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Franchise Brands' strong core the key to growth plans

A strong central infrastructure is key to what is, in effect, a classic buy and build strategy
Dog sitting through Barking Mad

Franchise Brands PLC (LON:FRAN) does what it says on the tin – it owns branded businesses and franchises them out.

Under its umbrella, the company currently has four businesses but is in the process of beefing up its infrastructure, especially IT, after which it will add more.

WATCH: “A lot of businesses could benefit from professional central services” 

That strengthened infrastructure is key to what is, in effect, a classic buy and build strategy.

As more brands are added, more benefit (and profit) is extracted out of the management hub at the centre.

Stephen Hemsley, executive chairman and co-founder, is confident the plan will deliver substantial gains for shareholders.

And he has plenty of experience to draw on.

Twenty years of making dough

In a 20-year career at the Domino’s Pizza franchise in the UK, he steered the group from an early stage start-up to a market cap of £1.6bn currently.

Hemsley was finance director at first, then chief executive and finally chairman and he still retains links to Domino’s through a non-executive seat on the board.

His plans for Franchise Brands contain much of what he learnt during that time at the pizza delivery business.

Most franchise owners and managers are great at building a relationship with their franchisees, he says, but a lack of critical mass means they struggle with the support services requirements.

Finances are handled poorly, they recruit badly, have weak IT systems and lack marketing sophistication.

While a good relationship with the franchisees can compensate some way for this, Hemsley, and long-standing business partner Nigel Wray, believe a better option is to provide those skills to the franchises.

Sum of the parts

Brands with common characteristics can leverage a centralised support services function, so the sum of the parts becomes greater than each business individually – and that is what Franchise Brands aims to do.

It may sound like Domino’s UK pizza business, but there is one major difference.

Domino’s UK had an exclusive licence with the US owner, a master franchise, but this time Franchise Brands owns the brands itself, which crucially gives it complete control of marketing, branding and the other support services.

The four bands currently in the portfolio are Metro Rod (drainage and plumbing); ChipsAway (minor car paintwork repairs), Barking Mad (dog sitting) and Ovenclean (cleaning ovens).

All brands and IP are owned by the company, with direct franchises to operators in most cases, though ChipsAway does have some master licences overseas. 

Metro Rod points the way

It is the most profitable currently, but Metro Rod is the largest and most recent incomer, having been acquired for £28.4mln in April 2017, and will become increasingly important.

Hemsley says the potential of the business has surprised the company since it took over, especially the fact it is in effect two businesses.

Metro Plumb, a specialist plumbing service, effectively was thrown in for nothing and ultimately might have even more potential than Metro Rod, which specialises in drains cleaning and maintenance.

Both companies are B2B business, not domestic, working for utilities, businesses supplying emergency repair services and there are huge opportunities for each, Hemsley believes.

At Metro Rod, the initial thought was it would be competing with the four heavyweights in the sector, but in fact, the market contains 1,500 smaller players and that diversity gives a lot of scope to build market share.

“Out of a business worth £750mln, we have a market share of £35mln”.

Brand building

Metro Rod has also been a little neglected. Formed 30 years ago, it has changed hands a few times since, but this is the first time a specialist franchising team has held the management reins for more than 20 years.

Brand building features heavily in the rejuvenation plans.

“It’s all in the sales and marketing – professionalising this to raise the profile of the brand and the understanding of what we do.” 

Adding Metro Rod has also allowed Franchise Brands to strengthen its IT infrastructure – it never had the scale previously – and finance function with a chief financial officer now on board as well.

That has freed up the three managing directors, which now includes one to run Metro Rod, within the business, just to focus on building the franchise networks not the back-office or admin stuff.

These investments will dampen profits in the short term as the additional central costs will outrun the growth in the income received from franchisees, but as sales pick up or more brands are added, the rewards will come through increasing rapidly.

That was how it worked at Domino’s, Hemsley says.

Invest first, profits later

Initially, royalty income from franchise businesses struggle to keep up with central costs, but once the system is in place and annualised, any further expansion drops straight to the bottom line.  

“At Domino’s we had five years of growing overheads as costs rose as fast as income.  

“But once everything was in place, profits went from £5mln to £100mln.” 

House broker Allenby Capital expects Franchise Brand’s profits in 2018 to rise to £2.81mln from £2.1mln, on revenues of £33mln (£24.3mln).

Cash generation is good as commercial risks and capital expenditure are borne by the franchisees.

Franchise also pays a dividend, 0.5p in 2017, while Hemsley and Wray still own stakes of 26.4% and 27.8% respectively.

Executing the strategy for Metro Rod will take 18 months but after that point, Hemsley says the incremental turnover starts to come through on annualised overhead costs.

“From 2019 onwards – it will start to get interesting”.

At 73.5p, Franchise Brands is valued at £55mln.

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