One of the greatest challenges that growing franchise companies face is the disparity in performance between their locations and franchise owners. Often it takes years of franchise sales and development to learn who your ideal owners are, what markets tend do well and what processes enable operational efficiency and communication between corporate and franchisee. This can be a rocky period and can lead to lost revenue, costly time spent putting out fires and can complicate your franchise sales process by reducing the number of happy owners willing to promote your brand and talk to potential franchisees shopping for a business to buy. One of the most frequent complaints heard from franchisees is that they felt like they purchased a job, not a business. Many feel as though they’re not receiving enough corporate support for the marketing dollars allocated from their royalty payments. Of all the issues complicating the relationship between a growing corporate franchise and her franchisees, communication or lack thereof is at the heart.
There is no silver bullet to improving the communication and relationship between corporate and franchise owners. However, having a clearly defined set of brand standards is the most important component. You have a successful model or formula. Based on that premise, you decided to apply that model in a franchise setting. Ensuring that your brand standards and proven best practices are applied consistently across all of your locations is the cornerstone of your success. Your brand standards also speak volumes about your company culture. When your owners deviate from the model, they confuse the culture and worse, create a muddy customer service experience for your customers. Your food should taste the same no matter which location you’re patronizing. Your product should be the same and come from the same vendors regardless of the location from which it’s purchased. Your customer service practices, uniforms and even the kinds of people you hire should be consistent with the culture and standards you’re promoting. For those that would say growing businesses find this to become a challenge as they get bigger, I’d point out the fact that companies who consistently get the highest net promoter scores have tens of thousands of employees (USAA, Costco, Apple, Dillards, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines). If you have a great product, clear standards and those brand standards become part of your culture, recruiting, training and supporting the right kind of owners becomes less challenging.
Connecting Emotionally with your Brand
CEO and founder of Buyology Inc. Gary Singer came up with a powerful list of “brand activators” that help reinforce consistent standards. To state a few: Have a Great Story, A Clear Vision, Sensory Appeal, Symbols, Rituals and a Sense of Belonging. Tom Smith lays these out in detail in his recent blog “10 Ways to Enhance Emotional Connection to Your Brand”. The common denominator here is that successful companies have a compelling narrative and the things they do at every level reinforce that story and create a sense of belonging to customers who become part of the story through their patronage. If Apple can create a sense of belonging within their customers, franchises should be able to promote that same solidarity among their owners and subsequently, promote the standards that, if followed, drive revenue at leach location. I feel more like an owner when my leadership excites my employees to live the standards at work than an employee whose purchased a job.
Once franchises have clearly defined their brand standards and successfully incorporated those into an overarching company narrative, a system must be in place to ensure brand complicity at every location. Identifying areas of confusion or conflict quickly, dealing with them and selling your vision is the critical job of your Franchise Support Team and field personnel. Are locations adequately staffed? Are the right people recruited and hired? Is the owner purchasing from the approved vendors? Is the brick and mortar location consistent with the right signage and look? Is the owner following the model? Most franchises conduct regular site reviews. These may range from quarterly, bi-annual and annual reviews to phone calls. Having an assigned liaison between you and your franchisees is ideal. They will be the person that needs to sell your vision to the owner and gain trust and buy-in. They also need to provide a voice for your franchisees so you are aware of the challenges and mindset of your owners. The follow up here is essential and much can be leveraged from the time your staff spends with your owners. The criteria to which you’re holding your owners accountable should be consistent with your brand standards. They should be concise and easily measurable. Your scoring should be used to identify struggling owners as well as high performers. Reviews should be used as much to recognize achievement as it is to identify owners who need help. If they are seen as “audits” you’ll be challenged to have honest conversations with your owners and your field personnel will be driven to drink. The reviews should be easy to complete and should be transparent with your owners. Mobile applications such as Action Card can help streamline this review process, schedule reviews, identify and reconcile action items resulting from the reviews, track correspondence and documents including the reviews themselves and provide reporting that can be sued to track trends. All of this can be done on-line and with a tablet, including photo uploads to help capture examples. Regardless of the system used, franchise companies should be able to easily account for the time spent with their owners and the outcomes from these visits. If you can maintain consistent brand standards at all of your locations in a collaborative way, chances are you’ll have a much better relationship with your owners and that relationship is the basis on which you can clearly tell your story.