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Building Goodwill and U.S. Brand Awareness in the Middle East

A joint trade mission brings together U.S. brands representatives, a franchise journalist, U.S. Commercial Service professionals and numerous prospects to broaden the reach of franchising.

The International Franchise Association, Franchise Times and the U.S. Commercial Service kicked off the first leg of the U.S. Franchise Trade Mission to the Middle East in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in May. Other stops included were Dubai, Cairo, Amman, Jordan and Doha, Qatar.

Trade mission participants included Greenberry’s Coffee Co. Senior Vice-Pres., International Development Robert Shaw; Hertz Equipment Rental Franchise Operations Mgr. Brad Siniscalchi; and Gen. Mgr. – Middle East & North Africa Matt Ladd; Johnny Rockets Pres., International Division Steven Devine; Pollo Tropical Senior Vice Pres., International Development Marc Mushkin, CFE; Tutor Doctor Vice Pres., International Franchise Development Rogelio Martinez, CFE; and Wing Zone Vice Pres. of International Development Hair Parra.

U.S. Commercial Service Dir. KL Fredericks, the trade mission leader, coordinated the mission and worked with the host countries on logistics and the individual meetings. “We were pleased to be able to work with such quality franchise brands and connect them with potential candidates here in the Middle East,” said Fredericks.

Nancy Weingartner, editor of Franchise Times and the co-sponsor of the trade mission, accompanied the group and had responsibility for promoting the trade mission.

The U.S. Commercial Service in Abu Dhabi, led by Senior Commercial Officer John Simmons and his staff, arranged for U.S. Ambassador to the UAE Michael Corbin to welcome the group and introduce trade mission participants to the chamber executives.

After participating franchise executives were approved for the mission, they were presented by the Commercial Service officers to master and area development prospects and one-on-one meetings were ultimately arranged for the executives to meet with prospects.

For more than seven hours, international franchise executives met with potential partners in back- to-back meetings. Mushkin described the day as a “speed dating” marathon that was a very effective way to meet the right candidates for his brand.

Visiting Dubai

The group began its visit with a briefing at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai. Commercial Attaché Robert Bannerman updated the group on the economy and the opportunities available for franchisors in the market. The group discussed Dubai’s achievement of becoming the second busiest airport in the world and the opportunities that place the city on the world’s stage. The exposure of U.S. brands at the first places as the Dubai Mall and Emirates Mall allows smart franchisors and their franchisees to reach millions of potential customers to extend their brands’ presence deep into the Middle East and Africa due to heavy traffic flowing through Dubai. Bannerman reported that the United States exports more goods to the UAE than to India.

The group then headed off to another full day of one-on-one visits, this time visiting the candidates at their offices in the Dubai area. The franchise executives reported solid interest from the prospects. That evening the trade mission participants met at the Ritz Carlton for a reception sponsored by the American Business Council of Dubai and Northern Emirates.

Cairo and the Franchise Exhibition

Delegates next stopped in Cairo in time for the opening of the 2013 Middle East International Franchise Exhibition. Several U.S. brands exhibited at the show, including master franchisees for Egypt for Gold’s Gym, Maui Wowi’s Emad Fahim and Papa John’s Pizza’s Sharif Galal. Galal said the brand currently has 14 locations open and operating with plans to have more than 25 within the next few years.

Another important component of the trade mission was the retail tour that typically occurs in the markets that the franchisors visited. The group toured new projects in the suburbs of New Cairo, including Cairo Festival City which is owned by Al-Futtaim of the UAE. This project spans more than 700 acres and is a mixed-use urban community with shopping, dining, entertainment, schools, hotels and residential villas and apartments. Franchise brands now booked into the community include Burger King, The Cheesecake Factory, IKEA, KFC, Kidzania, The Little Gym, Pizza Hut and Toys”R”Us.

Fourth Stop − Amman, Jordan

Here, the group met with U.S. Commercial Service – Amman Commercial Counselor Sandy Owens and Senior Commercial Specialist Muna Farkouh to prepare for the following day. Nearly 40 one-on-one appointments were booked for the participating franchise companies for the one-and-a half days the group would be in the city.

The Commercial Service and the American Chamber of Commerce in Jordan hosted a breakfast for the delegation that included a visit by U.S. Ambassador Stuart Jones and American Chamber Chairman Mohammed S. Bataineh.

During the legal briefing presented by International Business Legal Associates Partner and head of Intellectual Property Department, Nancy Dababneh, the group learned there is no specific franchise law in Jordan and that franchise agreements are governed by civil law. Dababneh stressed the importance of spelling out in the franchise agreement the specific relationship between the franchisor and franchisee. There have been cases where the government considered the franchise relationship similar to a commercial agent/agency relationship and that the agreement should be viewed instead as an intellectual property license, Dababneh said.

Last Stop − Doha, Qatar

The final stop for the Franchise Trade Mission was Doha, Qatar. There, participants were met by Senior Commercial Officer Robert Dunn, Senior Commercial Advisor Mahmound Skhiri and Commercial Specialist Anissa Lahreche to prepare the group for another busy day of briefings and individual meetings.
Michael Palmer, of counsel and member of the business practice of Patton Boggs LLP, led the morning sessions with a legal update on “Doing Business in Qatar.” Palmer confirmed that there is no specific franchise law in Qatar, only the need to register the franchise trademark. He stressed that franchisors need to be in control of the trademarks, licenses and ownership of materials in the country.

The group then heard from local franchisees who have operated in the market for a number of years. Vijay Arora, operations director with Chili’s – Qatar, part of International Food Concepts Co., has been operating in the country for 12 years and sees strong potential for growth as long as population growth keeps up with building in the area.

The Commercial Service team arranged for a press event attended by more than a dozen media representatives who queried members of the delegation and were treated to their stories about seeking brand partners in Qatar. The group also enjoyed a busy afternoon and evening of individual meetings with prospects who had been prequalified by the Commercial Service staff.

The second day in Doha began with tours of a number of malls and massive new community projects. The delegation enjoyed breakfast at the new Tim Horton’s Coffee Shop in Ezdan Mall followed by a tour of the retail center. U.S. brands open or in the process of being built in the mall include Fuddruckers, Johnny Rockets, KFC, Papa John’s, Pinkberry, Robeks and Subway.

The final official function of the mission was a luncheon at the St. Regis hotel hosted by U.S. Ambassador Susan Ziadeh and the Qatari Businessmen’s Association and represented by Hussain Ebrahim Alfardan, first deputy to the chairman of the board who is also chairman of the Alfardan Group, which has businesses in jewelry, real estate and automotive sales.

After spending 11 productive days together, the mission participants agreed they were optimistic of soon returning to sign deals in the countries visited.

Scott Lehr, CFE, is senior vice president, U.S. & international development of the International Franchise Association. He can be reached at 202-662-0785 or slehr@franchise.org.

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