What you need to know about international expansion

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Oct 2015 View comments

If you're considering expanding your franchise overseas, there's a few things you need to consider before jumping the gun. 

The top man behind The Leather Doctor shares his experience and insights with us on the cusp of his international expansion.

The Leather Doctor’s story of expansion

Dean Reid, CEO of Mobile Services International (MSi), might have been a little lucky with his international business expansion of The Leather Doctor but his strong network base was the true catalyst for his success.

The opportunity to grow overseas was brought to him by Dubai based removal firm eMovers' CEO Chirantan Joshi, who expressed his own troubles with solving the problem of damaged furniture, which is something he told Reid he had experienced occasionally in his business operations.

But it was one of Joshi’s major clients – and coincidentally a fellow Australian – who really nudged Reid in the right direction.

“eMovers was owned and operated by a very professional team of Indian ex-pats. Their CEO, Chirantan Joshi was having trouble solving the problem of furniture being damaged from time to time in the course of their business operations.

 “One of his major clients, Mobillia Furniture, was run by an Australian, Domenic Zaffino who called me from Dubai to say I should take Joshi’s calls seriously. This made me listed and we ended up granting eMovers the Master Franchise license for the UAE,” Reid says.

Reid didn’t plan for the international launch in November 2011 but with the push from Zaffino it all came to fruition, and he made the move to Dubai after granting eMovers the master franchising license for the United Arab Emirates.

Their business was young, underdeveloped and in need of veteran advice. And that was precisely Reid’s job: to pump them up and show them what it takes to be successful.

eMovers is not sub-franchising; this is a smart move according to Reid because this eliminated the opportunity for any one person to take all the business knowledge to start their own venture.

“After a return visit 18 months after start up, the Dubai team had grown to over 20 employees and several vehicles with an office also in neighbouring emirate Abu Dhabi,” Reid says.

Advice for international expansion

Reid says that having the idea to expand overseas is one thing but understanding the market is another. This knowledge of distinction is what will drive business success.

“There must be a demand and need for the service or product being offered. You should also be flexible on how the business is structured and how the brand is represented. We were fortunate that The Leather Doctor brand translated well into Arabic and Hindi – as Indians make up a large percentage of the population in Dubai.  It is important to understand the local government regulations and culture,” Reid says.

Little things such as understanding the nuances in cultural norms from your franchise’s country of origin are important because you don’t wait to offend the locals or portray a taboo. Be careful and do all of the homework you can.

“The last thing you want is for a word or logo to have an offensive or silly meaning. So in a nut shell, know the market, be flexible, do your homework and have plenty of time and money available. Some local knowledge is very helpful as well and even better if you have a team that is permanently based in that country and city,” Reid says.

The future of The Leather Doctor and its franchise challenges

As it stands The Leather Doctor has over 60 franchisees and technicians serving nationally and internationally with that number set to rise to 100 over the next five years.

Reid said that growth of that nature is achievable and viable given the demand for MSi’s services, which can be seen in the new launches of sister brands.

“Recently we have launched sister brands being, The Timber Doctor and The Fabric Doctor here in Australia. Each of these independent franchises has capacity for 50 franchisees so as an overall franchise group; we expect our total number to increase to 200 within the next five years,” Reid says.

Convincing potential franchisees that they can quickly learn how to repair leather is a big challenge for Reid. The business is very niche and the service is relatively unknown, which increases the difficulty of selling The Leather Doctor tag.

However, Reid says the training offered to potential franchisees is a structured program that’s quick and intuitive to learn.

“It’s not something you can just do yourself. Our training program is structured so that anyone can learn the skills needed to be a Leather Doctor franchisee. It’s not difficult when shown the correct techniques to follow the right system,” Reid says.

On the potential of mobile expansion

Reid sees endless potential in mobile services expansion largely due to the increasing busyness of today’s society, where people often don’t have time to transport their goods for repair.

“The potential is endless. We focus on all things in and around the home, office, hotel, gym etc. In today’s busy society, people don’t have time to bring large furniture items to a workshop to be repaired. 

“Also, there are many items we work on that simply cannot be removed from their location, so a mobile service is essential. Anything made of leather, vinyl, timber or fabric is potentially our market,” Reid says.