KM: Have U.K. brands managed to pivot and adapt enough to overcome the pandemic’s impact, or will there continue to be roadblocks?
PW: I think there are always going to be roadblocks, but resilience will become a part of the training that people undergo. People now have more contingency plans than ever before; we saw burnout toward the end of previous lockdowns, where brands were continuously trying to change at pace. But I think that will become commonplace now.
For franchising, there were so many great examples of change and evolution. In the U.K., we had government support like you didn’t see in other countries. I’m lucky enough to sit on the World Franchise Council, and we had pandemic calls every week in 2020 and 2021, which are now monthly. We discussed government support, and the U.K. supported better than most other countries involved in those calls.
There’s now going to be more of an emphasis on the management of finances and cash flow to make sure that businesses are ready.
KM: Why do you think large international franchisors choose to target the U.K. over other European markets?
PW: I think one of the key things is language. If you look at U.K. brands looking to expand abroad, they go to Ireland first and then they target the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, or Canada. They go English-speaking.
An element of that is that we see a lot of American brands going to Canada first; it’s a little like their version of Ireland. They then look to come to the U.K. because it’s English-speaking.
A great benefit of the U.K. market is that it’s not regulated; there is no legislation here. It makes franchising into the U.K. cheaper, and you don’t have to prepare huge FDDs like you do in the U.S. It makes it easier for franchisors when they’re looking to expand.
From a property perspective, with the pandemic there’ll be lots of available properties where businesses outside of franchising may no longer exist.
KM: What are some nuances of the U.K. that international franchisors may not be aware of?
PW: We all talk about a franchise family, and in the U.K. that’s never been more true. We are small enough that everybody knows everybody, and we educate and learn together.
There’s also a big push in the U.K., more than anywhere else, for high-quality franchisees. That means franchisees that are educated and know that they’re buying a franchise for the long-term; something they can resell. That doesn’t happen everywhere. The failure rate here has been less than five per cent for more than 20 years, because franchisors are super selective about who they bring onboard.
More and more franchisees are also looking at what values that franchisor has, and whether they align with their own. It’s less about how much money they can make, and more about making sure that it fits for your own personal goals and drivers. We’re probably one of the most educated countries when it comes to franchising, and ensuring that it’s the right fit for all involved.