The Rise of Franchises

Examples of franchising are popping up everywhere – so much so that you probably don’t even notice anymore! If you head to Basildon, Harlow, Brentwood, or anywhere in Essex, you’ll find big-name brands all over the shop. It could be an automotive company, a chain of pubs, a fast-food establishment, or anything in between, many hopefuls choose franchising as their route to market. There are currently over 120 industries that have franchised companies and usually the franchisee receives help with their site selection and development support, operating manuals, brand standards, quality control, training and business advisory support from the franchisor.

Below, we look at some of the UK’s top franchises, how they got there and what we can learn from them:



The chain was originally called Martin’s Free House, with the first Wetherspoon being opened in a former bookmakers’ store in North London in 1979. It then changed its name to Wetherspoon earlier the following year. The company’s chains initially only expanded in North London. The company opened its first pub which had a no-smoking bar in 1991 in North Finchley, before moving more into Central London, with their first pub in Liverpool Street Station. The following year, the first airport pub was opened in Heathrow and in the same year they were also named J D Wetherspoon plc, opening their 50th pub.

Things then began to move quicker. They moved out of London in 1993 and opening pubs in Bracknell and Norwich. By 1994, the chain had reached an impressive 100 pubs and ventured as far north as the Midlands. The business kept expanding and moving into new territory throughout the 90s, with further establishments opened in Manchester, Wales and Scotland. 1998 saw the 300th pub open and its rapid expansion saw them reach 500 pubs being open by 2001. The 600-mark was reached in 2002 as the breakfast revolution got underway as all pubs opened six days a week to serve the first meal of the day.

The company adeptly showed that it was adapting to change when free Wi-Fi was added to all of their pubs, and the first wedding was held in 2007. The 700th pub was launched in 2008, with the 800th following in 2011 and 900th in 2013. Nowadays, the company employs over 35,000 staff, and owns 948 pubs and hotels.

Key business features

Key travel locations: The chain makes focuses on key travel locations to position its pubs, including train stations and airports. While you can also find them in Aberdeen, Birmingham International, Doncaster, Edinburgh, Liverpool John Lennon, Heathrow, Gatwick, Glasgow and Stansted airports, and near train stations around London, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow, Essex is also home to three Wetherspoon establishments.

Festival spirit: The company is a great advocate for getting into the festival spirit. They currently are involved in a biannual beer festival with 60 beers on tap.

Meal deals: There are a host of meal deals that are proving to be very popular. They include the initial Curry Club and Steak Club, Chicken Club, Fish Friday and Sunday Brunch and offer a drink alongside them.

What can businesses learn from Wetherspoon?

Location is clearly key to Wetherspoon, as are offers. Wetherspoon’s have succeeded most by being flexible and adapting to their environment.



In the 1930s, John Gregg began a delivery service. He delivered eggs and yeast on his pushbike to families in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was after having this delivery service that helped local families bake their own bread for over 10 years that John Gregg opened a small bakery on Gosforth High Street in 1951. It was a single shop with a bakery at the rear. This allowed Greggs to begin baking quality bread with flour that was milled from specially selected wheat for that distinctive Greggs taste and texture.

Following the death of his father, Ian Gregg took on the family business in 1964. Under Ian’s leadership, Greggs developed a good reputation for selling products which were quality and of great value. The company also started to grow in size by buying regional bakery retailers across the United Kingdom and, by the 1970s, they had shops in Scotland, Yorkshire and the North West.

By 1984, the company’s expansion was well underway with more than 260 shops spread over four areas of the country. For the first time ever, Greggs was on the Stock Exchange and they continued to expand, opening shops in the Midlands, Wales and North London.

The company  invested in a large Technical Centre, allowing them to focus on developing brand new recipes at the same time as improving old favourites. This highlights that Greggs continued its rapid growth during the noughties.

Key business features

Keep it local: Today, Greggs has almost 1,700 shops nationwide, including a handful scattered in and around Essex, but they are still rooted in their local communities. That means that, while there is the popular national range, regional favourites can be found in their stores depending on where you are.

Lookers Group


The Lookers Group was founded by John Looker in Manchester in 1908. By 1910, the business had forged with a garage owner in the centre of Manchester. Primarily a Ford dealer until the First World War, the company was thriving so much that the garage had to be rebuilt in 1911 to accommodate all the business that it had generated. It was appointed a distributor of Austin motor vehicles in 1918 and continued its growth by acquiring a number of garages in Lancashire and Cheshire. John Looker retired in 1929, but the business didn’t falter.

As the Second World War took hold of the country, the Austin factory was committed to the effort as the country fought. Fast forward a few decades and the business’s first major acquisition took place in the 60s when the Group moved into Yorkshire. By 1973, their headquarters had moved from Hardman Street to Chester Road – their current base today. At the same time, the company became a listed company on the London Stock Exchange.

Nowadays, Lookers is in the top three motor vehicle retailers in the UK, with new and used cars and servicing offers a plenty. They represent 32 manufacturers and sell car types at 150 franchised dealerships, including a Ford dealership in Chelmsford and a Volvo dealership in Colchester.

Key business features

Value your people: The Group knows how important looking after your own is to be a success. They received top employer UK 2017 and 2018 accreditations and by acquiring several local businesses, including Benfield, the Group understood the need to keep the local feel of the businesses while softly implementing their own touch.


Of course, these are only three examples from a huge pool of successful franchises, and it’s obvious that the franchise world will continue to grow, regardless of the industry you choose. By providing you with a ready-made business model and allowing you to keep your skills sharp while joining an already thriving business, you may feel as though you have a greater chance of success. So, budding business owners out there, make sure you research any possible franchises that could be of interest to you before jumping in feet first with your idea!

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