Exporting haggis... to Japan

Franchising wasn’t part of the business plan for haggis toastie maker Deeney’s – until a Japanese entrepreneur insisted.

When Carol and Paddy Dwyer of Deeney’s first started selling signature haggis toasties in 2012, they didn’t expect that within five years they’d also have a presence in Japan.

But in January 2017, the couple were contacted out of the blue with a proposal to open up an outlet in Tokyo. Yoko Okitsu and Kitz Masateru Okitsu, who had visited the Deeney’s stall while on holiday in the UK, were convinced they could make the Scottish concept work in their home country. ‘They came to Broadway Market [in east London], tried it and saw the queues we had,’ Carol Dwyer says. ‘Nothing like that would [have been] available in Japan.’

Licence to grill

The couple had toyed with the idea of franchising the Deeney’s brand before, although they were thinking more along the lines of Glasgow than Ginza. They dusted off their notes and quickly enlisted the help of a lawyer to get their trademarks in order, so they could license out the brand properly. 

‘My lawyers had dealt with the Japanese market before, so they knew what to look out for in terms of which legal bodies would be involved. But to be honest, it was actually straightforward,’ Carol adds. The lawyer guided them through the process, while their Japanese counterparts took care of translating the necessary documents from their side.

‘We [initially] proposed a percentage of revenue share, but [the Okitsus] preferred it to be a lump sum for a set amount of time,’ Carol explains. ‘The risk was theirs. We had nothing to lose, because it was on the other side of the world.’

Meeting in person

Only so much could be achieved through lawyers, though, and once the basics of the agreement had been sorted, it was time to train the franchisees up in how to make the perfect haggis toastie. After three months of liaising over email, the Okitsus arrived in London.

‘That really solidified the relationship,’ Paddy says. ‘Before it was back and forth [in emails with] broken English. It might have all just fallen through.’ 

The Dwyers spent two weeks teaching the franchisees everything they could about Deeney’s and the world it operated in. ‘They really wanted it to feel like a London street food stall,’ Paddy adds. ‘We visited places in London that we were inspired by, so they could get a feel for it.’

They also made toastie after toastie, with the Okitsus observing and filming everything to make sure they could get the process exactly right when they were back home in Japan. ‘They were so obsessed with replicating it to the finest detail,’ Carol says. ‘They respected every single process we had.’

Opening day

Once the franchisees returned to Japan, it was all on them to put the finishing touches to the project. The pair found a vintage food truck to serve the toasties from, and spent time recreating a traditional haggis recipe (it’s not possible to source the MacSween brand of haggis, which the Dwyers use, in Japan).

Carol admits that the whole process has been much more time consuming than she expected – especially when having to explain the nuances of Scottish cuisine over email. But supporting the Okitsus in this venture is also incredibly beneficial to Deeney’s as a business. If it goes well, Deeney’s will have a blueprint for future franchisees. The cash injection to the business – although the Dwyers will not confirm how much was paid to license the brand – has also been valuable, allowing Deeney’s to expand its presence in the UK.

After nine months of legals, training and preparing, in September 2017 Deeney’s first international outpost finally launched.

A year later, the Dwyers were finally able to visit. ’We got off the plane and went to Shinjuku station where they were trading that day and had our Macbeth haggis toastie,’ Paddy explains. The Okitsus were, he says, anxious to see his review. ‘It was exactly the same. Identical.’

Expert advice

Andy Dick, compliance executive for the British Franchise Association, on what to consider when setting up a franchise.

Make sure your business offers franchisees a business format which includes the brand, system, support and franchise agreement.

Research the market fully to ensure your products/services are competitive and distinctive enough to be franchised and customer demand is sufficiently widespread.

Register your trademarks and protect all intellectual property relevant to your business.

Pilot the operation for at least 12 months, and in multiple locations to test different demographics, to identify any problems/issues.

Produce a comprehensive Operations Manual and training programme for franchisees. 

Use BFA accredited Affiliates to help identify if the business is franchisable. Get your recruitment and development strategy right and ensure the agreement is clear and concise to help prevent future conflicts.

This article was first published in Courier Issue 28, April/May 2019. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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