National Drones is bringing a franchise approach to drone operator hire

- May 19, 2016 4 MIN READ

With Australian startup Flirtey getting one of its drones exhibited in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, it might be safe to say that drones may finally on their way into the mainstream. While parcel delivery is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when most think of drones, the potential scope for use of drones is wide, with the value of the global drone market estimated to reach USD$5.59 billion by 2020.

Victorian company National Drones, founded by Kevin Scrimshaw and Brad Aylett-Sloan, is looking to bring drones to the masses by connecting licensed drone operators to consumers who need aerial photography, videography, spotting, or surveillance services around the country through a franchise model.

The idea originally came to Aylett-Sloan through his time as a building inspector, where he was often restricted in his ability to perform inspections at height due to workplace health and safety regulations requiring the use of either scaffolding or elevated work platforms, an expense few customers wanted when have a building inspected pre-purchase, Scrimshaw explained.

“He realised that drones would not only solve this problem, but with the addition of a thermal imaging camera to enable closer inspection of solar panels, heating and cooling systems installed on roofs, heat loss sensing, and moisture retention detection, drones would dramatically improve the quality and content of his reports,” Scrimshaw said.

However, when Aylett-Sloan began looking into how to become a licensed and certified commercial drone operator, he saw that there were a number of barriers to overcome, which led him to question the value of doing it for his own purposes alone, and that’s when he approached Scrimshaw. The pair decided to partner, with Scrimshaw taking an equity position in Aylett-Sloan’s building inspections business while developing the National Drones model.

The first step was to qualify as a drone pilot, which meant learning how to fly, taking a theoretical training course, passing exams, and attaining both an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Controller’s Certificate and Aeronautical Radio Operator’s Certificate (AROC). Scrimshaw said this was a relatively quick process, but then getting National Drones certified as an operator was significantly more time consuming with the Civial Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) working through a backlog of applications as the drone space heats up.

The pair also then realised that they didn’t have any direct experience in starting a franchise, and so consulted with industry experts to develop a Code-compliant franchise business model.

Why look to a franchise model in the first place? Scrimshaw said it was always the preferred method of growth as it will allow the pair to partner with likeminded entrepreneurs who will each have a stake in the game.

“While there are obviously many other business models that would allow for such ‘partnering’ to occur, franchising provides a comparatively simple, structured and recognisable approach that defines the roles each partner has to play in the success of the business,” Scrimshaw explained.

National Drones will take a slow approach to expansion, Scrimshaw said, as it looks to properly train and support franchisees.

“We have absolutely no interest in suddenly flooding what is a relatively new market with albeit ‘enthusiastic’ operators that struggle to find work due to a current lack of recognition of the role a drone can play in cutting costs, delivering efficiencies and saving time. At the same time as rolling out our franchise business model, we need to educate our target markets as to the comparative advantages of using drones,” he explained.

National Drones launched with an exhibit at the Franchise and Business Opportunities Expo, and is exhibiting at the same show in various cities around the country.

So far Scrimshaw said that the pair’s experience in building inspections has seen services such as roof, solar panel, HVAC, and building energy efficiency reporting have been most popular, while it has also conducted real estate photography and videography works, land surveying, and some agricultural mapping, or plant health indexation.

“Our target markets on the consumer side vary significantly based on the region of operation. A metro franchisee for example might target building inspectors, building managers, body corporates, architects, town planners, solar panel maintenance firms, plumbers and electricians, responsible for maintenance of installations on the roofs of commercial buildings, to name but a few,” Scrimshaw said.

“A regional franchisee might target farming and agricultural services, pipeline inspections or large area mapping. Remote area franchisees might focus on mining applications or, in the future, small parcel delivery.”

There are a number of Australian companies working with drones, though perhaps Melbourne’s Arcadia Sky comes the closest in terms of similarities to National Drones in that both connect consumers with licensed drone operators. However, Arcadia Sky is more of a comparison marketplace, allowing customers to search for and obtain quotes from independent drone operators.

As such, Scrimshaw doesn’t see the business as having a competitor in the marketplace, and said its goal is to open up new markets by introducing the concept of using drones where they haven’t previously been used.

“By making drones more widely accessible and as a result, more affordable – by eliminating travel from another location – our aim is to make drones the obvious choice when considering the most effective and efficient way of conducting a related service,” he said.

Over the coming months the business will be looking to bring on franchisees and investigating tech to expand its offering.

Scrimshaw said, “We’ve purposely chosen the name National ‘Drones’ to allow us to investigate other drone technologies, including subaquatic, subterranean and all-terrain (ATV) technologies that can collectively perform a range of services not currently performed by an exclusively “aerial” drone service provider.”

Image: Brad Aylett-Sloan and Kevin Scrimshaw. Source: Provided.