Interview with Brian Smart, Director General of the British Franchise Association
< United Kingdom >

February 13th, 2012

As the head of the British Franchise Association since 1989, Brian Smart was in Paris for a presentation about Franchise Expo Paris 2012, which will run from 18 to 21 March 2012 at Porte de Versailles. The UK is guest of honour at this year's show. L’Observatoire asked him about the history of franchising in the UK and his desire to set up and develop British concepts in continental Europe.

When did franchising really take off in the UK?

Attempts were made in the early 70s, but it wasn't until the end of that decade that the franchise became an effective model for developing a network. In particular we witnessed a massive influx of concepts from the United States, a movement facilitated by the fact that both our countries spoke English.

What other factors contributed to the franchise taking off?

The rise in property prices, particularly in town centres, forced networks to explore different avenues of expansion, rather than the chain store. Again, franchises are a very good response to this issue because it's the franchisee, as the business owner, who bears the property-related costs.

What major changes did the American model undergo when it crossed the Atlantic?

In contrast to the Americans, for whom “business is business”, the British are not natural entrepreneurs; at least that was the case when franchising began. Also, the training aspect of franchising proved invaluable at the beginning with regard to sales techniques and outlet management.

Which sectors have been most successful in your country?

The fast food sector is constantly growing, capturing customers who are increasingly pressed for time, and the sector is always seeking concepts that offer good value for money. Corporate services are also much in demand and their model is easy to replicate, which makes it eminently suitable for franchise development. As in France, personal services appeal to many would-be entrepreneurs, whether aimed at young people (remedial or sports classes, for instance) or older persons (home care, and so on).

What are your expectations with regard to exporting your concepts?

We have to prove to Europe and the world that our concepts work and that they are completely exportable. This means getting over the barriers of language, the Euro and the (mere!) thirty-odd kilometres that separate England from the continent. This is why we are so thrilled to be guests of honour at the 2012 Franchise Expo Paris show. We will be presenting a number of concepts in Paris that we've been thinking about developing outside the UK in fields as diverse as fashion (with Clarks Shoes) and cars (with Autosmart). And these are just two of many.

Interview by Rodolphe Hatchadourian