EE’s head of franchise Brett Simpson is to leave the business this autumn.
His departure comes in the midst of EE’s major franchise store rollout which aims to open 100 franchise stores by Christmas.
Simpson’s departure will come as a blow to EE’s franchise programme which is at the heart of the operator’s battle to gain a greater share of the UK high street, in the face of mounting competition from rival operators Vodafone and O2 in the sector.
The programme was launched early last year with the trial of eight franchise stores. Back in October EE announced the rollout of another 14 franchise stores and in January revealed plans for a total of 100 franchise stores by December 2014.
The operator is now on the hunt for a new head of franchise to lead the programme. Simpson’s successor will face significant challenges. Sources say the rollout is running late and is struggling to attract enough franchise partners, due to the high fees which start at around £200,000. Potential partners have also raised concerns about the level of commissions on offer. The programme has also faced criticism from the Communication Workers Union, after some EE staff in stores being transferred to franchise partners raised concerns about their terms and conditions being undermined.
The programme signals a seismic shift in EE’s retail strategy and was launched ahead of EE’s major review of its indirect retail partnerships which is due to report this August.
It sees EE radically alter the balance of its 570-plus stores portfolio from one which is made up of predominantly directly managed stores to a mix of both. Last October’s 14 new franchise stores were transferred over from EE’s existing store portfolio. By January, 25 EE franchise stores had opened and the operator’s plans for a total of 100 stores was expected to see 45 transferred from existing stores with another 30 opened as brand new stores.
However since January the pace of the programme has slowed with just 10 stores opened in the past six months, bringing the total number of stores to 35. On current performance EE is unlikely to meet its planned target of opening 100 stores by Christmas.
Asked if the rollout was delayed, an EE spokesman said the programme had ‘fallen back’ from its original schedule, but was still on track to deliver by the end of this year.
He added: ‘I can confirm Brett Simpson is leaving later this year and we would like to thank him for his contribution. In the past 12 months alone our operation has seen the number of franchise stores rise from 8 to 35 stores and we have strong plans in place for the rest of the year.’