The great thing about franchising is that if the public likes what you’re offering, your company can expand just about anywhere.
Well, not anywhere. You may have caught wind that Bill Nye, the science guy, recently stated his belief that we’ll never civilize Mars. So, unfortunately, we can probably rule out franchising on other planets. That was kind of a bummer to read. And certainly, there are a few war-torn or oppressed nations on the planet that still don’t seem ripe for American brands. But still, I don’t believe it’s ever been a better time to be an American franchise in search of global customers.
As the chief development officer of a fast-casual burger franchise, I can confidently report that, based on what I’m seeing, there are a number of countries laying out the welcome mats for American brands to develop and grow their franchise system internationally. That said, I’ll offer a quick PSA to anyone planning on expanding their brand to other borders: A country may be extremely receptive to American brands and franchising, but if you don’t have the right people in place to vet the right investors and master franchisors, things could get ugly fast. With that in mind, rather than throwing darts on a map to find the right country, here are five countries that I think any American franchise looking to expand its international footprint should consider.
The United Kingdom
If you’re an American brand looking to establish an international presence, I believe you need to be here. It’s densely populated compared to many nations, and America and England are practically cousins — so it’s a good cultural fit. British consumers often embrace American brands. For instance, there are roughly 900 KFCs in the region (paywall). If you go to London, you might want to check out the five Gap stores, and there are additional Gap stores throughout the English countryside (as evidenced by the Gap website). It just seems like a missed opportunity to not try to get a foothold in the U.K. If you’re just beginning your global reach, other countries are likely a better launch point than England, but you probably want to end up there. Meanwhile, while nobody can know what Brexit will bring, some have speculated that franchising will become easier, not harder, in the U.K.
This can also be an important country for an American brand with international ambitions. France has long seemed reluctant about letting other countries, American or otherwise, taint its culture — as evidenced by the Académie française’s work to protect the French language. But more and more, France has become relaxed in its regulations and stance toward franchising in particular. The hamburger, or “le hamburger,” has gained a lot of popularity in France in recent years (two-thirds of French restaurants were selling hamburgers in 2016, according to one study covered in The Telegraph). A number of American brands beyond simply McDonald’s (paywall) — such as KFC (paywall) — have been popping up in France for some time. What’s more, the French aren’t just tolerating American brands; some French people really seem to be embracing American culture. So, if you have an American brand that has so far been unsuccessful in entering France, you may want to give it another try. And if you’re a restaurant, this is your chance to finally serve actual French fries.
It’s a terrific country for franchising and American brands. But don’t just take my word for it; take it from Export.gov. The website is run by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration and other American agencies. A 2018 article on the website states, “Franchising continues to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the Philippine economy. Demand continues to grow for new products and services, providing new opportunities for U.S. companies.” It goes on to say that “population growth, consumer preferences, and increased economic activity have contributed to the growth of franchises in the Philippines.” So, there you go. Some of the many American brands with footholds in the Philippines include Dairy Queen and Ace Hardware Corp (based on its website). If you go there, it isn’t just the consumers who you’ll want to welcome you, but also the business world. The Philippine Franchise Association is one of the big players you’ll want to become familiar with — and Manila, in fact, is hosting 2019’s Franchise Asia Conference.
This has been an attractive country for American brands for some time. For instance, the first Auntie Anne’s, that pretzel place that’s ubiquitous in shopping malls around the country, opened in this country way back in 1995. And the country has increasingly become an attractive nation in which American brands are doing business. As one Bloomberg writer recently noted, “The country’s hawkish monetary and economic policy decisions deserve to win the confidence of foreign investors.” For example, there have been recent reports of policy plans to encourage foreign investment. In 2016, the International Trade Administration named Indonesia one of the top markets for franchising and noted, “Local investors are very receptive to U.S. franchises.”
KFC Thailand claims that, with 701 locations, it’s the largest restaurant in the country as of 2018 (via The Nation) if that tells you anything. If Kentucky Fried Chicken isn’t an American enough brand for you, Harley-Davidson plans to open a manufacturing plant in Thailand. This is a beautiful country that has a history of welcoming American brands, and I would encourage anyone and everyone interested in franchising in Thailand to attend the Thailand Franchise & Business Opportunities Expo. And as Export.gov pointed out last year, “It is expected that the number of international franchise brands will be increasing by 10% in the next 3–5 years due to interest by Thai businessmen in bringing more international brands into Thailand and diversifying their investment portfolios.” So the time to get in as a franchise may be now and not later.
Of course, there’s plenty to consider if you do franchise in any of these countries — or anywhere in the world. You still need to think about how your franchise’s brand, especially if it’s food, fits in with local flavor preferences and meal traditions. You may need to do some tinkering with your brand. You may even decide you want your company in a certain country but leave your brand behind. For instance, Walmart is in England, but it isn’t called Walmart. It’s known as Asda, a company Walmart bought in 1999.
Seriously, with all of the American franchise opportunities on this planet, who needs Mars?