Interview: M&Co's international franchise director Lee Braid

Fashion retailer M&Co's international franchise director, Lee Braid, is a confirmed speaker at the International Retail Franchising Summit on 9 March 2016.

Braid joins a host of senior retail professionals on the conference programme, including international execs from the likes of Debenhams, Hobbs and Hamleys. The M&Co director is set to take part in the panel discussion, 'Build High Performing People and Processes', alongside EE franchise consultant, Nick Carnes, and talent acquisition specialist, Kate Smedley.

Essential Retail caught up with Braid to find out about how his role is changing because of advancements in technology and to hear about M&Co's plans in international franchising for the year ahead.

Essential Retail (ER): How has your role changed over the last few years, as a result of new technologies hitting the international retail market?

Lee Braid (LB): The main impact has been in the growth of eCommerce. My role needs to account for the fact that the pace of this change does and will vary across territories. In most cases the pace of change is not as fast as we have witnessed in the UK, but we have to be clear that a pure bricks and mortar strategy will become less and less relevant over time. This is impacting the way we negotiate new market franchise agreements and how we operate with current partners in markets where the dynamic is changing.

ER: What are the different challenges facing franchisers compared to other international expansion models in the new world order of retail?

LB: The main challenge compared to other retail models is in finding a competent, credible partner with the resources and drive to manage the business. A competent and enthusiastic partner can make or break the success of a market. Businesses choosing to take an 'own run' route to market face different challenges, including setting up the local infrastructure and operation in more detail (and with more responsibility and direct cost) than is required with a franchise. The attraction of a franchise model is in managing the relative risk, but also in allowing the local partner to drive the pace of expansion. More recently the traditional franchise model is being challenged for its commercial relevance in terms of returns and costs for the relevant parties.

ER: Which retailers do you admire from an international expansion perspective?

LB: Inditex for its mindset and scale of expansion. It is an international retailer which happens to have its HQ in Spain. This international mindset is yet to fully take hold of retailers in the UK. Inditex has maintained flexibility in its approach with a mixture of franchise and brand-owned stores, which are tailored to the individual market in question, but the retailer has still been able to maintain a consistency of brand image across markets.

ER: What investments is your company set to make in the year ahead? Anything in particular you are working on that is set to take the company in a new direction?

M&Co's store in Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi

LB: The M&Co eCommerce site has been replatformed and is undergoing further development. This will facilitate far more functionality to trade successfully in international markets. This will make it easier for us to operate in local language and facilitate necessary changes to key operating procedures such as payment and delivery methods, which vary from market to market.

ER: How closely does your international franchise team work with the UK-based business?

LB: Even though we operate a ‘pull’ stock system my team are still integrated into the UK business. This is essential if we are to maintain clear and up to date brand communications with our partners. The product is of course the most important element for our partners, but it is also important that they receive the most appropriate and relevant support across all facets of trading an M&Co store. This is best delivered where a closeness of operation with the UK business is maintained.

ER: Why is there a need for the International Retail Franchising Summit, this year, and why were you interested in taking part?

LB: I am interested in taking part as it is always productive to listen to, and discuss issues with my peers who operate and manage overseas retail ventures. We all face significant challenges in market performance and global economics, together with challenges to our model of operation and ways of working, so a summit of this type is very relevant and useful.

The summit runs at Hilton Olympia in London, and you can check the full schedule here.

For more details on the summit, or to register for the conference, please contact event director, David Webster, on

Click below for more information:

International Retail Franchising Summit 2016