If you want a successful international franchise, pay attention to more than just the business model. When business experts talk about how to run a successful franchise, you’ll consistently hear that the product or service must be phenomenal and worth copying again and again and again. That’s true, obviously, but the best business model in the world won’t get you very far if the franchisor and the franchisees aren’t thinking and working together.
I’m the executive vice president at Wayback Burgers, a fast-casual restaurant franchise that serves customers throughout the United States and around the world. I’m convinced that our rapid success is a testament to the power of our relationships with our international master franchisees.
Instead of selling to individual franchisees overseas, we sell to master franchisees who can then look for area developers in each country. In doing so, we allow the master franchisee to work directly with the developers in their territory, where they understand the ins-and-outs of the local market. This all means that a master franchisee will hold a lot of power within your franchise, and it’s imperative to be careful and meticulous when partnering with masters in specific areas.
Each master franchisee must be extremely competent and someone with whom you’re in sync. This should be someone with a lot of character and moral fiber, and — I know how corny this sounds, but it’s true — the type of person you can bring home to your family for dinner. That makes sense since each master franchisee is a key part of the franchise family and a true extension of the franchisor in many ways.
Still, saying and doing something are two entirely different things. So, if you’re wondering how to develop that solid working relationship, fortunately, I have some suggestions.
Don’t be in a rush to find your international master franchisees. Do your vetting. Then vet some more, and vet some more. You must be thorough when you select a master franchisee and can’t let that big check they’re waving at you blind you or rob you of your common sense. It’s like any job interview. Everyone tells you how great they are, but you must confirm that, and you need to know the person is extremely competent and honest. If you get into business with the wrong group of people, they could replicate your brand and business model and then take your sign down and put up their own, so that their business seems like yours, or close enough, to the customer who isn’t discerning. Depending on the country, there may be very little legal recourse. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories out there.
Make sure you’re working in a part of the world open to franchises. As important as the relationship is, your master franchisee doesn’t operate via magic. They can only do so much if you’re entering a country that isn’t very amenable to American brands. Believe it or not, France, Italy and Spain are still in the dark ages when it comes to franchising. It’s changing in those places, but it’s a challenge, and you may not want to spend a lot of time, energy and financial resources trying to get a franchise in a part of the world that simply isn’t ready for your business.
It’s okay if the market is saturated with other franchises. In many ways, that’s preferable. If McDonald’s is in the country and they’re doing well, that’s a country we want to go to: We know the people like American brands and that they like burgers, and if McDonald’s is there, they’re getting most of their supplies and products in the region, and we can tap right into those same vendors. There’s still a great opportunity for us to market our brand as a better burger concept, setting ourselves apart from McDonald’s and upping the standards for our customers. You should be thinking that way, too. If you’re thinking of locating a franchise in a country where few franchises go, there may be a reason that no franchises are there.