Franchisors change their business focus


Mar 25, 2008

Selling her very first yoga studio more than a year ago was like saying goodbye to an old friend, says yogi Jenny Kierstead, but she’s happy she chose to franchise because it has allowed her to stay involved with the business.

"It’s partly why I chose to franchise," she says. "I’m not teaching anymore at Breathing Space Yoga Studio in the West End Mall and it’s remoulded itself to the new owner’s energy. But the standard is still there and the business is still growing."

Ms. Kierstead opened the second Breathing Space Yoga Studio in Bedford in February 2008.

"My belief is that yoga is such an amazing practice that I want as many people doing yoga as possible and the way I can do that is to expand my reach through opening more studios," she says.

"We’ve created a model that really works and impacts people in a really deep way. I decided to franchise to sustain the essence of the yoga studio, while expanding into other communities."

Becoming a legal franchisor was big step for Ms. Kierstead and creating an operations manual and doing all the necessary paperwork was a major task.

"I have a fantastic business coach in Truro, Debbie Lawrence, who helped us create from scratch what you do when you walk into the studio, instructions on how to operate the machinery, and all the nitty-gritty details," says Ms. Kierstead. "Our branding involves this community-centred, warm, heart-centred energy and I found it much trickier to articulate and pass on those softer qualities."

Finding the perfect franchisee was a challenge, too.

"We were negotiating with someone else, but decided it wasn’t a good fit," she says. "We just stopped and put it out there to a few people and Sherry Zak, who did my teacher training course last year, was really interested. She’s a massage therapist who lives nearby and Breathing Space Yoga Studio is a really good fit for her."

Like many franchisors, Ms. Kierstead sees her main role turning from providing a service to clients to servicing the franchisees.

"You move into a management role and it’s entirely different," says Ms. Kierstead.

"I see myself becoming the teacher of these owners where we have regular retreats, deepen our practice and talk about business challenges, so that I become their business and yoga guide. I see that as my role in the near future."

Holly Bond, franchisor of Bulldog Fitness, now does franchise consulting as a sideline business and says she learned about franchising the hard way.

She opened her first location in Dartmouth in February 2005 and sold her first franchise by August of that year. She has since sold eight franchises in Canada and three in Boca Raton, Florida. On Monday it was announced the company had been purchased by DHX Media, a local producer and distributor of television programming and interactive content.

She didn’t start out interested in franchising.

"I was in a unique situation where my big mouth and my ambition got me in trouble," says Ms. Bond.

During a CTV interview about Bulldog Fitness, an exergaming gym for teens, she mentioned that she planned to franchise.

"I never really thought about what I was saying," she says. "The next day, when I got home from working at the gym, I had 103 new e-mails. CTV had broadcast that piece every 20 minutes and people from all over Canada had seen it and were interested in the franchise idea and wanted information."

Because they were the first company in the world to use video games for exercising, Ms. Bond knew she had two choices: franchise right away or wait for somebody else to do it.

"There was a very steep learning curve," she says. "It would have been a good idea to have two or three locations open before doing this, so all the bugs could have been ironed out. I recommend that would-be franchisors open several locations and get the recipe set. Co-own it and use the co-owners as guinea pigs to figure out how to train franchisees."

Ms. Bond says she didn’t sleep much for the first year.

"I needed pre-opening manuals by law, operations manuals by law where you have to write the most minute details at a Grade 3 level," she says. "Our manual is 500 pages and I had to write it myself."

Her work at the gym had to come to a halt, too.

"You can’t be a franchisee and a franchisor at the same time," she says. "Now my sole purpose is servicing franchisees. It’s not fair to spend time in the Dartmouth gym when the franchisees need me. It wouldn’t work."

Lorraine McLachlan, executive director of the Canadian Franchise Association, says in franchising you are running your own business using a model developed by somebody else.

"A big piece of the success in the franchise business model is the exact replication of the business each time it’s run. Franchisees have to be entrepreneurial but willing to follow the plan. So, if you’re really a maverick and what you really want to do is start and develop your own business concept, then going into an existing franchise system is probably not the best decision for you."