the now relatively-crowded marketplace, it is difficult to achieve true stand-out.
Outlining the scale of the problem, Mike Hawkins, the Franchise Development Manager for the Dwyer Group, a Texas-based operator of several home service franchises, said: "Right now, there are more than 5,000 franchise brands active in the US. By comparison, 20 years ago, there was only around 1,000. Now, we may well have too many people trying to fish out of the same pond."
In this increasingly crowded market, Hawkins maintains it has never been more important to have a genuine point of difference. In Dwyer's case, it sees its USP as being able to cross-promote its various franchise brands – which range across many home service sectors, including window cleaning and gardening – to the same target consumers.
Explaining how this works in practice, Hawkins said: "At present, we maintain 11 different franchises, which collectively make us the world's largest provider of home services.
"We also operate a national marketing programme under the Neighbourly brand, which allows us to promote all of our sub-brands to all of our customers. In practice, this means that when a new franchise opens, it can immediately be promoted to the customers of existing complementary franchises in the same area."
Another company relying on its extended range of services to stand out was A Place at Home, an Omaha-based provider of home care for the elderly. Explaining its particular selling points, company President Jerod Evanich said: "Our difference lies in our continuity of care. We run a range of services that ensure consistency for our elderly clients, while also giving individual franchisees a range of options, including home care, companion care and personal care.
"While a lot of companies claim to do something similar, we take it to the next level in terms of overall care coordination. Essentially, we appoint a nurse or another healthcare professional to help steer each of our clients through their changing needs."
Another seemingly over-subscribed sector is signage production. Claiming to be the world's largest player in this particular niche, Florida-based Signarama again sees the ubiquity of its services as its selling point. Expanding upon this, Executive Vice-president AJ Titus said: "We are genuinely full-service, offering everything from large outdoor stuff to small indoor signage. Typically, when you're a business owner, you only want to deal with one person. You don't want to go to one supplier for your small signs and to another for larger ones."
A staple of nearly every franchise event, early learning centres and kindergartens brands were well-represented at the Dallas show. One seemingly standing out from the competition was California-based Building Kidz, which had a somewhat novel approach to educating its young charges.
Explaining its particular focus, Sales Representative Michael Peterson said: "Basically, we use music, dance and the fine arts as channels for teaching academic subjects. While we're not a dance academy or a music school, we do use music as a way of teaching maths and science.
"While we've only been offering franchises since 2016, we've been working in the early learning sector since 2004. As a consequence, we can demonstrate proven results dating back 10 years or more."
Restaurant brands are another franchise show regular, with pizza parlours a particularly hardy perennial. Keen to demonstrate just why Michigan-based Hungry Howie's was a thin crust or two above its rivals, Director of Franchise Recruitment Ardag Tachian said: "We are the originators of the flavoured crust and, in fact, we've been flavouring our crusts since the mid-80s. For us, quality is uppermost and, unlike a number of our competitors, we always use 100% genuine mozzarella cheese and fresh, handmade dough."
One company taking a more high-tech approach to proving its worth was Florida-based Stanton Optical. Explaining its approach, Nikki Gosal, the company's Director of Franchise Relations, said: "Our 'telemedicine' equipment is designed so that franchisees don't have to employ a qualified optician on site. We employ one for them and they review the charts remotely.
"We've found that consumers are quite receptive to the idea. They soon realise that the only difference from a regular optician is that nobody is stood next to them tweaking the dials during their eye tests."
Compared to the somewhat staid optical sector, other business areas are rather more accustomed to technological change, with printing being a clear case in point. Giving an overview as to how that particular industry has evolved, Larry Trimble, the Vice-president of Franchise Development for New York's Minuteman Press. said: "The required technology has changed a lot, shifting from an offset press to a digital press. You also don't need to hire a press man any more. All you need is a designer, then the press itself takes care of the printing, as well as any folding or stapling."
While printing has clearly reinvented itself for the digital age, one clear casualty of the changing times is the traditional telephone directory, at one time the advertising medium of choice for all keen franchisees. According to Hawkins, most of the budget that was once allocated to such publications now goes into online advertising and SEO.
Summarising the shift in the typical franchisee's approach to self-promotion, he said: "All of the money once used to buy space in the Yellow Pages etc, now goes on SEO. For 21st century franchisees, success is all about being on the first page of Google."
Franchise Expo South 2018 took place from 18-20 January at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Dallas