Franchising as a business model arrived in Serbia in the mid-seventies when the country was still a part of the former Yugoslavia. The concept was introduced primarily by U.S. concepts which included Coca-Cola, Avis, Hertz, Diners Club International, Intercontinental, Hyatt, American Express, Delifrance, and McDonalds among others. With a population of 8 million people, Serbia is the second largest markets in the region, second only to Romania. All major road, rail, water and air routes traverse Serbia, connecting the country with Europe, Russia, Turkey, Greece and the Middle East.
In recent years, Serbia has undertaken an aggressive series of reform programs with the aim of obtaining EU membership. Serbia is also focused on reestablishing the country as a regional trade and investment center. Starting in 2003, following the difficult war-torn period of the 1990’s, the country saw a significant increase in franchise businesses entering the country including concepts such as Zara, Springfield, Mango, and Oviesse. More recently, Office 1 Superstore followed by two U.S. real estate brokerage concepts Re/Max and Century 21 established operations in 2008. Since 2003, domestically developed franchise concepts have also developed in Serbia including the Afrodite Mode (women’s fashion), DIS (wholesale products), ComTrade (distribution of computer equipment and software), E-shop (internet shopping portal), Dve Šmizle (accessories), Mini Maxi (convenience store), Rakia Bar (hospitality) and Krofna Bar (fast food). With only 50 franchises currently operating in Serbia today, half of these foreign concepts, there is exceptional opportunity for the growth of new chains in Serbia.
The U.S. Commercial Service in Belgrade has been very proactive in the development of franchising in the country, first by assisting the Serbian Chamber of Commerce to establish their Center for Franchising in 2008, and later by helping to form the Serbian Franchise Association which was established in 2009. As part of this effort and to support the expansion of franchise concepts in Serbia, CS Serbia led a 15-city tour to educate local entrepreneurs and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) on the benefits of importing U.S. franchise concepts in 2009. In October, 2010, Commercial Service Belgrade, in conjunction with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, the Belgrade Expo Center, and the Serbian Franchising Association, co-organized the first-ever Franchise Trade exhibition in Belgrade. The three-day show attracted more than 30 exhibitors and more than 3,000 visitors. The 2011 exhibition is expected to grow considerably compared to the 2010 event.