What Would a Union of Baristas Mean to the Coffee Shop Owner?

If you haven’t read all about it, a recent article spoke of a group of well-meaning folk in Halifax would like to create a union of coffee shop employees.  Yep, you read that correctly – baristas – your daily latte slingers.

Unions all started with a good purpose – employees were getting abused and treated unfairly.  These kind of things still happen today.  The people trying to create this niche union feel things could be better.

The Vancouver Coffee Shop Franchisees Association formulated for similar reasons – we saw acts of injustice taking place towards Franchisees of popular coffee shop chains by their Franchisors.  The Franchisees were in a position of vulnerability and subject to gross abuse by means of hand-crafted contracts by skilled lawyers – especially in BC where there is currently no franchise legislation.  In a sense, the VCSFA is a kind of ‘union’ of like-minded people.

Do the baristas need to actually unionize, though?

It was notable to us that Second Cup was mentioned on several occasions as a possible inspiration for the union.  Second Cup is a coffee shop Franchise well known in Canada, specifically around Ontario.  Second Cup has few locations (possibly just one?) in BC and operates primarily in the other provinces, so we are not yet entirely familiar with their specific Franchisor-Franchisee relationship.  That said, we know how the relationships between staff and Franchisee can be strained as a result of financial pressures from operating a franchised coffee shop.  Perhaps this trickled down to the staff?  Perhaps the Franchisees were locked into tricky contracts that pummelled their finances and they started viewing their staff as expenses rather than prized assets?  One can only speculate but it’s important to understand both sides of this story.

The coffee shop business, with it’s high operating costs and usually severe competition, is not well suited for providing high paid jobs – at least not many of them at the same location.  The argument against this position – and it’s valid – is that you can attract ‘talent’ by paying more and offering benefits.  In the coffee business, much like the restaurant business, there is a threshold where eventually paying more is not an option. Hence the gradual acceptance of the tip jar (usually an old stained mug to be precise). In many of the coffee shops we know, a good barista will earn no less than an average of $2/hour extra just from that old stained mug.

If the customer is willing to pay more for their drink there is no reason why a unionized labour force wouldn’t work but we are not convinced that the current market will allow for such a price hike.  One can look towards Australia where tipping is not part of the culture.  Word has it that a barista makes between $12 and $16/hr.  Accordingly, word also has it that the drinks in Australia are priced higher and the volume per cup is much less.

The coffee shop needs to remain a very flexible job as it serves a very unique employment position in our country.  If the Union of Professional Baristas (or whatever they decide to call themselves) is willing to work reasonably with the owners of both franchised and independent cafes, it *could* work but we think issues can still be worked out between the owner and the barista.

Sears Faces Class Action by Hometown Franchisees

In the following article covered by News 680 is the announcement that Sears is now facing class action by its Hometown Franchisees.  The Franchisees are going to go after Sears for failing them in the following ways:

  1. For competing against them in their territories
  2. For lowering local advertising budgets
  3. For dictating conditions
  4. For eroding Franchisees’ profits by corporate decisions that are not in the Franchisees’ favour

The following quote from the article summarizes the Franchisees’ situation:

“We are tired of disappointing our customers because we lack the resources to serve them properly,” – Jim Kay

The VCSFA has heard countless stories of situations where Franchisees – specifically coffee shop franchisees – have been unable to provide the right product at the right price, or, been unable to provide a consistent brand experience to meet the customers’s expectations that the customer is expecting before he or she enters their place of business.

It is paramount that the prospective buyer of an existing or new franchise investigate the ‘atmosphere of support’ experienced by existing franchisees.  A lot of Franchisees could have protected themselves against complete financial ruin, family hardship, or worse – had they only probed the managers or Franchisees of existing stores.  This is *completely free* and most Franchisees, given enough time and in the atmosphere of trust, will divulge all their good and bad feelings they have about the Franchisor which is one of the most valuable pieces of investment information you can obtain.

No matter what kind of franchise you plan to purchase, do your homework before you purchase. Multiple locations is not always an indication of a successful franchise.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact the VCSFA should you have any questions.

 

What do Burger’s and Coffee Have in Common?

The answer to the title of this article is, “They are poster-boys for the franchise business for better or for worse.”

