Chris DeJong, Founder and President of Big Blue Swim School, is a five-time U.S. National Champion swimmer.
The franchise model is unique in that the parent company and location owner are both responsible for business success. Unlike corporate chains that maintain direct control over locations, the franchisor’s role is more indirect. It’s a bit like parenting in that you can’t do the work for your franchisees, but you can give them the right tools, resources and guidance so they can succeed. In short, success as a franchisor largely depends on enabling franchisees to succeed.
But a franchisor’s role doesn’t stop at onboarding. Just because your child grows into an adult doesn’t mean you stop being a parent. As in life, business will always throw new challenges in a franchisee’s way. Here are a few ways franchisors can provide ongoing support to franchisees.
1. Keep on training.
Learning and training shouldn’t stop once onboarding is complete. Training should never be considered something that is finished. Markets are constantly changing, and there is always something new to learn. Even your most experienced franchisees can keep educating themselves. This also means that franchisors should always be updating their training program and materials, keeping an ear to the ground for new sales techniques and technology and remaining on the lookout for market shifts and changes in consumer preference. If you let your practices go stale, that’s on you, not your franchisees.
2. Keep “the system” flexible.
One of the benefits of opening a franchise location is support. A brand’s model is the framework all franchisee locations benefit from. However, there is a difference between a framework and step-by-step instructions. Good leaders always keep an open mind. That’s how they stay ahead. The franchise system shouldn’t dictate everything down to the letter. There needs to be some room for interpretation. Even though a model has proven scalability, each market and community are unique, with local details only a franchise owner would know. So, leave in a little wiggle room.
Grassroots marketing efforts are a good example. Franchise owners must engage with the community to get the brand out there and make connections. But how those efforts are executed should be left to the owner. After all, they know the community best. They know what the biggest events are, who are the most influential groups and organizations, etc.
3. Incorporate feedback.
Another strength of franchising is range and diversity. Having multiple locations spread out across different communities and markets provides you with a mix of experiences to pull from—make the most out of it. While you may not have experience with a franchisee’s problem, another owner might. That’s why it’s important to maintain a consistent loop of listening and feedback. Some of the best practices in franchising were started by franchisees. Encourage owners to share the wealth and offer tips and techniques that have worked for them. This gives you more resources to provide to new location owners and helps broaden your perspective at the local level.
4. Cultivate a culture of cooperation.
You should be working with each other, not against each other. You’re both working toward the same goal—the brand’s success. Make it known that your door is always open and create dedicated operations teams for new and established locations. Encourage questions and asking for help when it’s needed.
5. Sell your brand.
Franchisees need to sell to their customers, but as a franchisor, you’ve got to sell to your franchisees. Never underestimate the power of buy-in. Sell them on your mission and what your business aims to do. Cultivate that passion so it motivates them to be good, too. Show them what makes your brand unique and why they should be selling it to others. You want owners who believe in the brand as much as you do, so they put in the same amount of passion in that you do, too.
One way to do this is through corporate-owned locations. Not only do these act as proof-of-concept to potential owners, but they can also double as testing grounds for new products and offerings. Franchisees will be much more receptive to changes, knowing that things have gone through rigorous field testing and at the franchisor’s expense versus their own.
6. Always look ahead.
Franchisors should always look ahead, whether for potential challenges or new opportunities. What is the data telling you, what challenges should be anticipated, what trends are you seeing and how can you prepare other locations for it? Markets change, customer behaviors change—it’s your job to keep an eye on those changes to prepare owners to weather them. The pandemic is an excellent example. While no one could have predicted a global shutdown, the brands that successfully navigated the pandemic were the ones who adapted their strategy to the market’s new needs and provided their franchisees with the resources and guidance that enabled them to do the same.
At the end of the day, no one can prevent slumps in sales or challenging times in the market. However, franchisors can take steps to help their franchisees prepare and adapt if necessary.
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