FranchiseSales.co.uk: Why did you choose franchising as your method of expansion?
Neil Waller: When we started to think about expanding our business in 2007 we began exploring the different options available to us. When we learnt about the franchise model it was a real turning point for us.
The franchise model allows us to join forces with likeminded and entrepreneurial individuals or companies who become partners in our business – sharing our enthusiasm, dedication and passion for what we do.
FS: What sets your online franchise apart from other franchises and business opportunities in your sector?
NW: There are not too many internet franchises out there, especially when we started four years ago – it was very different to what people were used to. Even today, when you think of franchising you think of coffee bars and fast-food chains, not websites, so back when we started we were kind or reinventing the wheel.
Trying to convince people that this model does work and that we weren’t trying to scam anyone was not easy.
We are pumping every cent back into the sites to make sure we get the better of our competition
The key to running a successful franchise is the support and direction of the franchisor. The franchisee is your business partner as well as your number-one customer, so any request from our franchisees is dealt with immediately and we have a great support team always on hand.
We are also always pushing forward; not for one week have we remained the same. We are pumping every cent back into the sites to make sure we get the better of our competition.
FS: What do you look for in a franchisee?
NW: We have managed to create a network of franchisees with a diverse range of backgrounds. The thing they have in common is a real passion for their destinations, combined with an enthusiasm for our business and what we are aiming to achieve. Our business is built on relationships so what we look for are people who are sociable, enjoy networking and meeting new people.
FS: How are franchisees getting on so far – both in terms of relationships with head office and the role itself?
NW: Our franchisees are getting on very well, making money while having fun. We are always trying to improve the product to make their job as easy as possible. They speak to each other to bounce ideas around or share contacts and are in touch with our office on a daily basis.
Our annual conferences are quite a special occasion; it’s fascinating seeing everyone come together once a year, from all different cultures and walks of life, and to have a group of people that get on so well... but we forget they have been talking with each throughout the year.
FS: Can you think of an instance where a franchisee has encountered a problem and head office has helped them resolve it?
NW: This happens on a day-to-day basis in many small ways: assisting franchisees with a challenging sales pitch, helping to arrange local marketing plans, and so on. A larger issue arose when one of our franchisees had to relocate back to the UK because of a family matter and could no longer operate the franchise.
We marketed and sold the franchise for them within just one month, recouping them more than their initial franchise fee and removing the stress for them.
FS: How hard is it to strike a balance between getting franchisees to follow a proven formula but also encouraging them to think independently and suggest ways to improve performance?
NW: I would certainly say we are more flexible than most franchisors in this respect, as in we often bow to the franchisee’s local knowledge. We have to be flexible because what works in one destination does not necessarily work in another, so we constantly have to adapt ourselves to new markets.
We are forever guiding our franchisees, but at the end of the day they know what works best in their local markets – they are the local experts, and this is part of the reason why our model works.
FS: What are your hopes and expectations for MyDestinationinfo over the next 5-10 years?
NW: Five to 10 years is a long, long time. We didn’t exist five years ago but this is going to be a huge year for us.
In January 2009 we had two million visitors to our websites and were franchises in 35 destinations; fast forward 12 months and visitors numbers soared to eight million and franchised locations to 85.
By the end of 2011 we hope to reach 150 franchises and for the network to have achieved 24 million visitors. In five years time we aim to be one of the biggest travel brands on the planet.