While the lockdown (for many, at least) may be over, the impact that Coronavirus has had on UK business – let alone wider society – is something we’ll be feeling for months, likely even years, to come.
Franchising is no exception.
So, what has the franchise industry learned from this extraordinary few months? How have franchises made use of the government’s schemes; how have franchisees handled expectations; and how have franchisors managed their business through this pandemic?
Rather understandably, the media’s coverage of UK business – in relation to COVID-19 at least – has been somewhat gloomy of late. And whilst the struggles experienced by many companies shouldn’t get overlooked, it’s important to acknowledge those businesses that have flourished in light of Coronavirus. Not least, to try and understand what they’ve done, how they’ve done it and whether there’s anything we can learn from their experiences.
Managing a business (like EweMove) through a pandemic…At Danbro, we’re franchise accounting specialists. We work with franchise networks across the UK, including award-winning Estate and Lettings Agency, EweMove. Since lockdown ended, EweMove’s business volumes have grown exponentially, increasing by 50%. To find out how they’ve managed such an impressive level of growth in such a challenging period, we caught up (virtually) with their Managing Director, Nick Neill. Nick started by telling us which aspects of the business’s management he’d found most challenging during the pandemic’s peak.
“Navigating through lockdown has kept us on our toes,” he admitted. “But I do know that our franchisees have very much appreciated the analysis, guidance and policy development we’ve been able to pull together. It’s saved each of our operators the task of having to work everything out for themselves.”
That said, “having a consistent and engaging experience with all franchisees is key for our customers. So, not having regular face-to-face meetings has been tough on everyone. No matter how effective video conferencing is, it doesn’t replace the interaction and alignment you get when you’re in the same room as your peers and colleagues.”
On an individual level, Nick said: “A challenging and unusual task for me to deal with was balancing the support our suppliers could provide with the demands our franchisees had for us to reduce our fees. Most of which is used to pay suppliers on their behalf. Fortunately, with an engaged and high-quality supplier base, we were able to navigate this conundrum quite successfully. This has helped our franchisees’ cash flow.”
‘Deploy your action plans with speed & focus’So, what lessons have EweMove learned as a result of managing their business through this pandemic, then? And, have they implemented any changes moving forward?
“Personally,” Nick said, “I’ve learned to scan and respond to events more diligently. What one might regard as a remote issue can creep up and bite you if you’re not prepared. Being pushed by my CEO to take early action, when – like many others – I was sceptical, was a real learning point to take forward.”
And on the business more broadly?
“Once action plans get decided and agreed upon, deploying them with speed and focus is a must. Perhaps the swift action taken by many [businesses] in response to COVID-19 will become a habit, feeding through into greater vigour and focus for future business growth plans. How cool would that be for UK PLC?”
By our reckoning, pretty cool indeed.
‘50% business volume growth.’ But how?“What we knew but perhaps didn’t appreciate was how effective our existing, cloud-based operational set-up was,” Nick continued. “We were able to instantly deploy to 100% remote operations, across all areas of our business, including Head office. This has been a great help, allowing us to maintain our interaction with customers throughout lockdown. So much so, that since coming out of lockdown, we’ve been busy, dealing with all those potential customers who weren’t getting served by our competitors.”
To put that into context, since emerging from lockdown, EweMove’s business volumes have grown by about 50%. That’s against an all market growth metric of c20%, post-lockdown.
“We’re enjoying a rapid acceleration of business,” Nick said. “Some of that can be attributed to a backlog that couldn’t get completed during lockdown. While some of it has to do with the Stamp Duty holiday (until March 2021). But it’s also due to people wanting to change their lifestyle and move away from high concentration living (cities, etc.). It’s an unexpected, but welcome, way to grow our market share.”
EweMove has over 110 franchisees, employing more than 230 people. These are figures which have continued to increase throughout our longstanding relationship with them. We began working with EweMove over five years ago. And, Danbro are now responsible for providing our specialist, cloud-based accountancy services to the vast majority of the company’s national franchise network.
It’s not only EweMove’s increased market share which has improved during (and after) lockdown, either.
“Our internal communications have improved,” Nick suggests. “For our Head Office team, we’ve held daily Zoom calls at the end of every working day since March 23rd. This is to provide an informal chat space for everyone to keep in touch and have some fun in an otherwise sterile and repetitive home working environment. As for franchisees, we’ve hosted many a webinar to keep the network motivated and up-to-date.”
Managing your business through a pandemic… with help from the government?The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is one of many initiatives launched by the government during the last few months in an attempt to help businesses survive the financial fallout from COVID-19. So, which schemes have EweMove made use of? And, how does Nick assess the government’s package of support in relation to the franchise industry?
“It made sense to furlough team members who had less work to do, so we could bring them back when the time was right,” Nick acknowledges. “That was great for us as a PLC. [Complying with changing COVID-19 regulations] hasn’t been too difficult, but it has required some focus. Being part of a PLC means that we have access to a broader team, which has helped with analysis and policy development. And with strong leadership from our CFO and CEO, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve emerged stronger and more quickly than we ever imagined.”
But, whilst Nick is complimentary in his assessment of the CJRS, his praise does not extend to the measures – or lack thereof – introduced to help franchisees.
‘Bounce Back loans… a saving grace’“The support available for franchisees was fairly pitiful,” he said. “Especially those who had less than 18 months trading history and no filed accounts. As any small business owner knows, when you start your new business you ‘go without’. That includes paying yourself a salary as you plough all your resources back into your growing business.”
“Trying to claim for ‘lost earnings’ was a folly,” he continued. “This meant the financial aid to new and growing businesses was poor. What’s more, in the main, we (EweMove} don’t operate from high street premises. So, we weren’t even eligible for the council grants that others enjoyed.”
There is approval for one governmental scheme in particular, though.
“Our saving grace was the Bounce Back loan scheme. Whilst it did arrive a little late to the party, it was welcome nonetheless.”
Speculate to accumulateHaving successfully managed his business through this pandemic then, how does Nick see the franchise industry moving forward post-COVID? And, what tips does he have for other businesses and franchises who may be struggling as we continue to emerge from the pandemic? Well, for Nick, it’s about using the tools at your disposal, including the Bounce Back loan scheme.
“If you haven’t already taken advantage of the Bounce Back loan scheme, do it! All businesses grow from wise investment choices. Having this cash, which is free of repayments and interest for the first year, is a gift horse no business owner should shy away from. Be brave, be bold, and invest that money to grab greater market share while you can.”
“For the franchising industry I think growth is more likely than any other huge changes. This is no bad thing. Customers get a better and more consistent experience. People remain safe and compliant by deploying known processes and systems. And, those starting their own franchise are less likely to fail than if they were to go it alone.”
“It’s win-win-win all round.”
Sam Wright is Danbro’s Marketing Manager. He produces regular content and feature articles on our digital and non-digital channels – and social platforms – for the Danbro Group and its subsidiaries, as well as having responsibility for the Company’s internal and external communications.
His background is in Journalism and Creative Writing, having previously contributed to publications such as The Daily Post, The Lancashire Evening Post, and The Blackpool Gazette.
He is a keen swimmer and avid Manchester United fan (but don’t hold that against him), and he lives in Lancashire with his wife, Sarah.