Franchisors answer U.S. government’s call for business expertise
Kabul, Afghanistan is a combination of old and new infrastructure and ideas. Photo by Rogelio Martinez.
There are 13 checkpoints between the street and the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, plus a maze of concrete bumpers, bomb-sniffing canines and British and Afghani guards before you get to the U.S. Marines. But only four bullet-proof doors armed with guards to go through in order to get into your hotel lobby.
Welcome to the next franchise territory.
Buildings that show what war does to a neighborhood.
Four franchisors—AlphaGraphics, Hertz Equipment Rental, Tutor Doctor and RadioShack—and a representative from the International Franchise Association visited Afghanistan in November in answer to the U.S. government’s commitment to help the Afghani economy as the last of the U.S. troops are scheduled to leave the country by 2014.
“I thought long and hard about going,” said William Edwards of Edwards Global Services, who represented a client, AlphaGraphics, on the unofficial trade mission. “But I’m glad I did.” The experience was unique, to say the least, unlike anything he’s seen in all his years in international development, he said.
The necessity for extra security was palpable, said Rogelio Martinez, vice president of international development for Tutor Doctor. While they expected the women to wear head coverings, many of the men in the streets wore scarfs that covered their faces from the nose down. People walking around the public streets armed with AK47s was a common sight, he said, adding, “After awhile you get used to it, because they don’t shoot, they just carry them.”
When the delegation did venture out, they were driven around in armored cars provided by the embassy. Also disconcerting was knowing the cars were equipped with cell-phone jammers so no one’s phone ringtone could set off a roadside bomb, Martinez said.
In case they ever began to forget where they were, their hotels gave them a wake-up call. Every morning at 7:30 the water went off. The first morning, Edwards says he had just lathered his face to shave when the water disappeared. The second morning, he was just about to step into the shower. The third morning, he waited and his reward was to find the water did indeed go off every morning at 7:30. But it did come back on.
The delegation, along with in-country executives.
The delegation crammed a significant amount of activity into their short stay. There were two solid days of meetings: the first day with large companies, the second with smaller entrepreneurial businesses. “We were exposed to a lot of people, the movers and shakers,” Edwards said. They saw where the Taliban operates and where development is happening. The city was pretty basic, Edwards said. “War does not involve lots of nice infrastructure,” he pointed out.
The area at one time was beautiful, but it’s now brown, thanks to the Taliban’s destruction. Martinez describes the scenery as a painting where someone has removed all the colors, but your eye can still see where the colors could be, and will be, if the painting is properly restored.
When a country is rebuilding, education and training are among the services needed. Which is why Martinez believes there is a need for Tutor Doctor’s services. Noteworthy is that of the franchisors hand-picked to go on the mission, none was quick-service food, one of the first industries that usually breaks the ice in a new country. Current companies there are construction and logistical businesses supporting the military, which will be leaving.
Edwards describes the business leaders they met as extremely friendly, straight-talking and smart. A bonus is they spoke English. “The Afghans are grateful,” he said. “They like our help.” They also saw quite a few business women. They wore head scarves, draped loosely around their faces, but the rest of their clothes were Western style.
Rogelio Martinez (l); Beth Solomon, former IFA vice president; and university president, John Smith.
The trip was tense and it wasn’t until they were on the flight home, Edwards said, that they realized how worn out they were.
Hertz Equipment Rental already has locations there, but on military bases, not with local entrepreneurs as franchisees.
Martinez is confident Tutor Doctor will have franchises there, but the structure will be different. For instance, they will award much larger territories or “buy two territories get a third one free,” to compensate for the Afghanis’s desire to bargain, he said. The culture is so different from ours, he added, that Americans have to be savvy about not only language differences, but also visual cues: “It’s easy to miscommunicate,”he warned.