FranchiseExpoUK: Tell us about the Expense Reduction Analysts concept.
Robert Allison: Quite simply, we are in the business of procurement. We act on behalf of clients in the marketplace to secure them the best procurement arrangement in well over 100 different cost categories. But we can also help them in many other ways, giving them support, becoming trusted advisors, etc. But at the end of the day, we are buying professionals.
FE: How and when did you become involved with Expense Reduction Analysts?
RA: I first got exposed to the ERA concept in the early 90s in Perth, Western Australia. I was working in an advisory capacity with a consultancy firm out there, one that my father was involved in. They saw the concept of cost management come out of the American market and decided to bring that model into the Australian and New Zealand marketplaces. It was at that stage that I first got involved, actually consulting to ERA at the time, to convert their model to a business format franchise.
FE: What was your background prior to joining Expense Reduction Analysts?
RA: Prior to that I was working as a specialist consultant in recruitment whereby we helped a lot of organizations that were looking to franchise themselves and prior to that I had a number of different business ranging from a dry cleaning business to a small stationery and printing business, all of which really started after I deferred my accounting studies for a year to go travelling and got sidetracked by the allure of self-employment. I guess a serial entrepreneur is what you could call me in that regard.
FE: What are some of the advantages in being an Expense Reduction Analysts franchisee?
RA: You’re buying into a proven business system that’s 20 years old, so it’s well established. You’re not the first franchisee. We provide you with a comprehensive 5 week training programme that covers all the things you need to know so that you have a framework to go out and start your business. But, you also have a support structure in place beyond the initial training period. That’s made up of the Academy Manager who is there to ‘hold your hand’, as it were, through the first 12-18 months until you are self-sufficient. Following that, we have a support hub that monitors your business’ performance and can then give you tailored support to help make you successful. So it’s not guess work with ERA. You’ve got great support and great help along the way.
FE: Who is your ideal franchisee?
RA: Our ideal franchisee is someone who is motivated and enthusiastic, because you can’t give people those qualities; you’ve either got them or you haven’t. They need to be able to talk to people both at board level and at shop floor level, so good communication skills are vital. But of course, they need the right funding for the level of investment. Having the investment but not the key attributes or vice-versa just simply wouldn’t work. If you have all that, then we can give you all the tools you need to make it work and be successful.
FE: Tell us a little about the Cost Management Market?
RA: If you are just going out offering straightforward ‘cost reduction’, ie. I can buy this cheaper than you can, there are a lot of people doing that and it has become a noisy marketplace. ERA has evolved over the last 20 years to much more than that; we’re not simply offering headline savings. Our business processes add value to our clients which, yes, saves them money, but go much further in terms of improving processes, managing relationships and procuring goods and services more effectively. All of this is of greater value to the client than simply a headline saving.
FE: What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
RA: Some of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned along the way in terms of growing this franchise are that the most important thing for any franchise business is the quality and the talent of the new partners it takes on board or recruits. Franchise is a way of growing a business, but it is not a business itself. I’ve seen too many other companies make the mistake of trying to make a business of being a franchise, selling franchises, training franchisees, and that’s how they made their money, rather than making the core of their business what they were good at and just happen to be using franchising as a way of expanding that model. Probably the other biggest lesson I have learned along the way is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Anybody looking to join a franchised business, regardless of how proven or successful it’s been, needs to understand that it’s going to take a lot of hard work, effort and graft in order for them to be successful. Franchising is not a guarantee of success, it just greatly improves your likelihood of success.
FE: Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?
RA: I guess there have been a lot of different people along the way that have inspired me. A lot of different people I could say have been mentors to me in one way or another, certainly a range of business people I’ve met with and worked alongside, probably too many to name as I do believe that you should always listen and learn from others. But if I had to pick one thing that inspired me, there was a poem, a small sonnet, written by T.E. Lawrence. He once wrote the ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, an autobiographical account of his experiences, and said “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” That’s something I heard at a very young age and it’s stuck with me for an awfully long time. Dream your dreams with open eyes, turn it into action and then make it happen, because you’re the only one that can.
FE: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
RA: You must do your due diligence properly. This is essential to understanding what it is you’re getting into. You need a desire to run your own business, but more than that, you need to understand the legal agreement so get to grips with your and the franchisor’s obligations clearly. You must do a business plan, whether it’s for the bank or even if you’re self-funding, so that you can monitor your business performance and ensure you get where you want to go. You need to speak to the franchisees. Ask them about their relationship with the franchisor, what it’s really like being a franchisee, what are the pitfalls, the highs and lows. Don’t just let the franchisor cherry-pick them for you. Speak to as many as you need to and listen to the results they give you.
FE: In your opinion, why do you think that Expense Reduction Analysts would be a great opportunity for someone?
RA: ERA would be a great opportunity, for the right individual. This isn’t for everybody and it won’t suit everybody that looks at this concept. But it would really suit people from a professional background, who want to enjoy running their own business and enjoy the benefits of their own hard work. It allows you the opportunity for a great work-life balance, but building a serious business too, because we want people to come into our network and earn a six-figure income, which is highly achievable.