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The night queen has invaded the northernmost part of easteros with an army of ice wightwalkers. They have surrounded a castle called summerfall, trapping our heroes inside. Various armies of different nations have put their war on hold to unite against this common threat. The future is bleak and everyone expects to be dead before the dawn. The only consolation is that they can share a hot cup of coffee before they die.

Years ago, the Lord of summer fall built a store called starbucks, which served the inhabitants coffee to keep them warm and energized during the cold seasons. These magical coffee beans were invented to be able to withstand many different environments, and could be grown at any time of the year. It was a hit with the people, with starbucks opening up chains of stores throughout the north. It eventually became so successful that it spread to other parts of the kingdom and becoming the ancient world's first franchise.

Opening up a franchise chain involves the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies. This requires the organization of moving, housing, and supplying troops and equipment, as well as the commercial activity of transporting goods to consumers. The setup for this would be very difficult even for today with 21st century tech. I need to figure out the logistics of this for the ancient world to make this a reality. How can I make this possible?

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    $\begingroup$ Since nobody knows what a "check" is in this world with rudimentary banking, the company must move wagonloads of money around frequently for ordinary payroll, to pay for supplies and equipment, and to collect/distribute profits. As a bandit out in the woods, I find this enormous, frequent cash movement utterly delightful. My cousin, an embezzling and pilfering barrista in town, also finds this cash-rich, oversight-poor setup very attractive. $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 17 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ You need a reasonably uniform rule of law, with minimal corruption: "Sorry, central office. My Duke says that I'm not allowed to pay franchise fees directly to you anymore. He says he's collecting the fees on your behalf, so go ask him for the money. He says I get to keep using the name and logo, though, and his alchemist has made me a supply of magic beans that are almost as good as yours." $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 17 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ Colonies are kind of like franchises, along with vassals and kings, each passing profits up the line over large geographic distances, and always with some expectation that laws and culture are passed back down. Add in a "king's brand" and it's basically the same thing. $\endgroup$ – fredsbend May 18 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Feudalism itself was effectively a franchise, or rather a recursive franchise. $\endgroup$ – Ray Butterworth May 18 at 12:15
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The only way a franchise makes sense in the ancient world is to take your magic beans, put them in sacks with a mermaid on them, and sell them to anybody who will buy them. This is how it actually worked in the ancient world with operations that had a widespread reputation. They didn't open 'stores' the way you're thinking, they just made their goods and made it as difficult as possible for anybody else to copy them, and then shipped them all over the place.

Actual RETAIL franchises like you're thinking aren't practical at all in a setting like this. Here's why: The benefits of a franchise operation come from economies of scale that rely on a) cheap large-radius advertising (e.g. radio/television) b) cheap long-distance transportation of goods and c) a customer base that frequently travels, and is looking for a known reliable source of what they want.

None of these factors exist in the ancient world, so there's no benefit to be had from establishing a franchise the way you're thinking.

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    $\begingroup$ You have a good point but I think you are overstating it with saying none of the factors "existed". Pilgrimages to places like the Temple of Artemis or Temple in Jerusalem existed. The Mediterranean was used to ship grain and other bulk goods. And during the empire the road network and Pax Romana allowed safe travel and communications. So as long as your starting point is a Mediterranean harbor that has an attraction that brings lots of travellers, the factors do kind of exist. Probably not relevant to the question, though. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 17 at 21:18
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Starbucks isn't about the coffee

There are countless coffee shops all over the place. In the United States, coffeeshops are so common that a town of 50,000 people will easily have a dozen of them, not counting restaurants and stands and trucks and other places that sell prepared coffee.

While most of what Starbucks sells is prepared coffee, that's not why customers choose them over other places that sell prepared coffee (to the point that a lot of longtime independent coffeeshops have gone out of business). Their coffee is better than some places but nothing special.

People in our modern world (especially in the US) value consistency. They want to know they can walk in and always get the same cup of coffee, made just how they like it. This has only gotten worse as coffeemaking (both in making the actual coffee and in pulling together the customers specific cup) is now so complex that people who go into a shop and just ask for "a cup of coffee" are ridiculed on internet joke sites. If you learn the Starbucks system, you can go anywhere in the country (and to some degree the world) and order a complex (they're all complex now) cup of coffee just how you like it and know exactly what you're getting. And guess what, people who use one shop's terminology at a different shop get ridiculed on the internet too. And in person.

Starbucks also has consistency in their cold drinks, non-coffee drinks, and their food offerings (though some locations may have larger or smaller selections). Their cups are branded (no matter the season, you'll be able to recognize a Starbucks cup). You know about what you're going to pay for stuff.

Coffeeshops are also destinations. If you want a place to sit and read or work on your laptop or chat with friends, you will have to try out a lot of coffeeshops to figure out which ones let you do what and for how long and with what access to electrical outlets. While an individual Starbucks might have somewhat different seating arrangements, and different crowds, from another, your overall experience is about the same.

When you set up a franchise, it's consistency you're selling.

Take McDonald's. This hamburger stand opened its first franchise in 1955. As their stores expanded, they did not at first ship food from central locations like they do now. Stores sourced their ingredients locally. The consistent feel came from the physical store, the menu, and the cooking style (with specific recipes, amounts, etc).

By 1981 the food coming in was shipped and ready to go and each store had to comply with the main office's specific rules.

At least the menu was blessedly simple, with about a third of today’s 100-plus items. “Back then, you could crank out a lot of burgers with 10-to-1 meat,” Jarvis says, referring to boxes of 10 burger patties per pound. He quarterbacked his staff from the fry station near the center of the store, becoming a stickler for following McDonald’s exacting standards for preparing food. “French fries were our bread and butter,” he says. “I wanted a fry person who, when the fries were seven minutes old in the fry basket, they would throw them away. It’s in the manual.”

