Phoning it in from London, England
I went to London, not to visit the Queen—although I did see her drive by slowly in the backseat of her sleek, black Rolls Royce—but to check out England’s suitability for a future franchise trade mission.
In the past, Franchise Times and the International Franchise Association have teamed up with the U.S. Commercial Service to escort and inform franchise development executives in a host of different developing markets from Egypt to Nigeria to China. But we’ve never seriously considered mature markets with a lot of historic sights an English major has always wanted to see.
I suppose at this point I should disclose this was an endeavor I solely took upon myself to do. Neither IFA nor the Commercial Service asked me to undertake this research project, although IFA’s Josh Merin and the Commercial Service’s Jennifer Loffrado both told me to enjoy my vacation. Why they thought it was a vacation, I have no clue.
I followed the advice of Pamela Pappas Stanoch, president of the Athena Group Int’l about staying in a nice hotel—just in case I needed to talk franchising with someone—and to dress up. (See her story on cultural training on page 54.) It helps that Pappas Stanoch also owns a boutique in my neighborhood in Minneapolis that features French designers at a reasonable price. I did look trés chic checking out the Subways, the one U.S. franchise that appears ubiquitous there.
I didn’t eat at a London Subway, because since it is a franchise, I already knew what the food tasted like. I remember years ago when my younger daughter went to Germany with her high school soccer team, she told me the only good meal she had the whole time was at Pizza Hut. “Really,” I said intrigued (this was pre-Franchise Times), “is the pizza different there than it is here?” “No,” she replied, a little unkindly. “It tastes exactly like it does here—and it wasn’t German food.”
Pub chains are sneakier in the U.K. than in the U.S. I ate at a number of pubs that all looked quaintly old and unique, only to find the exact same printed menu I saw at another establishment. Many of the bars saved money by eliminating bar stools and people stood at the bar and conversed or took their pints outside on the sidewalk or in the alleys.
There were no special accommodations outdoors, such as roped-off seating, just exterior walls to lean against while waving your glass pint as you talked or smoked. U.S. municipalities could take a page from their book on looser zoning laws. And U.S. diners also should note that the reason to be at a bar is to socialize in person, not spend all your time on your mobile device.
One of the reasons I chose London was because people there speak my language. But they don’t really. When I asked the concierge what the dress code was for the restaurant where I was having dinner, he replied, “Smart.” Not sure if what I was wearing was appropriate, I asked, “Do I look smart to you?”
Other word usage was odd as well. Our “to go” food is “take away” there. So be careful if you deliver a speech in England not to ask the audience what their take aways were or you might get their leftovers.
Back at the hotel, the elevator kept telling passengers to “mind the doors.” I like to follow directions, so I kept waiting for further instruction from the doors. It never came.
England’s government also has a better sense of humor than ours because there were several areas with signs warning of humps in the road. (Imagine U.S. high school counselors warning graduating students about the many humps in the road they were going to encounter when they got to college. )
But the government also is cognizant that many of us foreigners aren’t “smart” no matter how casually we’re dressed, because they paint big signs at every crosswalk telling you which way to look for oncoming traffic. That’s because the English like to drive on the wrong side of the road.
You also must be in good shape to visit restaurants in London because every toilet (“restroom” to us euphemistic Americans) is down a steep set of multiple narrow stairways.
I won’t be able to debrief Josh and Jennifer about this new trade mission option until the International Franchise Expo in New York later this month. My only fear is after getting so close to the Queen, trade mission attendees will expect me to have one of our evening receptions at her house, instead of the ambassador’s.
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Michael Stone of the Professional Athletes Franchise Initiative and George Tinsley, a multi-unit, multi-concept franchisee, held court on the panel I moderated at the National Restaurant Association’s show last month. Stone, a former NFL player, talked about how he heard about his retirement from football on the way to the hospital after an injury during a game. He took his bad news and turned it into an opportunity for other players to plan for the inevitable day they will have to put down their ball or racquet.
Tinsley, an ABA basketball player, became a trainer at KFC, back in the days of the Colonel, before investing in his own units. When asked what Colonel Sanders was like, he told about the early days when Sanders ran his chicken business out of a gas station. His station featured windshield washing while the station across the street had an air hose.
Sanders tried to talk his competition into sharing the hose, and when he refused, the Colonel walked across the street and blew it away with a shotgun. (Too bad the NRA show we were attending wasn’t the National Rifle Association.) George’s life is as interesting as the Colonel’s. You’ll find George’s memoir, “The Determined Entrepreneur,” at Amazon.com.