A CBC story about Marufa Ahmed and her husband Mohammed Hashen, caught the eye of a VCSFA reader who forwarded the article to us. Marufa and Mohammed purchased a Lick’s burger franchise (they operate in Ontario), gave up 18 months of their lives, day in and day out, only to have the store taken from them.  Here in Vancouver, the VCSFA has received reports of ex-coffee Franchisees who spent well over half a million dollars (CND$) on their investment and over 60 months of their lives only to lose it in an even worse way than this couple.

What the reader needs to understand is that Franchising is not your ‘own’ business.  In fact, if one were to take a few steps back he or she would realize it is perhaps the furthest thing possible from having ‘your own business’, other than the fact it requires a capital investment and the financial business model is similar.  The time when the Franchisee sooner or later comes to realize this, is when they encounter the triangular relationship between the Landlord, the Franchisor, and the Franchisee.

The ‘relationship’ is held together by hand-crafted and very clever legal documents.  In some reputable franchises, the Franchisor actually works side-by-side with the Franchisee to establish the best possible rent rates.  They are transparent and they work diligently to make sure their front line soldiers (the Franchisees) are comfortable with the decisions. Conversely, in other franchises,  the Franchisor will sign lease documents with the Landlord with ‘unknown motives’ and will keep the Franchisee completely in the dark throughout the experience.

We have a current member who asked his Franchisor for lease details over 36 months ago (he was trying to sell) and the Franchisor refused to provide the information he needed claiming ‘we don’t know what the future holds’.  Then, when the very last legal deadline to begin lease negotiations with the Landlord was upon them, they slowly started the process, but still keeping the Franchisee completely in the dark throughout.  The Franchisee today still has no idea what will happen to his store in the fall because nothing has been provided him on paper and there are less than three months remaining in his lease term.  This is definitely not ‘owning your own business’.

We have just become aware of another location where the Franchisor may have paid above market rents in comparison to other similar businesses in the area, and the Franchisee will now be paying for that decision each month.

Before purchasing a Franchise, it is extremely important that you investigate – in great depth – this relationship between the Franchisor, Franchisee and Landlord.  If something seems fishy, or there is any lack of transparency, run and do not look back.  On the contrary, if you find that all the books are open and all the relationships where you stand to lose or gain are open, then you may have found a good Franchisor.

As always, do not hesitate to contact the VCSFA if you have any questions.  We are always happy to help.

Article by Tony Wilson about Franchise Legislation in BC

Tony Wilson is respected around town (Vancouver) as a Franchise Lawyer which is why when he writes an article in the Globe and Mail, the VCSFA pays attention.  In this recent article “Franchising is Big in BC – So Where’s the Legislation?”, Mr. Wilson talks about the British Columbia Law Institute’s (BCLI) consultation paper on franchise legislation in BC.  He explains BC’s odd position of being one of few provinces that remains without franchise legislation and even brings up an argument that the legislation may not bring notable changes as follows:

But will it [bring change]? If most franchisors in Canada – including those headquartered in B.C. that are selling franchises in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, PEI or New Brunswick – must comply with the legislation in effect within the disclosure provinces anyway, it is arguable this will add little more in terms of compliance costs to B.C.-based franchisors. They will simply adapt their FDDs to include B.C. Franchisors in other provinces will do the same.

Thankfully the VCSFA has had the honour of meeting with some of the people involved in this consultancy report and have been able to express our position on the matter.

Although Mr. Wilson is correct that many reputable Franchises are currently operating in compliance with other province’s franchise legislation and that they will be able to quickly adapt to any implemented BC legislation, this doesn’t take into account the fact that there are BC-born Franchises that have been operating without it for years *here in BC* and continue to sell stores.  Take for example the following ‘bigger name’ coffee shop franchises from our Francouver list that are either BC-born or operate primarily here:

  • Bean Around the World
  • Blenz Coffee
  • BG Urban Cafe (formerly “Bread Garden”)
  • Serious Coffee
  • Take 5 Cafe
  • Wave’s Coffee
  • Wired Monk

We have received local Vancouver reports from current and previous Franchisees involving horrific business practices that have resulted in bankruptcies, broken families, or other similar tragedies. In fact, some of the stories are so bad that you would be hard pressed to believe that the events could have possibly taken place in Canada.  Some people have been begging us to bring some of these stories to light and the companies behind them, but we are convinced that by means of the current court systems and eventual Franchise legislation in BC, that nasty people will be unable to continue in their nasty ways.

