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Mobile Unit is a Moneymaker

Mobile Unit is a Moneymaker

January 9, 2007
Source: Small Business Opportunities

McDonald’s couldn’t ignore the hundreds of millions of Russians who wanted a cheeseburger instead of a tea biscuit and General Motors couldn’t look past the billions of Chinese who would rather drive a car than ride a bike. So it was only natural for FiltaFry President Victor Clewes to cross the pond to the land of opportunity,and more importantly, all things fried.

Developed in 1996 in the United Kingdom by a former software designer, FiltaFry is a franchise concept that specializes in cleaning deep fryers and recycling the cooking oil they use through a mobile, onsite fryer management program for restaurants and commercial kitchens that includes micro-filtration of cooking oil, thermostat calibration, vacuum-based cleaning of fryers and operations guidance.

While the Brits have their fish and chips, the number of fryers used in the United States to quench American appetites for the 4.5 billion pounds of French fries we consumed last year, not to mention the hundreds of millions of pounds of chicken wings, was more than enough reason for Clewes to pack his bags and come to Orlando in 2002 along with his wife, son, two dogs and three cats.

“It was always our intention to come to the United States,” Clewes said. “It’s obviously the frying capital of the world.”

Since it began franchising in the United States in 2002, FiltaFry’s popularity has been red-hot and it has quickly grown to 80 franchise locations in 32 states. With a rapidly growing list of more than 1,500 customers nationwide, including well-known hotel and restaurant brands; bars, airports, hospitals, schools, sports stadiums and casinos, FiltaFry is adding an average of eight to 12 new franchisees each month.

What’s even more intriguing about FiltaFry’s potential is that it is the only service provider and franchisor of its kind in the United States. FiltaFry already operates in the United Kingdom, Australia, Portugal, Spain, Ireland,Puerto Rico, Panama and several other countries.

Major brands such as The Cheesecake Factory, TGI Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday’s and Applebee’s use FiltaFry in various markets and FiltaFry recently signed a national service contract with Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

“The market for our service in the United States is enormous. It’s astonishing that no one actually offers a service here similar to what we’ve been providing in the UK,” said Clewes. “When FiltaFry franchisees present their service to potential customers they don’t have to worry about a competitor coming in and taking that business away. It’s a unique business and that’s what attracts people.”

FiltaFry provides a quick, safe, clean and cost-effective program to maintain deep fryers without interrupting day-to-day operations. Cleaning and maintenance of commercial fryers can be a dangerous task for foodservice employees who are not properly trained, often resulting in serious burns, falls and other injuries.

FiltaFry’s micro-filtration and vacuum cleaning removes small contamination particles that cause oil breakdown, resulting in cleaner and longer-lasting oil, hygienically clean fryers and improved food quality. Most customers are serviced one or two times each week, ensuring a recurring revenue stream for franchisees.

“People think we just take a machine in, filter the oil and clean the fryer. Yes, we do,” Clewes said. “But that’s only a small part of what FiltaFry is all about.”

Instead, FiltaFry manages and improves fryer operations from top to bottom. Fifty percent of the savings customers achieve are gained simply through improved fryer practices and not filtering alone. Operations guidance covers such matters as when to optimally dispose of degraded oil in order to extend its cooking life, when to turn fryers on so that oil isn’t wasted and the proper cooking temperatures for foods. Regular calibration of fryer thermostats ensures that food is cooked properly.

After a period four to six weeks, FiltaFry reviews the progress it has achieved with kitchen managers after suggested practices have been implemented and also produces detailed reports that cover such details as costs and frying operations analysis.

“If oil is burning away in their fryers it is costing them money and there are simple pointers we can give regarding food preparation. When someone is cutting open a bag of fries and a bit of plastic falls into the oil it can have a catastrophic effect,” Clewes said. “Others tried to replicate our service in the United Kingdom and got it wrong. The fryer management aspect of our service is what makes our service so valuable.”

FiltaFry is the brainchild of Jason Sayers, who was a software designer living outside London in 1996. He had a friend in the restaurant business who inspired Sayers to find a way to extend the life of cooking oil used in fryers. Sayers took his idea to an engineering firm that produced hydraulic oil filtration systems for aircraft and heavy equipment. The engineering firm modified its system for use in the food service industry.

Sayers’ original intention was to sell the filtration machines to commercial kitchens, but a franchise consultant at an inventors’ fair in the UK convinced Sayers he would have better success if he franchised his service.

Clewes joined FiltaFry late in 1996 to spearhead its growth. He founded a successful financial services franchise company in the UK in 1989 that specialized in home mortgages and grew it into a multimillion-dollar company.

During FiltaFry’s early years its programs and practices were developed and perfected. FiltaFry first expanded internationally to Australia in 1998. When Clewes first broached the idea of entering the U.S. market—where few UK franchisors have found success—all he heard was: “You’ll fail. There’s too much legislation. You’ll get eaten alive.”

Instead, Clewes dug in his heels and spent two years preparing for FiltaFry’s entry into the U.S. market, working alongside an attorney in formulating FiltaFry’s offering circular and franchise agreement while learning everything else he could about U.S. franchising by attending trade shows and talking with industry leaders.

“We were able to come to the United States with a blueprint for how to take the FiltaFry business and do it right from Day One,” Clewes said. “I think that’s why we’ve grown so quickly.”

Most FiltaFry franchisees operate as a home-based business and the required initial investment is approximately $67,350 to $75,100. About 60 percent of FiltaFry franchisees are owner-operators, while the remainder employ technicians to handle service calls. Restaurant experience is not necessary and franchisees come from a variety of backgrounds including firemen, chefs, real estate agents and military personnel.

“There’s no massive overhead or worries about being in the perfect location that you have with other franchise concepts,” Clewes said. “It’s a simple business that can be run from your home that has vast market appeal because the restaurant market is huge and forever growing.”

A major factor for FiltaFry’s success is that 50 percent of revenues are generated from non-restaurant customers that serve food, such as office-building cafeterias, factories, banks, call centers, bowling alleys, zoos and more. Most customers come from recommendations from satisfied customers and no-cost demonstrations by FiltaFry franchisees. In addition, a FiltaFry Business Development Manager (BDM) spends a minimum of two weeks with franchisees to establish a solid base of regular customers within their territory as soon as their business opens.

“People see us as a new franchise opportunity in the United States and that’s correct, but we’ve also been around for almost 10 years elsewhere. It’s a win-win situation. FiltaFry is proven and it’s new. It’s an exciting business for anyone to invest in.”

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