The Danger of Dissent Amongst Franchisee Ranks
We've all seen the headlines. Small franchisees who have apparently been driven out of business by uncaring, bullying franchisors. Franchisees are banding together to take legal action against the franchisor. This media coverage not only tarnishes the franchising system as a whole, but also trashes the franchised brand publicly and presents the franchisor with a significant distraction that takes the focus off the day-to-day franchise operations, not to mention the financial cost.
Why do things get to this point? Can these franchisors look back and identify processes, decisions or policies that led to this damage to their business?
There is usually not one issue that leads to franchisee unrest, but a collection of niggling points that haven’t been adequately addressed - either deliberately or through neglect - and so they steadily compound.
What are the most frequent causes of unrest?
- Lack of clear, frequent communication
- Over promising and under delivering
- Lack of transparency both on business direction and financials
- Personality clashes between franchisor staff and franchisees
- Franchisees who are strong influencers within the group, provoking dissent
- Challenging market conditions
The problem: Lack of clear, frequent communication
People buy a franchised business because of the reassurance it provides to what is essentially a small business owner. They want the comfort of a network of like-minded people facing similar experiences. They want to know that there’s someone competent running the franchise, caring about every franchisee and exploring all possible avenues to improve the franchise offering.
When there is very little communication from the franchisor, the franchisee can feel like they are operating in a vacuum.
- Implement weekly email updates – including new marketing, proposed training schedules, changes to policies or procedures and details of planned events
- Regularly scheduled liaison visits by performance coaches. From an annual meeting to review and establish business plans to catch-ups when financial reporting shows a downturn, to monthly phone calls. This program catches problems early and establishes a relationship of trust between the franchisee and performance coach.
- Emails or phone calls from other Corporate office experts – marketing, human resources, technology etc. - just to talk about new initiatives/changes to processes.
- Hold events where your franchisors have plenty of opportunity to network.
- Take every opportunity to make your franchisees proud of the brand, eg. Conferences and awards nights.
- Utilise technology. Use Zoom, Hangout, video conferencing etc. to hold forums and provide avenues for open dialogue.
- Use this technology to have monthly CEO Q&A sessions. It can be challenging to organise, but the reward is feedback, pulse-taking and enhanced trust.
The problem: Over promising, under delivering
You’ve done a fine job of recruiting franchisees, they're onboarded and excited about the future. But where’s the high level of support you promised them, where are the manuals? Where’s the product upgrade that you said was on the horizon? Where are the sales you said would drop into their laps? And that highly accredited subject matter expert that you had at the Corporate office has quit – what now?
- Be honest when you're recruiting. Yes, it's a sales pitch, but it needs to be balanced. The Franchising Code requires disclosure of a range of issues to potential franchisees, but there can be a lot of difference between cold words on a document and a clear discussion between people on their implications.
- Go over the finances with a potential new franchisee and make sure they are realistic. There’s nothing generates ill-feeling more than negative money issues.
- Be clear on your product development plan and if there's slippage on your schedule, re-set everyone's expectations.
- Guide a new franchisee and ensure that once they are set up, they know where to go for information, who to call for help.
- Talk frequently to the influencers amongst your franchisees – listen to them and act quickly on any issues they raise.
- Understand that sometimes a franchisee will call just needing to talk, share, be heard and ask questions with no judgement. Always make the time to allow them to do this.
- Franchisees are sensitive to changes at the Corporate Office – let them know when someone is leaving (along with a plan to fill the gap) – let them know when you hire and talk up the credentials of your new person with an emphasis on how the experience/expertise of this person can impact positively on the group.
The problem: Lack of transparency both on business direction and on financials
Nature abhors a vacuum, and where there's no information, rumours fill the space. This can generate a real level of distrust between franchisor and franchisees. While the franchisor has the right to privacy about the financials of their business, when you get into the area of sponsorships and rebates from suppliers, the Franchising Code requires you to disclose this. It’s also good practice to put this money into the Marketing Fund so that it can be used for the greater good of all franchisees.
- Marketing Funds, requests for location refurbishment and product upgrades are all hot issues and need to be communicated about clearly. While the Franchise Code has a regulatory framework around these topics, consultation then timely communication to all franchisees explaining the process are important to keep your franchisees reassured.
- Have at least one meeting a year (more, if the distance isn't an issue and if it is, consider video conferencing) with your franchisees to share your vision with them. Talk about upcoming innovations and other issues that will impact on their business. Be clear on timelines and be very clear if there is no discretion for franchisees to opt-out of any planned changes.
