"Our ambition is to become Scotland's premier retail service firm and to drive forward growth opportunities we have identified in a sector with unexpectedly impressive resilience."
Early in 2009, we launched our specialist Retail Sector Group under David Kaye, one of Scotland's leading retail and franchising lawyers. Our experience in retail is proving counterintuitive: headline failures have made the sector look more depressed than anything we've actually been finding on the ground ourselves. We have seen an unexpectedly impressive resilience in many instances in the sector throughout these difficult economic times. There are two reasons for this. One is our decision to sharpen our focus on retail. We're now marketing a comprehensive portfolio of skills in areas of law - employment contracts, online compliance, property and planning, intellectual property and trademark issues, health and safety and trading standards - in which retail players need our width of specialised expertise.
The second reason for genuine excitement is our vigorous pursuit of the opportunities we see in retail business format franchising activity. This is a segment in which the recession, paradoxically, has widened the scope for potential business. The banks are now lending more to franchise propositions, on the back of the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme offering a government guarantee for a large percentage (up to 80%) of what they lend. Applications are taking less time to process than those under its predecessor.
We're finding this an attractive halfway house for a number of unemployed people with business ambition. Conversely, it's also arousing increasing interest among larger brand owning companies who find it difficult to raise conventional growth funding in the current environment and are looking at franchising as a viable route to expand their businesses.
And the opportunities are not just domestic. What is particularly interesting is the international dimension. We are developing relationships with a growing number of UK and Scottish-based franchisors who are keen to develop their brand abroad. The Middle East is one increasingly popular destination, and Europe is another. We're also targeting foreign brands planning to enter the UK market through franchise operations.