Research with Impact: Best-in-Class International Franchising in the Retail Sector

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Centre for International Business at the University of Leeds

Professor Mat Robson is a Professor of Marketing and Principal Investigator for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Best in Class Franchising Project. Mat’s research interests focus on international, strategic, and relationship marketing. He has published in many journals of international repute. Dr Kathryn Watson is the Research Impact Manager for Leeds University Business School. She supports and co-ordinates activities around the research impact agenda and research funding. Dr Vita Kadile is a Research Fellow in the Marketing Division focusing on international marketing, strategic marketing, entrepreneurship and exporting. Professor Jeremy Clegg is the Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and International Business Management focusing on the determinants of Foreign Direct Investment, market entry and European integration.

Kathryn Watson, Vita Kadile and Mat Robson

Research with Impact:
Best-in-Class International Franchising: Collaborative Project with Marks & Spencer

“The impact case builds upon an ESRC-funded Knowledge Exchange grant that was part of the 2013 Retail Sector Initiative. This project sought to help Marks & Spencer (M&S) optimise its internationalisation strategy in relation to fast-growth emerging markets, and draw general implications for UK retailers. More specifically, the study focused on one type of foreign market entry mode, namely franchising.

During 2013 we collaborated on the research with Steve Finlan and Gobind Bansal at M&S who at that time were Director of International Operations and Global Head of M&S lingerie and beauty, respectively. The project has also been supported throughout by Alison Houston, Head of Company Archive and University of Leeds Partnership, and Megan Parsons from the Partnership Support team. Their contribution to the project together with Richard Thorpe, former Pro-Dean for Research and Innovation at Leeds University Business School, is gratefully acknowledged.        

Unlike exporting, international franchising has received little research attention. In order to shed new light on how franchising can be made to work in the context of international retailing, the research focused on the advanced area development franchising model which is used by M&S in a number of its international markets. The study has produced insights in separate areas: international retailing, franchising strategy, strategic alliances, foreign market entry modes, and emerging markets. The main contribution is in developing the first stage of international area development franchising relationship theory.

Activities to disseminate research output (eg. managerial reports and academic papers) are ongoing. Thus far, they include: two presentations of the findings to senior managers of M&S; co-presentation of the study findings at a University of Leeds ‘On Your Marks’ seminar with Gobind Bansal from M&S; involvement on an expert panel at the Eversheds Annual Retail Conference for their International Expansion Planning Workshop; paper presentations at the European Marketing Academy Conference, European Association in Education and Research in Commercial Distribution Conference, International Society of Franchising Conference, Colloquium on European Research in Retailing Conference, and British Business Group India Conference; a paper submitted to the Chartered Management Institute Top Management Articles of the Year Competition; and an industry report, made available online, launched at Leeds University Business School’s inaugural Ideas in Practiceseminar.

Through dissemination of the research findings, our project team has developed solid connections with senior managers of Eversheds, Dentons, the UKTI, Boots, and Laredoute, among others. The impact case intends to build upon these connections to accelerate the impact of this stream of work in the area of international franchising and more generally, in international market expansion.

The research in emerging markets is continuing with Mark Kaprowski, Regional Director (EMEA and Asia Pacific Franchise) together with James Harvey and Duncan Tennant also from the international team contributing to the project objectives.

We are very grateful to the panel for giving us this award and recognition of our achievements to date. The project is ongoing, partly because we have such rich data that there is a lot more we can get out of it but also because both the M&S team and ourselves are thoroughly committed to conducting applied research that helps businesses in difficult international markets.”

Comment from the judges:
“This case won a Leeds University Business School Impact Award because it is an excellent example of a successful knowledge exchange partnership with a major UK company. International market development is an important challenge for many UK businesses and the judges were delighted that this project was a very practical example of academic research supporting the business community.”  

The presentation Mat, Vita and Kathryn gave at the awards ceremony is available to view online.  

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University business school or the University of Leeds.