‘Franchise’ is almost a dirty word in the aftermarket, but is there an opportunity that is being missed here? Mike Owen suggests not
Franchises come in all shapes and sizes from McDonalds to mopeds, a plethora of VMs and then the smaller offerings which, frankly, are little more than pyramid selling in disguise.
The first rule, and like Monty Pythons ‘Bruce’s sketch’ every other rule thereafter is check your chosen franchisor – it is not unknown for these companies to go down the tubes and, as with Rover, take many well-established franchisees with them to ‘Carey Street’ or at least leave you holding the baby.
Now, a good franchise relationship does two things, it gives an income stream to the franchisee and incremental sales to the franchisor – a relationship is born!
As with any relationship they need nurturing, can go wrong and often have a dominant partner.
There are two basic reasons for considering a franchise. The first is for volume; a recognised name that will bring customers to your door, the second, surprisingly, is business discipline – training and business systems aimed at making the franchisee more professional.
In our industry when we talk about ‘franchises’ the first thing to spring into anyone’s mind is a vehicle franchise and that involves crossing over to the dark side! Firstly, and contrary to opinion, are not generally available – it is well known that the old ‘territory’ system was overturned by the European Commission only to be reincarnated under ‘Areas of Influence’ which are not quite as rigid but come a pretty close second!
You will note that the old ‘family’ garage business has all but disappeared in favour of the ‘groups’ or Plc’s – this offers comfort to the franchisee that the company is correctly funded and under proper financial control – they are fed up with getting burned.
Now suppose you have the premises in the right area and it is an ‘open-point’ for a franchise worth having, you are prepared to build from the floor to meet the draconian ‘corporate identity’ standards and, having spent a couple of million and still have a few more millions to go, let’s talk turkey.
As you stand on the edge of the world and prepare to leap into the abyss of becoming a Dealer consider the Faustian degree of your decision – just how far are you getting into bed with the devil?
Before the ink is dry on the contract your life will change – do not expect to operate a franchise for profit; your life will become entirely dependent on ‘standards bonuses’. Back in the good-old days when you could expect 18-20% discount on your cars and up to 50% on parts, now you may squeak 5% on vehicles and 18-20% on parts – the problem is you will be expected to give it all away. Your purchase margin will be passed on to your customers.
Standards bonus cover all things from vehicle sales volumes to customer satisfaction indexes and from parts penetration to finance penetration – the number of cars you sell using the franchises finance offerings. Compulsory training will be charged for and your warranty account will be watched like a hawk. You will input your business information to be measured as part of the ‘Inter Firm Comparison’ and you will receive your data back compared with national, local, size related and upper quartile businesses across the country. Your franchise representatives, be they Sales, Aftersales or Business, will be in and out of your business like a fiddler’s elbow and your life will belong to them.
But return to these standards bonuses – you will be told what they could (or should) be but at each inspection you will receive de-merits; how much they will be reduced by, this creates a very threatening relationship. The top brick on the chimney for the franchisors, in this case the manufacturers, book of measurements, has to be volume! I get this, they are dependent on volume of manufacture and long gone as are Red-Robo and the fields full of new vehicles covered in brambles of the 70s and 80s. For the franchisee – you, you will quickly find that operating on a zero-profit basis on the promise of standards bonus to turn your empire into a success you will do anything to hit volume; this is where self-registered vehicles come into your life.
Self-registration is where you take stock vehicles and register them just to hit bonus. The consequence is that you now have a registered new vehicle that is immediately depreciated and going steadily down each month – now trading for nothing becomes trading for a loss. Experience dictates that a phone call will happen at 16:00 on the last day of the month informing you to register 50 units! But, you shout, they’re not allowed to self- register; suffice it to say, there are ways and means…
Dealer management is not for the feint-hearted, more those with a degree in self-deception but please don’t think it can’t be done; it can and is. The art is in never stop negotiating with your franchise, never accept you’re on the best terms, deals are done all over and you’ll need to be cautious!
So there you are, and all that just to have a new car five or six times a year and be taxed on it by HMRC – are you mad?