Franchisor Profile: Howards Storage World

By Business Franchise Magazine

This article appeared in Issue 1#3 (Mar/Apr 2007) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand

Evolution in Action

Howards Storage World is expanding around Australia and around the world and James Brouillard is at the forefront of the action.

Brouillard, National Franchise Manager for HSW, started with the company in August 2004. He brought with him over 20 years of experience in retail and brand building in New York.

“I joined HSW based on the belief that I had, not only in their concept, but also the drive they had to improve and grow. I was really impressed with the passion everyone had here for what they were doing,” he said.

Brouillard has worked to tighten the brand and bring greater cohesion to the franchise so that the company has a solid platform for expansion. HSW currently has 48 franchises operating but many more are on the way throughout Australia.

HSW are expanding their regional presence with stores open in Cairns, Townsville, Albury, and Wagga. Locations such as Bendigo, Ballarat, and Orange are currently being evaluated. 

Originally focused on mall locations, HSW has introduced greater flexibility in their store plans to include freestanding, high street, and bulky goods centre locations. Stores can now range in size from 350 square metres to 700 square metres and this has enhanced the choice of premises they have when moving in to new areas.

“We are growing and our goals are evolving,” said Brouillard who has worked to integrate the growth process across the central support team, the franchisees, stores, and products.

Since 2004, the group office team has grown from a handful of people to numbering over 40 and Brouillard has been careful to ensure that the infrastructure that he is putting in place is keeping pace with the expansion.

“I am particularly proud of the way that we have maintained that quality and service level to our franchisees, just as we expect them to maintain that service level to our customers.”

Training is part of the service provided to franchisees. New franchisees receive five weeks initial training both classroom style and at the company store. Quarterly meetings are held in Sydney and the annual conference includes overseas speakers and educational sessions as well as a bit of fun and relaxation.

The long-term success of the franchisees is important to Brouillard and where other franchises may have field support officers looking after over 30 stores, he sets the limit at 14. These officers work with franchisees for at least one full day a month helping them to grow their business.

The Australian expansion is running in tandem with overseas ventures. HSW has stores in Singapore, New Zealand, Spain, and the Middle East and negotiations are underway for extending the franchise throughout Europe. Brouillard is excited by the reception the home grown Australian brand has had and many of the people he has been dealing with have been enthusiastic about the originality of the concept.

“I thought I’d be selling the high points of our system which is the support, the customer service, and the quality of the products but I found there wasn’t really even any competition that would go head to head with us in a lot of countries.”

HSW marketing is evolving to support the global expansion. Although their catalogue is a major marketing tool, Brouillard is investing in other media avenues including in-flight magazines.

The store designs are changing too. They are moving from solid colours to wood tones with a greater focus on a lifestyle look that enables customers to appreciate the goods in a home-like setting.

“We are reinventing the store layouts but not enough for a customer to ever mistake an HSW. Our older designs are still very much relevant. We add just enough to evolve the store but not enough for somebody who bought a store three or four years ago to all of a sudden say ‘my store looks so dated now’,” said Brouillard.

Franchisees have over 3,500 possible products to choose from to stock their stores and HSW is constantly looking at new ideas and new products. They are currently increasing their branded ranges as part of planned initiatives to strengthen the brand and increase the business potential for franchisees.

Change is balanced with stability to ensure customers are always presented with a reliable and trusted brand. Brouillard recalls how discounting by some major department stores a few years ago led some others to start discounting, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

“It led to that slippery slope of discounting where to make up the margin you had people buying cheaper products so that they could put something ‘quote unquote’ on sale,” he said.

“We’ve always been a company that has resisted that, even through all of that craziness. We have quality products. We sell at a good price. We don’t claim to be the cheapest, we are middle market and up, and that is our position.”

Brouillard’s experience in the extremely competitive US market has given him a great appreciation for the importance of customer service.

Companies with head-to-head competitors may have different store layouts and colour schemes but little difference between the products themselves and that is where service can make the greatest difference. Even with HSW’s unique market position, Brouillard sees customer service expectations in Australia growing to match those of the US.

Being a good retailer is a challenge that is not suited to everyone. “There are days in retail that can be quite tough because you always have to have that good face for your customers. You are always on stage to a certain degree when it comes to presenting your products and making the customer feel welcome,” says Brouillard.

On the other hand, the retail environment is dynamic and “you never know who is going to walk through the door next,” says Brouillard and it is very rewarding to achieve customer satisfaction and trust. 

“The customers are not only buying the product, they are buying the actual brand and the service.”

Finding service oriented, passionate people to help in the HSW expansion is extremely important to Brouillard and an area where he has developed an extremely personalised recruitment process. Rather than speaking to large groups, Brouillard runs small presentations where he can get a definite first impression of potential franchisees.

“Something I say to all our potentials is if you are a people person then this is definitely the right business for you,” said Brouillard.

“Administration and back office work is important to the business as it would be to any business but you can’t run your business from the back room so if you are not out there interacting with the customers, leading and training your staff , showing the example of the way customers should be treated and the way the atmosphere in your store should be, then your business will not be as successful as it could be,” he said.

Brouillard’s philosophy is that HSW franchises are granted not sold and he likes to get an in-depth understanding of the personality and background of potential franchisees. He is looking for people who are passionate about the brand and who will get personal as well as financial gratification from the business.

With this attitude he is building the team he needs to make the extremely successful HSW product, brand, and service available Australia-wide and ultimately worldwide.