I worked for an automotive parts franchisor when I was South of 30 called 1-800-Radiator. Looking back I was learning prescient lessons in business on a daily basis by osmosis. My company was a thirty location parts distributor. Headquartered out of Northern California, our competitive advantage in a traditionally blue collar industry was technology. The company decided to franchise because the economics of 220 national franchise locations worked out better than continuing to manage 30 disparate company owned warehouses where salaried managers worked with liberal autonomy and discretion. Like many franchise companies, we wanted owners with (forgive the cliché) “skin in the game” out building real customer relationships and applying a winning model in a carefully studied territory. Spoiler alert – it worked. However, like many new to franchising, we learned lessons as we grew and it seemed that the most salient ones had to do with managing the relationships between us and the franchisees.
Mark Siebert of iFranchise Group wrote a wonderful piece on this relationship dynamic back several years back for Entrepreneur.com. Siebert makes many good points. It is true that understanding the nature of the relationship is crucial if you’re going to effectively manage it. The company for whom I worked was focused on selling existing corporate warehouses to owners and opening up new territories where we did not currently have a same day delivery presence. Therefore eager franchisee candidates were good ones and we were slow to establish checks and balances for candidate qualification. In our defense, this was a new model so it took time to really understand what kind of owners made the best owners, information helpful for us in how and to whom we marketed and screened later on. Given the fact that many people buy into the franchise model to become autonomous business owners, we came to understand the inherent clash in this “parent-child” relationship.
As a company and in my specific role, we quickly learned two key things; adherence to the model was the recipe to success for our franchisees. We also learned that the best way to gain adherence at the franchisee level was by carrot rather than stick. Below are a few things I recommend highly to struggling franchise liaisons in regard to gaining trust and compliance from your franchise owners.
- Sell, Don’t Tell. You have a good model, trust it. If owners realize they have the greatest likelihood of earning profit by following the model, you need to show them why. Have model franchises in similar territories to reference. Honor their experience and ideas and see if you can incorporate their ideas into the tenets of your brand standards.
- Know their Story. Ever been on a date where the other person only wanted to talk about themselves? Learn about what your owners did before buying into your model. What successes can they hang their hat on? They all have a story and they demonstrated attributes that put them in a position where they could eventually buy a franchise. So how can you leverage those attributes to help them work the standards?
- Show, Don’t Tell. If you’re telling your franchisees they need to do something different or something beyond what they are currently doing to help drive revenue and brand compliance, it always helps if you’ve done what you’re asking them to do and can show them.
- Have Some Fun. Life is short. Owning a business is stressful. Managing business owners whom you actually have little control over is stressful. So we all have some stuff in common. We may as well make the most of it and try and have fun. Have a beer with your owners at the end of the day. Go see a game or a local attraction if you’re on site and get invested in what makes them click. If they sense that you have empathy for them and are genuinely putting the work in to help, not penalize them, they’ll walk through walls for you.
- Be their Advocate. If you’re owners don’t believe with 100% certainty that you are there to fight for them, point 4 will be really hard for both of you.
The franchise world is full of innovative concepts and iconic brands, entrepreneurs, road warriors and people dedicated to proving a concept and adding something of themselves in the process. There are a few universal commonalities whether you’re selling burgers or doggy daycare. There is a business model that works. The degree to which you work the model will largely determine your level of success. Your biggest barriers to success are brand inconsistency and the best way to address that is through relationship management..