DUBAI // The franchising industry in the UAE will continue to grow in the coming year as regional investors shift away from property and financial markets, and out-of-work executives seek new forms of employment, industry insiders say. "The potential for growth is there," said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive of the International Franchise Association, on the sidelines of the Franchise Middle East Exhibition in Dubai. "From what we're hearing from our members, [the UAE] is still a positive climate."
The US market, valued at US$1 trillion (Dh3.67tn), was forecasted to see declines of 1 to 2 per cent in 2009, according to a study conducted by the IFA and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Mr Shay said. However, he expects the UAE market to have a brighter outlook due to relatively easier access to credit and its role as the gateway to the region. Mr Shay estimates the UAE franchising industry, valued at about $30 billion, will grow between 5 and 8 per cent.
"This is one of those places that you can't skip; you have to do business here," he said. Local investors are also looking to get into the franchising game as the traditional investment avenues such as property and the financial markets are less stable, said Imad Charafeddine, managing partner of the UAE branch of Francorp, a franchise consultant. He said franchise inquiries have increased by 20 per cent in the past two months.
It is a similar pattern at the Kuwait-based Middle East Franchising consultancy, which has seen a 25 per cent jump in inquiries, according to its deputy chief executive, Barrak Al Homaisi. "A lot of people who have lost their jobs and have a good amount of savings are looking to start their own business," he said. Mr Shay said typically in economic downturns, as unemployment rates go up, more people look to start their own business, and franchises are an easy option. However, he said recent studies in the US show access to financing will drop by 30 per cent in the next year.
"This [crisis] is an opportunity for franchises, but the rub is lack of access to credit." Mr Charafeddine said this is less of a problem in the UAE because Emiratis can secure funds from Government agencies and expatriates with a business background can still be granted start-up funds. In the past five years, the UAE industry has grown by about 25 per cent to roughly 400 franchising systems, said Sary Hamway, the Dubai-based chief executive of FranExcel, a franchise consultancy that organised the World Franchise Forum alongside FME.
Franchise inquiries have gone up, he said, but investors were more hesitant to buy. "It will continue to grow," he said. "Retail franchises are good because it is medium-risk, and medium investment." Darren Smith, manager of retail and marketing support with Emarat's coffee chain Bakeria, said the tightening credit markets have also helped to bring down the cost of rent. Outside of the major city centres, some rents have gone down from Dh350 a square foot to Dh150, he said.
"Now, suddenly, you're hearing a word you haven't heard before from landlords: negotiate." Global brands are now clamouring to enter the region to access the strong demand for international food brands, said Steve Rothenstein, the international operations manager for tasti D-lite, a US chain of low-fat yogurt stores. "In the UAE, the people like their food brands from around the world," he said. "It's a great area to do business friendly, ease of entry, and they know what they're doing here in terms of infrastructure."