Do not think that just because a Franchisor is complying in other provinces that they will play nice and follow suit in BC.  We need clear and reasonable legislation right here at home.

In conclusion, let it be known that the VCSFA takes a very strong position *in favour of immediate Franchise legislation* so that it becomes very difficult for Franchisors to commit premeditated acts of business atrocities in our beautiful country, and especially in our province of British Columbia.

 

 

 

Franchisee-Franchisor Conflict Resolution

In 2011 the Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) published this very informative article about conflict resolution between Franchisees and Franchisors.

This article speaks in detail about the steps that could/should be followed to resolve issues within a Franchise business model.  Their recommendations can be summarized as follows:

  1. Set up a face-to-face meeting with Franchisor
  2. Bring your issues to the Franchisee Advisory Council (FAC)
  3. Try mediation (voluntary and non-binding)
  4. Try arbitration (binding and both parties agree not to go to court)
  5. Go to court

The CFA has a very optimistic tone in this article and we are glad that Franchisors around Canada have been able to work in this reasonable way.  However, we have received numerous reports from the Vancouver area that some Franchisors have operated in such a manner that the idea of ‘reasonableness’ is far from reach.  One Franchisee from a coffee Franchise in Vancouver has reported to us that their Franchisor has established an FAC that not only doesn’t actively do any meaningful work, but they were also not given the authority to change the unknown agendas of the Directors.  Therefore, options #1 and #2 in the suggestion list above are not possible.

If the Franchisor has demonstrated that they are not willing to work openly and transparently with their Franchisors, it is very difficult to imagine initiating the voluntary and non-binding suggestion of mediation in #3 above.  For these Franchisees, it seems that either settling their matter out of court (arbitration) or suing the Franchisor for damages are their only remaining options – options #4 and #5 respectively.

Whatever the case happens to be for your Franchise business, we at the VCSFA agree with these reasonable steps outlined in this CFA article as a procedural means whenever possible.

Another very interesting point to be taken from this article is that the CFA has a kind of Ombudsman program.  Although we cannot speak for this program it is certainly something we are going to look further into, and we hope that the public will also give us their feedback if they have used this program.  Here is a direct quote from the article:

If agreement still cannot be reached, there are options. The Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) has an Ombudsman program, a free program available to all franchisees and franchisors in Canada. The Ombudsman will listen to one or both sides and try to facilitate communication. All discussions are completely confidential and done informally by phone. Contact the CFA Ombudsman at 866-443-8255.

 

 

Vancouver’s Best Coffee Bars and What it Means to Coffee Franchising

A few months ago the VCSFA published an article called ‘Do Customers Like Coffee Shop Franchises?’ and it was one of our most popular articles.

In February the Vancouver Sun published another article called ‘Vancouver’s Best Coffee Bars’ which helped cement our suggestion that although Vancouverites outwardly appear to prefer to spend their money at big chains, the chains don’t generate any ‘wow-factor’ for them.

The closest thing to a chain in this list is JJ Bean and 49th Parallel Cafe – neither of which are either a Franchise business model or dabbling in the rapid expansion practiced by most ‘successful’ large chains and franchises.

For someone considering the idea of opening an independent cafe versus a franchised cafe, we hope this Vancouver’s Best Coffee Bars article will open your ideas to the idea that an independent cafe may not be any less successful than paying dearly for the right to use someone’s name.

 

How to Start a Coffee Shop for under $25K without your money?

 

One of our members submitted this video uploaded by David Hayward and we thought it had tremendous value for potential coffee shop owner.

Many prospective coffee shop purchasers don’t have any confidence in themselves.  They think that since they don’t have any experience in the field, or they don’t have any small business background at all (financing, leasing, etc), that they will not be able to do something powerful on their own.  Instead, they often choose the path of Franchising.  We are not saying that it is not possible to make money with a coffee franchise, but we are suggesting that there are other ways (I.e. spending $25k versus $250K!)

This ten minute video is great because it gives tips that will even help you choose a coffee franchise if you are purchasing an existing store (ie. you should have your store on the right side of the road during morning traffic).

We hope this video will be just another tool along the road to creating a better chance of success for you and your family