Franchising and city centers: a win-win partnership?

Franchising en stadscentra: een win-win partnerschap?

In a context of revitalizing city centers. After many years of disenchantment, local authorities are gradually becoming aware of the advantages of franchising… Here’s an update on the new relationship between chains and town centers.

At a time when town centers need to reinvent themselves to regain their former dynamism, it seems that franchises have a role to play alongside local players… if local authorities are willing to give them the opportunity.

Franchising and city centers: a relationship that evolves over time

Until recently, municipalities were reluctant to allow franchises into their downtown areas. The idea was to stand out from other cities, to avoid the uniformity generated by the similarity of signs that could be found everywhere.

Preference was thus given to local players, who were also often considered to be more invested in their business and in the overall dynamism of the sector in which they were based, whereas franchising and branching were confused, and parent companies were imagined to be far removed from these local concerns. In recent years, however, a number of factors have led to an increase in retail vacancy rates, which still sometimes exceed 12% in some small and medium-sized towns.

This situation is due, among other socio-economic factors, to the growing use of online sales, rising rents in city centers, and the emergence of retail parks on the outskirts of conurbations. Culminating in 2019 with the yellow vest protests, which dealt a major blow to retailers, particularly in major cities, followed in 2020 by Covid and containment, which caused numerous closures.

And yet, it’s this same Covid that is going to play a part in revitalizing town centers, when, post-confinement, a strong consumer demand has emerged for a return to local shops, for exchange, contact and advice. So how can we meet this demand?

Using the franchise as a driving force

While local authorities are always aiming to differentiate themselves, they are gradually realizing that revitalization can also be achieved by locating certain brands in their towns, which can act as locomotives for other businesses, particularly in medium-sized towns.

Thanks to the involvement and awareness-raising efforts of organizations such as town-center managers, the French Franchise Federation and PROCOS, the federation representing the specialized retail sector, towns are realizing that having certain brands in their centers can enhance the offer, attracting customers from further afield, and often younger ones. A godsend for local retailers, who benefit from the synergies.

What’s more, as the number of franchised stores grows, local authorities are realizing that franchisees are also independent entrepreneurs, who are keen to get involved in local life and shopkeepers’ associations to bring the town center to life.

As a result, a new relationship is developing between franchise networks and town centers, and franchisors are not hesitating to adapt their concepts to make it last.

Present a diversified and coherent offering

Setting up shop on the outskirts or in the center of town has nothing to do with retailers: customers’ expectations and retail space are different, so they need to adapt, without forgetting, of course, to preserve the identity of the town center and present an offer consistent with what already exists.

Some franchisors vary the format and offering according to the franchisee’s preferred location. This is the case, for example, with the various concepts Carrefour Proximité. For example, Aviva Cuisines has designed a city concept averaging 90 m², while its stores in shopping areas require 250 to 350 m².

For a franchise, setting up in a city center can be a win-win partnership if it’s done, as always, with dialogue and good intelligence. Ideally, project owners and their franchisor should get in touch with the local town center manager, who will be able to explain in detail the town’s expectations in terms of shops and services.

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