Let’s talk business with “The Charcoal Shop”

Do not get confused by the name “The Charcoal Shop”. You are looking at a one-stop-shop for a business development platform. If you thinking of growing your business in franchising, joint venture or distribution, look no further.  Let us talk business with “The Charcoal Shop” Partner & Managing Director – Shivam Sharma.

1. How did you enter in the franchise business?

Having worked with top retailers, like Landmark Group, Fawaz Al Hokair, AlShaya Group in last 20 years, gave me a good retail insight. Getting involved in identifying and bringing several international brands into this region and expansion of various homegrown concepts was of immense learning.

2. Where and how did the idea of your concept come from?

Business development has been my first love, idea of helping businesses to expand through franchising was the natural choice while setting up my own business. The missing link was whom to collaborate with. “Let us work with the best”, I said to myself. So I approached ‘Franchise Pool International’ and became exclusive network partner for the region. This gave me an instant reach across 47 countries including USA, Canada, Europe, Asia.
With Neelesh Bhatnagar agreeing to extend his support by becoming partner and investor, was a huge moral boost, and, we thus became part of ‘NB Ventures’.

3. What inspired the brand name?

This definitely is a funny story to share. This name ‘The Charcoal Shop’ was initially conceived by my wife to sell her charcoal paintings online. Needless to say, I liked the name so much that I pursued her to give up the name and I used it as my company name. Idea was to keep the name unique and non-relevant to the business. Till date, when I hand over my business card to someone, the instant reaction is why ‘The Charcoal Shop’. Thinking in my mind, what a brand recall this question creates, I politely smile and say, “whats in the name”….

4. What is the story behind the brand’s logo?

I always wanted to keep the brand logo very simple and clean. While looking at 10th options suggested by the creative agency, I told them back, “make it simpler and cleaner”. Needless to say that they were overdoing the logo to express their creative best. My son, who had then, just graduated as an Architect from UC Berkeley came up to me and said, let me understand your thoughts and will prepare a draft for them to understand better. He drew a logo based on my comments and was about to forward it to the agency. I looked at it and said, “stop!!! that’s what I was looking for, this is going to be our logo”. And the logo got the final shape after minor adjustments.

5. What makes your brand different from your competitors?

We are not typical brand collectors, most franchise consulting firms keep an average portfolio of around 100 + brands to sell. It makes your brand sit in a very crowded space. We are very selective, we work with fewer brands, which we feel we can do justice with. Also, our reach of ‘Franchise Pool International’ network partners, exposes the brand across 47 countries including USA, Canada, Europe, Middle East and Asia, which is a big plus.

6. What are the essential qualities that you look for in a franchisee?

Are you unique? Ask yourself, do you have something different and beyond to offer than most of your competitors. If the answer is YES, you have successfully ticked the first question towards franchising your business.
Second, for a brand to be franchising ready, there should be a strong proof of concept. Pilot store[s] and history of performance is critical.
Last but not the least, it is nice to have a story behind the brand, but this story should be backed by strong product. Only marketing and packaging without solid product offering might give some initial success but will fail you in long run.
Preparation is key to success in franchise business.

7. How long does it take, in an average, for your franchisee to realize their investment?

There are no straight answers to this question, as the performance of the franchisee often depends on various unknowns such as concept, location, team, social behavior to sometimes as far as government policies. Having said that, as a thumb rule, franchisee in a normal scenario should realize their investments in 2 years to 3 years period. I generally look at franchises with lot of caution who offer instant success, although I am not saying that quick success is impossible.

8. What was the major challenge you faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

When people approach us to franchise their business, at times upon close study, we realize that their business can’t be franchised. We have to advice them not to franchise their business as we see not much probability of success against time, resource and funds spent.

It’s really heartbreaking and challenging initially, but in most cases we have observed, come back to us thanking us for giving them the right piece of advice.

8.1. What is your best achievement?

In year 2000, I was in the team for bringing Geant Hypermarket franchise into this region. It was a remarkable experience and learning during negotiation and setting-up the French hypermarket franchise.

The challenge was to commit to set up something, a hypermarket, one which I had never seen in my life. The whole journey of opening Geant store was overwhelming and professionally fulfilling.

9. How does your business day start?

Generally the business day starts with the team meeting discussing various issues, setting tone of the day and resolving issues of concern if any. This is definitely followed by a black coffee.

10. Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

Apart from our office in Dubai, which looks after MENA markets, recently we have also opened office in India and China. We need to work towards strengthening these offices in coming years.

Our focus will remain to assist businesses to expand Middle East, Africa, Indian sub-continent and China directly through our offices and in USA, Canada, Europe and Asia through our FPI network partners.

11. Any tips you want to impart to our readers who want to be in the franchise industry?

Before getting into franchise business, please ensure you are ready in terms of commitment and resource planning. It is an exciting roller coaster journey, you feel excited when you climb upwards and scared when come down the curve. The million-dollar question remains, are you ready?

If yes, do it now as there no tomorrow. Need any help, suggestions or guidance, please feel free to reach me.

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