September 1, 2005
By: Stacy Freeborg
Source: Franchise Times
FiltaFry discovered that offering a cost saving service was just one chapter in their business plan. They took a cost-saving business – filtering cooking oil – and turned it into a franchise opportunity.
For FiltaFry, a U.K.-founded franchise that filters deep dryers for commercial kitchens, the U.S. market – and its love affair with all things fried – truly represents the land of opportunity.
However, it was not FiltaFry founder Jason Sayers’ original intention to franchise the business.
Unlike most entrepreneurs who chose franchising because it offers a cost-effective means to expand, Sayers fell into franchising after realizing it provided a better business model to bring his product to market.
Sayers developed a filtration system to extend the life of cooking oil used in fryers for a friend in the restaurant industry. He intended to sell the filtration machines until a franchise consultant at an inventor’s fair convinced him franchising his product as a service would be more lucrative.
Acting on his advice, Sayers began franchising FiltaFry in 1996 and attracted 80 franchisees in the United Kingdom within two years. Two years later, FiltaFry expanded internationally to Australia. In 2002, FiltaFry came to the United States and has 144 stateside franchises to date.
Though on a fast growth track today, FiltaFry endured a rocky start as Sayers walked the path of a fledgling franchisor. One of his first hurdles was identifying whether a market existed for the service.
Sayers admits he started the business backward. He developed the filtration system and sold several machines to commercial kitchens before he defined the market need for his product.
“I did market research after I developed the machine and found there were other machines out there being used to filter oil,” he said. These other systems, however, used strainers to filter oil, while FiltaFry uses micro-filtration – a more effective process for removing contamination particles that cause the breakdown of cooking oil.
Further research showed that commercial kitchens often discontinued use of filtration machines soon after purchasing them. High staff turnover in the food industry meant those knowledgeable about how to use the equipment quickly disappeared. In the end, most reverted to the more costly option of replacing the oil, rather than filtering and reusing it.
Armed with fasts about sizable market potential, Sayers was then unsure how to target it. During FiltaFry’s six months of operations, Sayers sold territories to two people, who he later realized were ill-suited to work in a startup franchise. “Even though I explained it was a pilot, they expected a system to be in place,” he said.
But he also shouldered part of the blame. “I had no experience in the franchise business and wasn’t prepared to give the support franchisees needed,” he admitted.
Recognizing the need for help, Sayers recruited Victor Clewes, who found a financial services franchise in the United Kingdom that grew into a multi-million dollar company. In late 1996, Clewes began to spearhead FiltaFry’s growth.
Building the Brand
To ensure franchisees are well grounded in FiltaFry’s brand, all owners are required to operate the filtration machine during their first three months of operation. To add value for customers, FiltaFry franchisees also learn to educate customers about how to cost-effectively manage their deep fryers, Clewes said.
Many places turn on the fryers at 8 a.m. and don’t cook anything in them until later in the day. They’re wasting money,” he explained.
FiltaFry clients include restaurants such as Dairy Queen, Applebee’s and Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon; commercial kitchens in hospitals, sports stadiums and corporate cafeterias; and small chains such as O’Boy BBQ in Florida.
Dustin Boyer, general manager for the four O’Boy BBQ locations, said FiltaFry has helped the chain save on oil costs as well as make their products taste better. Like most customers, O’Boy uses FiltaFry once or twice a week. The average FiltaFry service call costs approximately $47 per visit.
In the United States, FiltaFry adds an average of eight to 12 new franchisees each month.