14 September 2015
by Chris Niesche

What's Australia's weirdest franchise?


Geoff Reid, Dean Reid, employee Peter Schulz, and Casey Reid (L to R) run the Leather Doctor, one of Australia's more unusual franchises.

At first glance, the market for a leather repair franchise might appear limited.

Yet the Leather Doctor, which repairs leather and vinyl on furniture, cars, boats and the like, is a growing business, with 55 franchises around the country, each turning over an average of $120,000.

The business is part of a growing trend for franchises to target niche markets rather than trying to do it all. For instance, instead of a straight out home cleaning franchise, businesses are targeting a smaller part of the market, such as de-cluttering, gutter cleaning, dog washing or pool maintenance.

Casey Reid, the franchise business manager of the Leather Doctor, runs the business with his father and brother, who first came to the business about two decades as franchisees before buying the entire company.

The business not only restores leather and vinyl in furniture, boats and cars, but also does restorations in the medical sector, such as for dentist chairs or chiropractor's tables.

The company has just sold four new Leather Doctor franchises and will soon launch the Timber Doctor and the Fabric Doctor as separate franchises.

"They're going to be different licenses," says Reid, who showed off the franchises at the Franchising and Business Opportunities Expo in Melbourne.

"In that way, we can expand a bit more laterally as a franchise and we widen our scope for franchisees who want multi-licenses as well."

Reid says the advantage of choosing a niche market is that they tend to be less crowded.

"With the markets that are relatively untouched, competition is not huge. If there is competition, it tends to not be that organised in any national structure," he says. "So we feel that, from our investigation, there's definitely a demand."

Franchise Council of Australia General Manager Kym De Britt says consumer demand is driving an increase in services franchises, in particular in the home services and health sectors.

"People are looking for a better, healthier lifestyle. In the health industry, you're starting to see the franchises come up. Skin clinics, chiropractic clinics, dental clinics are starting now to look at franchising," he says.

The franchise sector plays a significant role in the Australian economy. It generated sales of $144 billion and directly employed more than 460,000 people in 2014, according to the Franchising Australia 2014 report by the Griffith University Asia-Pacific Centre for Franchising Excellence.

Jason Gehrke, director of the Franchise Advisory Centre, agrees some franchise sectors are saturated.

"There are certainly some parts of the Australian franchise market where various brands struggle to offer a point of difference between themselves and their nearest competitors, and this gives the impression that the market may be saturated," he says, although he notes that the number of franchise brands in Australia fell slightly last year.

More franchises are starting to operate in "highly-specialised" areas, such as Begin Bright, a tutoring franchise for pre and primary school-age children, or Little Kickers, which teaches soccer skills to primary children, or Tile Rescue, which repairs and re-grouts damaged tiles, but which is not a tile-laying service.

"All of these highly specialised service franchises have something in common: They either offer some kind of professional development for their end users, or provide for the maintenance and enhancement of existing assets, such as pools, furniture, bathrooms and so on," Gehrke says.

Nina Rosace is another franchise founder who has targeted a niche market with her recently launched Home Sorted franchise.

"Unlike a cleaning franchise, Home Sorted specialises in de-cluttering and providing systems for keeping a busy home organised from the kid's bedrooms to the garage," Rosace says. "My franchise model marries both a specific problem with a specialised solution, allowing organising addicts to generate an income by helping disorganised people."

She began the business twenty years ago and built up to six staff before deciding it could work as a franchise model. A couple of months after launching she's already sold six franchises.

Rosace has created her own sector in the home maintenance industry.

"The originality of these franchise models are reinventing the way consumers shop to create a demand for a product or service that once never existed," she says.

"With the cleaners and burgers, there's a lot of competition out there as well. For Home Sorted, because it's new and it's unique and it's different, you don't have a lot of competition out there and I do feel like the world's your oyster."