Leather International: What is your company’s background?
Darren Prior:
Our company began as a small mobile repair unit in Queensland, Australia. The concept of mobile leather repairs began in 1987 with the original founder, Darryl Binch. In 2005, three partners, Geoff and Dean Reid, and I, purchased the rights to the business and began franchising the concept throughout Australia. The company now has mobile repair technicians all over Australia, New Zealand and Dubai. We also sell leather-care products and protection plans to most of the major furniture retailers in Australia.

What differentiates you from competitors in this market?
The main point of difference of our business is that we can complete the repair process on, say, a leather sofa, without having to remove the sofa. This saves a lot of not just inconvenience but also time and money.

Which industries would be using your services?
Most probably, the operations manager or concierge in hotels. Many of our repairs are for accidental damage caused by a guest or just normal wear and tear, where the leather needs recolouring or rejuvenating.

What are the current trends in the industry?
The trends in hospitality in the countries we provide our services are a demand for faster repairs at a fixed cost, and this is something that we are able to competently offer to the industry.

You currently work in Australia and the UAE, are there any plans to expand even further?
Yes, we have ambitions to duplicate and move our operation into other parts of the world. In April 2014, we began working in New Zealand, and already have a fleet of repair technicians on the north and south islands. We are closely monitoring the operation there with a view to expanding elsewhere.

What advantages do you see in the franchise concept and how do you guarantee the same excellent service everywhere?
The benefits of the franchise concept is that the franchisee acts as licensed partner of your brand – not just as an employee. And of course, the reason for that is that the franchisee has invested capital into the business; there is no slave and master relationship – it’s more of a husband and wife relationship. Generally, this means the franchisee has a much higher level of commitment to customer service.

The downside to this relationship, however, is that you cannot ‘tell’ a franchisee what to do, you can only advise, so we, as master franchisers, find ourselves in a democracy rather than a dictatorship.

Looking ahead, what do you see as the main challenges and highlights for your company over the coming year?
Our main challenges are managing growth and finding competent franchisees. A person who purchases a franchise is a unique individual – they want to be on their own but not alone. As owners of the franchise, we need to constantly tread the fine line between being seen as supportive and being seen as meddling.

A good franchisee understands the agreement and the limitations of a franchise business, and strives to act as a responsible independent business owner and also as a brand ambassador – and therefore as a team player. Finding such people is always a tricky thing to do but well worth the effort when you find that person.