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Cards on the table

Robina Every is sales and franchise director of Card Connection.

Card Connection is one of the UK's most successful card publishers and the market leader in the franchised distribution of greeting cards. Robina Every looks at what makes the firm's franchises so successful and reveals how tenacity and teamwork are key

These days, it seems, there are many that dream of giving up the rat-race and escaping to the country to run a family business. Starting on your own might seem like a great idea but, with statistics demonstrating that more than one-third of start-ups fail within the first three years, this might be considered a risky option. However, taking on a franchise might provide the answer – as it has for a number of family-run franchises for Card Connection.

In the UK, data show from more than 30,000 franchisees that set up over five years ago 96% are still in business. From this it is clear the threat of failure when starting in business can be dramatically reduced by purchasing a franchise.
By buying into an established company the risk is reduced not only because the business idea is already proven, but the infrastructure of a national organisation provides franchisees with ongoing support including corporate marketing, ­training and advice which is so ­critical during those first tough years.

At Card Connection our franchisees come from every walk of life. Ticket collectors, coal merchants and city bank managers have all become owners of Card Connection franchises. However, some of our most profitable franchisees are run by families working together as a team rather than individuals alone.
For many, one of the advantages of running a franchise is that it can offer a complete lifestyle change. It provides the chance to be your own boss with the support and back-up of an established company behind you. In addition, it is flexible enough to fit around family commitments or provide a profitable income in an idyllic, rural location where other well-paid employment tends to be scarce.

But it is not for everyone and there are a few occasions where franchises have simply not worked out. So if you are considering uprooting the family and buying a franchise, what needs to be done in order to maximise its chances of success?

The first point potential franchisees need to consider is their own personal ability and commitment to run a business. It is important that strengths and weaknesses are recognised from the outset as these will have a significant impact on the way the ­operation is run on a daily basis and its likely success in the long term. One of the traits all our high achieving franchisees share is the tenacity and determination they possess to run their own businesses.

Dudley Horner is one of Card Connection's first franchisees and runs his east Yorkshire territory with his wife and son. He says: "Managing a franchise is not rocket science. With the support of your franchisor behind you, almost anyone can do it providing you are prepared to put in the hours and have the determination to maintain the momentum in order to drive the business forward."
In addition, to run a successful franchise, like any business, it is critical franchisees accept and enjoy responsibility. Although the franchisor will offer support and advice if something goes wrong, at the end of the day it is the franchisee that must take action to solve the problem using the experience of the wider organisation. And it can be guaranteed, whatever issue is encountered, someone somewhere, has already faced a similar situation and the franchisor will be able to provide the necessary assistance.

When families work together, the success of a franchise is often more critical than that of an individual as it is likely that this is the only source of income for the whole family unit.
Teamwork, commitment and tenacity to achieve results must be a priority for each person involved in the day-to-day effort of running the business. It holds true the saying the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Keeping up the motivation of a team can be the hardest work of all and yet it is key to encouraging individuals to work together and ultimately achieve better results than one person alone. At Card Connection we have seen this is accomplished more easily with family units than with a group of unrelated people as essentially those involved are all more closely aligned to the same goal.

Dudley Horner says: "Working with my wife and son every day means all aspects of the business are looked after by people I can trust. As the franchise is run from home, having the family involved also means it is not necessary to invite employees into our house which, given the flexibility of the working hours required, is also important."

One of the other elements to consider when running a franchise, particularly when the whole family is involved and the business is run from home, is work-life balance. In the anxiety to be successful it is necessary not to lose sight of the importance of rest and relaxation and quality time spent with the family. The advantage of not working the traditional hours of nine to five should not impact negatively on family life. However, if work and life become un-balanced it will be detrimental to both the family relationships and running of the business in the long term.

Choosing a franchise
If a franchisee has decided they have the ability not to get phased by knock-backs, they are prepared to work hard, and have a passion for achievement, then the next step is to research the franchise options available thoroughly – and there are many.

Choosing the right franchise is critical. Attending exhibitions and looking through the pages of the franchise press reveal there are a huge number of companies to pick from. It is important to decide on an industry in an area that interests the family and one they will all enjoy, then research the possible opportunities carefully.

It is essential to opt for an established company with a proven track record and a good reputation. It should also be a member of the British Franchise Association and run its business in accordance with the best practices laid down in the BFA Ethics to Franchising guide.

Then ask to talk to its existing franchisees. This always gives a great insight into what it is really like to run the business on a day-to-day basis.

Dudley Horner says: "Card Connection is a demanding franchisor. However, this ensures the company continues to develop the product and the card designs are kept up to date. It also means we can continue to build on our strong customer base and this is one of the most important aspects in increasing the earning potential and capital value of a franchise."
Once the decision is made that franchising is a viable option for the family involved and a company is found that can support the new venture, it will need to be financed. If the family is moving to a rural location this could be from equity in property or borrowing from friends and relatives. If this is not an option, it will be necessary to talk to any high street bank. These days, they all have franchising departments and can lend up to 70% of the franchise purchase price.
That said, it is important when buying a franchise not to over-borrow. At Card Connection we recommend that not more than 50% of the purchase price of any territory comes from borrowing. In this way, new franchisees will not overstretch themselves and put themselves or their family at risk in those critical early years.

Similarly it is vital not to underestimate the working capital that is required to run a franchise on a day-to-day basis particularly while it is growing. Problems with cash flow can be mistaken for poor profitability but careful planning and monitoring will prevent unpleasant surprises.
The choice of location is also important. For a franchise like Card Connection, it is essential that franchisees live in their respective territories. Dudley Horner advises that, "time is money and accessibility to your customers is key." Although a significant proportion of his business is conducted around the cities of Hull and Doncaster he doesn't see an issue with a rural location.
In fact he explains, "a countryside location like east Yorkshire is probably easier than London providing it's got good transport links because on the whole there is less traffic to contend with."

Escape to the country
With a combination of the right choice of location, hard work, tenacity and teamwork, all backed up by proper research and the essential funding, much can be gained from buying the right franchise. It is possible, as Card Connection's franchisees over the years have shown, for any family with the right qualities to realise that long-lived dream of escaping to the country.

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