- Share benchmarking data. It can be made anonymous and reduced to percentages – eg. "Best Practice business spends X per cent of operating budget on stationery." This will help franchisees understand what areas of their business are sucking up (against the average) a greater percentage of their budget.
The problem: Personality clashes between franchisor staff and franchisees
This is just human nature acting out in the franchising space, but it can be incredibly damaging when you have a franchisee who needs help but, because of personality clashes, is unable to access the support.
- Use personality profiling when recruiting your Corporate Office team. Someone who has succeeded in the industry isn’t always a great choice as a mentor and motivator.
- Train your Corporate Office staff on how to handle different personality types.
- Train your corporate team to listen, listen, listen and not judge if the problem is in their realm of expertise, act and quickly. If it's not, get help and follow up to ensure the problem is solved in a timely manner.
- Don’t force a franchisee to deal with a set person. Yes, it’s convenient to have a list of which performance coaches handle which franchisees, but often a franchisee will gravitate towards a personality type that they relate to. If a performance coach receives a call from someone not on their list, they should liaise with their colleagues for a co-ordinated response that doesn’t just “hand them off.”
- If you are a smaller franchise with only one performance coach and there is a conflict between the coach and a franchisee, seek a mediator to unearth the problems, air them, solve them and provide a clean slate for the relationship to move forward.
The problem: Franchisees who are strong influencers within the group, fermenting dissent
If you are recruiting innovative, intelligent franchisees, you are setting up your franchise for success as well as creating respected business owners who are role models for the rest of your franchisees. However, these same franchisees, if unhappy, can be the ringleaders in fermenting dissatisfaction. This is especially true if they are long-term franchisees with a powerful emotional and financial investment in the business.
- Bring these franchisees firmly into your sphere of influence. Keep in frequent contact with them, taking their pulse and acting immediately to investigate any complaints
- Establish a Franchise Advisory Council (FAC) and encourage your leading franchisees to join and contribute. An FAC is a sounding board between you as franchisor and the franchisees. It is the FAC’s responsibility to receive feedback and suggestions on areas that impact on the whole group and to investigate, discuss and provide recommendations.
- Consider letting these influencers know about upcoming plans so they can spread them and provide feedback.
The problem: Market conditions
Economic conditions are beyond your control, but they can gut your franchise if despair sets in. Similarly, if your main product is a fad, then when fashions change, you are exposed to a plummet in sales.
- Half the battle when facing poor economic conditions is state of mind. Gather your franchisees together and have a brainstorming session to work out what you can practically do to provide additional support (PR campaign, marketing, specialised training) and then ask your franchisees to consider what, in the current situation, they can control and what they can’t. Ask them to focus on those areas that they can control – even if they are things such as providing sensational customer service, attending more local events etc. These one-percenters do add up and focus on them can alleviate depression.
- Over-communicate in these times. Help your franchisees understand the conditions, break it down to their level. Help dispel the media hype that may be feeding their mindset.
- Be hyper-alert to signals of distress. If a franchisees KPI’s are not being met, if they are disengaging with the group – immediate action is required.
- Have an Intensive Care Program ready to roll out to those franchisees in business distress. Assess, understand, re-set, retrain, support. Action the plan then monitor the outcome.
- A healthy mind is the key to success. Make sure your team knows the symptoms of mental health issues. Set up support organisations they can consult with or refer people to.
- Listen, listen, listen. Train your teams in situational awareness, reading the clues, hearing the sub-text.
- To avoid being left with an obsolete product, invest in research. This could be continual surveys to map consumer engagement, looking at future trends, keeping aware of what market leaders in your field are doing and, of course, planning your own innovation. Once again, liaise with your franchisees, who are at the coalface, to get real-time intel.
- Have a culture of innovation within the franchise. Encourage ideas, reward them, share them then hand over to a task force for franchisee input.
Franchising is often juggling diverse personalities, fluctuating marketplaces and products. But strong systems, two-way communication and an agile, flexible approach will often head off problems before they form.
Corina Vucic is the Director of FC Business Solutions. With over 20 years
in the franchise industry, and extensive operational and management experience, she works closely with leaders to take their business to the next level.
Whatever their goals, Corina coaches, mentors and supports business owners and executives to maximise success and minimise risk for long-term business prosperity and security.
To discuss how Corina’s expertise can help take your business to new heights, contact: