Turning a brand into a franchise is often one of the cheapest ways to expand outside a home market. That's how McDonald's and Subway became the world's biggest chains. At a franchise meeting in Dubai last week, Rory Jones checked out some new brands on the block
East meets West with a blend of old and new
Hind Al Terkait concedes the Gulf is full of cafes and restaurants serving traditional Arabic coffee, food and sweet delicacies.
But that has not stopped her helping to set up the Kuwaiti bistro Cafe Bazza, or "Cafe Pearl" in English.
The marketing executive reckons that despite the thousands of Arabic cafes across the region, customers want something quirky.
"The new generation, they are used to [TGI] Friday's and Applebee's which are so western," says Ms Al Terkait. "We are trying to blend the old heritage of Kuwait with the new concept of modernised culture."
Visually, Cafe Bazza combines cultures, with signs on the wall that would not look out of place in an American diner, right next to Arabic pictures.
The brand serves both Arabic and western-style coffee, while the food is a mixture of East and West, with pizzas and burgers made from Arabic breads and spices.
A'amal Holding, a Kuwaiti conglomerate, set up the Cafe Bazza brand a year ago and has rolled out seven outlets across the country in that time. The company now plans to set up in the UAE.
"The idea for us is not to be tied in Kuwait and go out to other countries, the Gulf, because their culture is very similar to ours," says Ms Al Terkait. "We also want to go further afield to Europe."
Cafe Bazza hopes to sign a franchise partnership that will lead to five to six outlets within two years in the UAE.
Out to establish a footprint in the Arab world
Carrera Shoes are not to be confused with the popular Austrian sunglasses that already have a strong presence throughout the UAE.
Part of Carrera Jeans from Italy, the footwear operation aims to open more than five stores in every country in the Middle East during the next few years.
"We are selling the franchise for every country in the Arab world. One retailer in one country," says Tima Al Katib, the marketing and public relations manager for the brand in the Middle East.
"We already signed a contract in the Emirates, Iraq and Jordan. All different companies."
Ms Al Katib would not disclose the local UAE franchisee, but said three stores this year would be opened ahead of further expansion in the rest of the region. "They are retailers in the Middle East and they like the idea of opening Carrera. They have other brands but not shoes," she says.
Carrera Shoes are designed in Italy and made in China, costing US$60 (Dh220) to $100, in a range of styles for men, women and children. The brand has 13 stores in Italy and is sold in outlets including Carrefour and Auchan hypermarkets.
"Carrera is very famous in Italy from 1960," says Ms Al Katib. "We ship directly to the country. Let's say we have one agent in the Emirates, we forward the shipment directly to that country from China."
She added that the cost of setting up a Carrera Shoes franchise would vary depending on the number of stores and the size of each of those.
"More important than money is the quality and standard of the client.
"That's more important than the money they have," says Ms Al Katib.
Familiar favourite ready to broaden empire
Reem Al Bawadi does not claim to be a famous UAE brand but it is certainly popular among Dubai residents, with a total of 20,000 dining in one of its three restaurants every month.
The Lebanese and Arabic food and shisha group opened its third outlet in Dubai Marina last month, housed over three floors, and now plans to franchise the concept in Abu Dhabi and the rest of the Gulf.
"It's one of those brands that most people know and have visited at some point. It's been a good 12 years for the company since it started," says Muneeb Abdul-Rahim, the company's business development director. "Year on year we are seeing growth and we got to the point where we were being approached by so many people from different countries asking if we were opening overseas or contemplating franchising."
The restaurant has standardised its menu and back-office systems and now plans to roll out Reem Express, a test franchise structure, in Pakistan.
"We have started a test franchise, only 10 smaller outlets, to see how the support team handles it and grows with time, in Pakistan," says Mr Abdul-Rahim.
He says 30 businesses had made "serious inquiries" at Franchise UAE about taking on the brand in various countries such as Canada, Saudi Arabia, India and Abu Dhabi.
"It's really a demand-driven situation that led us here," says Mr Abdul-Rahim.
"Saudi, for example, the size of the country, that could maybe hold another 15 to 20 Reem Al Bawadis. India, again a huge opportunity, maybe 25 to 30. At the end of the day, it's not about opening for the sake of it."
Italian jeweller looks to sparkle in Emirates
Enny Monaco was the second Italian brand marketing its wares at Franchise UAE with the company looking for partners to grow globally.
Mr Monaco, the designer behind the jewellery store, says taking concepts from Italy to the Middle East is easy because the European country is so well-loved worldwide.
"The UAE is a good country for this because they like Italian design. Everything, food, cappuccino, spaghetti, they love it. Prada, Versace, everything Italian," he says.
Mr Monaco started his jewellery chain in 1971 in Torino and now has 20 shops throughout Italy.
The store, which sells jewellery made of semi-precious gems, also designs and distributes for international names such as Versace, Valentino and Missoni, Mr Monaco says.
Designed in Italy, the jewellery is created in a factory in Sharjah and Mr Monaco is keen to see it sold down the road in the avenues of Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates.
"We are looking for a master franchise," he says.
"Here it is easy because we are in Sharjah, but for other countries like Qatar, like Bahrain, it's best to find a master franchise who can distribute in the Gulf."
The pieces of jewellery are made of silver and stones such as quartz, ruby and pearls.
Already, three Enny Monaco stores have opened in the Philippines and one is set to launch in Canada.
The pieces, which comprise necklaces, rings, bangles, earrings and bracelets, cost from Dh100 (US$27) to Dh400.
Avatar artistry sparks demand for tiny Tims
Lothar Hohmann began selling 3D avatar figures of people last month and received a warm welcome from bundles of customers.
Using high-tech scanning equipment, the managing director of the Precise Group can create a figurine of a customer that is very lifelike, and branded This Is Me (Tim).
He is now trying to replicate the Tim success by franchising the concept abroad.
"The franchise concept for the products we are offering is a good way to scale our business and bring it around the world," says Mr Hohmann. "We are getting now inquiries through our different networks."
Already, Precise has had inquiries from theme parks in the United States that want to buy the scanning equipment for Tim, so they can put customers' heads on well known action figures.
"There is the idea that one of the parks has action figurines, rather than printing the whole body, they want us to provide them with the technology to scan the heads, we will manufacture the head and then put them on these figurines like Spider-Man and Batman," he says.
Precise has outlets at Mall of the Emirates, Deira City Centre, Atlantis The Palm and Dubai Duty Free, selling a variety of personalised products.
It has received interest to franchise its model in India, the Philippines, Morocco and Tunisia.
Precise takes one week to produce a Tim after a person is scanned in-store. A figure costs from Dh500 (US$136) to Dh1,200.
"The brand Dubai is promoted by our products and franchisees so people see Dubai as not just a
tourist destination but as a hub for entrepreneurship and new concepts," says Mr Hohmann.