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At least 14 franchisees have terminated their contracts with Van-Fit Direct amid rows over the quality of parts and accusations of poor support. Van-Fit Direct was launched at the British Franchise Association's show in 2003 and quickly signed up franchisees.
The mobile franchise, which is aimed at commercial van, car and fleet dealers, fits out vans and trailers with equipment such as roof-racks, shelving and tow bars.
But former franchisees cite a catalogue of complaints, including poorly made kits, delivery problems, a lack of support, inadequate training and inflated prices. Franchising solicitor David Bigmore has helped 14 Van-Fit franchisees terminate their contracts. Ex-franchisees estimate that more have jumped ship. The Department of Trade & Industry is understood to be looking into the business, based in West Bromwich, West Midlands, though it never comments on investigations.
Two years ago, Mike Bailey, 34, bought a Van-Fit Direct franchise in Manchester-for £24,000. He says he quickly encountered problems. 'The templates were of poor quality, often didn't fit, and kits kept going to the wrong depots,' he says.
Eventually he became so disillusioned that he and four other franchisees approached Bigmore and terminated their contracts. Mike says: 'The business was turning over about £10,000 a month, but after the franchisor's charges, there was nothing in it for me. Others tell a similar tale. Former Canterbury franchisee Derek Thompsett quit in September after three months trading because delivery problems became so bad that business dried up.
Van-Fit Direct denies it is at fault, accusing former franchisees of reneging on contacts, withholding royalties and failing to pay for stock. Business development manager Paul Flanagan says: 'They got phenomenal support. If anyone is struggling technically with training we have got three engineers in the field.'
Franchisee Mike Bailey says he quickly encountered problems.