Now things are so complex that going back to local sourcing is a problem. But before the national highway system, before giant trucks with freezers (even more so than giant train cars with freezers), perishable ingredients had to be local.

Keeping a franchise recognizable as such required building shops that looked alike, manuals for operation that made sure staff in one location was interchangeable with another, identical equipment, and plenty of branding. This means lots of visits from corporate to make sure a location was on track. While coffee beans transport pretty well, there's a lot more to a franchise.

You're not selling coffee beans.

You're selling coffee seeds. You're selling seeds that can be grown anywhere in the kingdom. Each agricultural operation has to be different. No matter how adapted these magic coffee plants are, each area has its own way of growing, its own sources of water and fertilizer, its own way of doing things. You aren't managing all that, nor should you. The growing would fail if you did.

Maybe you do sell the processed beans.

But say you don't sell the seeds, you only lease out the farms and allow others to grow them for you. Then you process and distribute the coffee beans which are ready to be ground up and made into coffee. That alone is a big deal and you will have different products from different regions.

So on to the franchise. The concept of a franchise only works if people go to more than one location. Otherwise, how do they know it's the same? In our modern world, we all know that a Starbucks or McDonald's is the same everywhere, even if we've been to just one of each (or zero). In your world, at least some people would need to experience it.

Not enough people travel in your kingdom. And none of them are going to care about the consistent experience. Sure, they might all want "Summerfall Coffee" (just like they all want Dornish Wine with dinner) but that's a produced product that goes through distribution channels and is available for individual inns and cafes and other places that serve food (like castles) to buy wholesale.

Would it be possible?

Possibility isn't just about the tech, like you imply. It's also cultural. Culturally, no way. There's no reason for it and no desire.

As for the tech...

  • First what you need is a central office (that's more or less done).
  • Well-trained enforcers (easy enough).
  • You need a manual for setup and operations. That's a bit harder because everything has to be handwritten and copied and not many people know how to read.
  • Franchise owners need to come to Summerfall (or other central location) for training. This is not impossible...the owners would all be 3rd and 4th sons of lesser nobles. The ones who don't want to just be knights or live in their older brother's shadow all the time. If you really want more applicants, open it up to the daughters.
  • Getting into this is very very expensive.
  • Once trained, the franchise owner goes back home and oversees construction, probably with an enforcer around for that.
  • The owner has bought the branded company equipment and hauled it back.
  • The staff doesn't have to know how to read (well the supervisors should) and their training is very specific.
  • We'll allow each establishment to supply their own mugs for serving the coffee.
  • Every few months, a new supply of coffee beans comes in, along with an enforcer to make sure the franchise is doing what it needs to be doing. And of course to collect their share of revenues and payment for the coffee.

With a non-perishable single product, could you handle the logistics of a franchise in that world? Yes.

Would it work out financially for all concerned? Probably not.

Would all the trouble to create a consistent experience for the customer be worth it? No.

Your customers will buy because nobody else has coffee, at least not in the north and central parts of the kingdom. You have no competition, so why does the experience matter?

You'd be better off selling the seeds or the processed beans.

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  • $\begingroup$ Consistency, +1. The other side of the coin is that there's laws in place that make it illegal for anyone else to produce their product. $\endgroup$ – Mazura May 17 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura Good addition. Enforcing that requires a central government (or govs that respect other gov laws), enforcers who know what they're doing, good communication, good travel, etc. $\endgroup$ – Cyn May 17 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ Some franchises aren't all that consistent. Sometimes it's just a burger joint, rather than a very specific burger. - To individual merchants, the company is selling them a proven business with promised ongoing support and product development. $\endgroup$ – fredsbend May 18 at 2:41
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Family A big problem involved in doing this is trust. You have to trust a lot of people far away that you never have and never will meet. If they are all related that helps to make it even better make them a tolerated but not loved minority to encourage them to stick together. The family wouldn't start this out as a franchise in the way we understand it; instead a group of them moves to a new city and sets up a branch because it's what they know how to do. Whenever possible they would duplicate the supply chain of the previous location rather than ship goods to save costs and because they all know how to do it.

Having all the same logos and slogans and brand names is still a but much to expect though. Unless perhaps there is a religious angle involved. This family all worship the god starbuck and decorate their businesses with his likeness. Their slogans are simply religious phrases. They don't preach or convert outsiders so no one other than them is aware its a religious thing and so it looks like a coordinated business decision.

If magic is a thing, perhaps starbuck is real and actively helping out, which could explain some of the really complicated parts working. From his perspective people saying his name in a positive light is a win even if they don't know he exists.

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    $\begingroup$ "Guilds" also work for this sort of thing, but those can be viewed as kind of "Family with more rules"... However family tradition and recognition should serve just as well for all the branding and such, without having to bring religion into the mix. "Old great grandpappy Joe McNutt did it this way in the old country, and that's how we do it here in the new location..." $\endgroup$ – TheLuckless May 17 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ Having an order of monks/nuns running the business ("Sisters of St. Starbuck") is probably the closest thing the medieval world had to a "franchise". Each monastery/convent is largely autonomous, but operates under rules set forth by higher management, which visits periodically to be sure those rules are being followed. $\endgroup$ – Monty Harder May 17 at 19:29
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No. Franchises require the enforcement of intellectual property rights to exist. Otherwise, I could simply open up my own coffee store, call it "Starbucks" and not pay anybody else anything for the right to do so. So unless you also want to posit some kind of strong central authority that is able to enforce trademark claims, there is no way to have a franchise.

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