As travel companies look for ways to grow, could franchises be the answer? Barrhead appears to think so. Melanie Hall talks to the agency's new manager tasked with developing its network
After dipping its toe into franchising back in 2004, Barrhead Travel plans to ramp up its network, aiming to add one or two franchisees every month to its own 40 retail shops.
It’s a task that falls to new business development manager Sharon Anderson, who joined the company in November – and she’s relishing the challenge.
Barrhead already has seven branded and 19 non-branded partners and is keeping its options open by looking at all possible ways to expand its influence.
Strictly speaking, Barrhead’s ‘franchises’ aren’t franchises at all, but managed branches that benefit from the company’s technology, expertise and commercial terms – similar to the Hays Travel Independence Group and Advantage’s Managed Services arm.
Barrhead’s managed branches have all their customer and supplier payments handled by Barrhead, as well as all their administration and IT, and are paid a handling fee for bookings.
In exchange, franchisees benefit from having greater buying power and access to suppliers than they would if they weren’t part of Barrhead.
“We are just looking at different models,” explains Anderson. “Some of the franchises are changing shape all the time.
“We have business owners working from home, and also have franchises under the Barrhead name on the high street.
“Some of the franchisees have been in business for years so they bring their experience with them.”
Barrhead’s first franchise was in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, which opened in 2004, but the agency chain claims it has included increasing franchise numbers in its expansion strategy only since 2010.
Anderson said that Barrhead has recently started advertising again for franchisees. “It’s exciting,” she said. “Hopefully we are looking for one or two to join every month.”
Barrhead has also just confirmed that it will change its payment structure for franchise branches, moving to a system where commission is paid at the time of booking, rather than when the customer pays the balance.
The company hasn’t set a date for the new payment system to come into force, although its is expected to begin in the next few months.
Anderson joined Barrhead from Thomas Cook and is quickly getting to grips with the company, particularly franchises, after a very busy past couple of months.
“December was a hurricane,” she said, adding that January’s sales period has been manically busy too.
“I’m just getting to know it all just now but we are looking to grow the business.”
At Thomas Cook, Anderson spent a lot of time on the road supporting the chain’s homeworkers as a supervision manager, an experience she plans to put to good use in her new role.
She started out in travel 13 years ago, joining Thomas Cook as a sales agent in a call centre. After working in different areas, she became a supervision manager last year, spending 60% of her time out of the office coaching the homeworkers.
“You have to be a special type of person to work from home,” said Anderson. “Many do it really well, but they also need that point of contact from managers. So it’s just knowing that you are keeping tabs on everyone and you have that network in place.”
Does Anderson think that Britain will go the way of the US and go more down the franchise route?
“It’s definitely the way forward,” she said, adding that “there will always be a need” for bricks-and-mortar stores despite the growth of online sales.
“Customers still want the store on the high street, they need face‑to-face contact,” she insisted.
Anderson is optimistic about 2013. “I’m 100% sure that Barrhead will grow and grow,” she said. “It will increase its number of branches on the high street. We won’t stagnate.”
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