Is the Phrase ‘Innovative Franchisee’ An Oxymoron?
Innovation is the word of the decade. It seems like everyone in every industry is talking about it. But what if you’re part of a franchise business? can you still innovate?
“Innovation is often confused with invention. Invention is about creating something new, regardless of whether it delivers any value.”
Franchising is about taking a prefab system and applying it. The ideal franchisee is often seen as one who can follow a prescribed formula without deviation. As a franchisee, many of the elements that make up your business are outside of your control. Both the franchisor and your customers expect consistency and uniformity across all branches of the franchise.
It might seem like there is no room for innovation in this kind of environment, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think it’s always possible to look at things from a different perspective and take action to improve the way you do business.
What is innovation?
In his book Think New, technology entrepreneur Roger La Salle defines innovation as ‘change that adds value’. Innovation is often confused with invention. Invention is about creating something new, regardless of whether it delivers any value. Every patent office in the world has seen its share of bizarre ideas that never got off the ground because they didn’t meet a market need. Innovation, on the other hand, is about taking something that already exists and making changes that improve it or give it a new purpose.
With that definition, anyone can innovate. It’s about having the willingness to change and try new things, the ability to see how two separate elements could be brought together to make something new, and always looking for ways to improve and optimise systems and processes.
Innovation is not just about big, world- changing ideas and products. Innovation can be incremental, but it can have a huge impact on efficiency, customer experience, and your bottom line. It’s a mindset – the ability to see the potential in things, and the follow- through to implement your brilliant ideas.
How can you bring that mindset into your franchise? Here are some ideas to get you thinking.
Recognise pain points
A great place to start is thinking about where your customers or clients experience friction in their lives, and providing a solution to alleviate it. We did this at Stockdale & Leggo when we introduced ‘The Whole House’. The process we followed was simple: we simply put ourselves in our client’s shoes and asked ourselves, “What would make a difference if I was moving house?” The answer, of course, was “make it as easy as possible”.
Let’s face it, no one enjoys the process of relocating. ‘The Whole House’ sources the most competitive deals and organises the client’s utilities (electricity, gas, water, internet, telephone, pay TV), removalists, cleaners, property maintenance, home loan finance and insurance during their move. The service has increased the value we can offer to our clients, as well as providing us with a point of differentiation in a market that is heavily fixated on price. It moves us away from competing on price alone – a seamless, smooth and stress-free move is something money can’t buy.
In order to innovate, first you need a problem to solve. What is causing your customers grief, and what can you do to fix it? Are there bottlenecks in your processes that need to be addressed, or are you wondering how to meet your revenue goals for the financial year? Once you’ve identified a problem, you can start applying some creative thinking to come up with a solution.
Give the people what they want
Is there something your customers are always asking you for, that your business doesn’t already provide? That was the reason we added a financial advisory service to our auxiliary services. Clients were frequently asking us to recommend financial services in order to map out their goals and long term financial success, and we realised that financial advice was a natural extension to traditional real estate services.
Our financial advice firm, S&L Financial Logic, provides our clients with a holistic service that covers superannuation, strategic investment advice, life and income protection, and insurance. Through this service, our clients can make sure the property they are buying from us is within their budget and long-term plan.
Like The Whole House, S&L Financial Logic provides an additional service that complements the process of purchasing a house. But it is also something clients were actively asking for, so we recognised an opportunity to create a new revenue stream. Do your customers ask you for referrals to related services when they use your business? Are there products they want that could complement your offering? Listen to what your customers are telling you, and look for patterns – if it’s a repeated request, it could be a big opportunity.
Make strategic partnerships
Sometimes you need to look outside of your own business in order to recognise the possibilities for innovation. What other services do your customers use that are related to your own offering, and how can you bring them together?
At Stockdale & Leggo we recently launched an internal training curriculum called the Ignite Program in partnership with Deloitte Private. The program is designed to help our franchisees take the next steps in their businesses and think like entrepreneurs. The program goes far beyond the usual real estate and small business training to cover topics like leadership, people and culture, and the digital economy.
We could have developed and delivered this training internally, but we wanted to leverage the vast experience and expertise that Deloitte Private brings to the table. The result is a dynamic development program that will put our franchisees on the path to becoming world-class leaders.
Are there other businesses related to your industry that could complement your offering? Think about how you could leverage the skills and strengths available outside of your business to create a fruitful partnership or joint venture.
Things to consider as a franchisee
It’s great to free up your thinking and look for creative ways to solve problems, drive revenue and add value to your business, but don’t lose sight of your responsibilities as a franchisee.
Don’t forget your responsibility to the brand. Evaluate your ideas against the overall vision of the franchise to make sure they are compatible. Don’t worry if your first batch of ideas are inappropriate – idea generation is a muscle, and as it gets stronger your ideas will get better and better.
Always check your franchise agreement before trying something new. The details of what you can and can’t change in the business should be outlined in your contract. Even if your idea seems above board, it can be a good idea to have a chat with your franchisor about your plans – sometimes an idea that seems great at first has already been tried and found wanting.
Master the basics of your franchise business before attempting anything radical. You will have more luck getting a new idea off the ground if you have already proven yourself to be successful at operating within the existing rules.
And finally, if a really big idea hits, don’t be afraid to send it up the chain of command. Some of the best innovations in a franchise can come from its franchisees. The McDonald’s Big Mac, for example, was created by a franchisee in 1967. It took a year of testing and refining after he pitched it to the company, but as we all know it went on to become the burger chain’s signature product. It’s true that some of the best innovations are on the small scale, but with some creative thinking you could make it into your franchise’s company history books!
Anna Thomas is the Chief Operating Officer of major Australian real estate network Stockdale & Leggo and recognised as a Telstra Business Women’s Awards Finalist in the Corporate and Private Award in 2016, a 2017 Finalist in the Real Estate Business Awards ‘Industry Thought Leader of the Year’ Award and a Bronze Stevie winner in the Woman of the Year category in the 2017 International Business Awards.
Stockdale & Leggo is one of Australia’s leading real estate franchises. Led by one of the industry’s great leaders Anna Thomas, Stockdale & Leggo has sold over $350B worth of real estate and helped more than 350,000 Australians achieve their real estate dreams.