Q: How did you get into Franchising, Chris?
I started back when I was a kid looking for a part-time job. And I’ve been in Franchising, in one form or another, ever since.
Q: Oh really, what have you been doing all this time?
I’ve done everything. I started working for a franchised location of Mail Boxes Etc. back in the 1990s and eventually went on to work for the Corporate office of UPS. They bought Mail Boxes Etc. and created the brand The UPS Store. I was on the ground as an operations consultant during this incredible time which was an amazing learning experience. We rebranded 4,000 stores in a matter of weeks and turned the industry upside down. Shortly after, UPS competitor FedEx bought Kinkos to match the new retail landscape UPS created. Looking back on that time I realize how it shaped what I’m doing now. Now I work for a major partner to the franchising industry serving them with all kinds of insurance, risk management and business operations solutions. So basically, I’ve done it all. People always ask me, are you a Franchisor or a Franchisee. I tell them I’m both and neither …. I’m a Franchise-ist!
Q: So tell me about Gallagher Franchise Solutions and how it started.
You know it was really about being in the right place at the right time. I had been working in the corporate franchising office at UPS for several years when Gallagher came knocking. I saw firsthand the struggles of being a small business owner and all the challenges they face every day. At that time there was a big gap with limited options for small business owners and none of the insurance providers really had a comprehensive offer that made sense for both the franchisee and the franchisor. I kept going back to Larry and Aline Williams who gave me my first job at age 16 at the Mail Boxes Etc. in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Here’s a couple who’d invested their life savings into a business. They’re so busy, working what seemed like a hundred hours a week, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. I started to think about my time there and what I’d witnessed as an employee and I realized they had 3 big issues, just like all the other franchise owners I came to know at UPS. I call them the 3 Ps: Protection, People and Profit. They were concerned about protecting their business and their life savings. They had to worry about their people and all that goes with that. And then there was the everyday struggle with cash flow and the profit.
Working for the corporate office brought a lot of sleepless nights thinking about these three Ps. And I know the franchisees I worked with everyday were up at night thinking about the same things. It just all came together at Gallagher. My team and I spent a couple of years really focusing on keeping it easy and simple. We have put in place dedicated program managers who focus on specific franchise brands to customize risk management programs for that specific network. We have a team of insurance brokers that guide franchisees through the insurance purchasing process. And we have constructed a Customer Service team dedicated to specific brands that assists franchisees with their insurance needs throughout the year. And with all of this we’re able to leverage the power of Gallagher behind us to keep it affordable for the franchisees. So hopefully now everyone can sleep a little better at night.
Q: So what is keeping Franchise Corporations up at night? In your experience, what are they most worried about?
Take a look at the most successful franchises and you’ll find one key thing in common. They all have a consistent brand experience. Sounds simple but it’s anything but. The brand is perhaps the most valuable asset of any franchise and there’s a lot of potential threats that can destroy it. Franchisors have to protect themselves against all kinds of threats. However, most companies focus only on the threats they can see. On things like operating standards, service, product quality, pricing and the overall look and feel of an individual location. But often times they overlook the most dangerous threat because they are largely invisible. I’m talking about the lack of adequate insurance coverage or gaps that if not addressed can literally bring down a whole network and brand. One rogue lawsuit against an individual location and owner can be detrimental to the whole system.
Q: So what can be done to protect against these brand threats if you can’t see them?
That’s where I get excited because we know how to help them and we can offer real value. We know how to shine a light on what they can’t see and help them fill in the gaps. We do this several ways. First, we help analyze all the exposures they face and craft specific coverages to mitigate their exposure. We’re especially skilled at designing the right types of coverage with our vast insurance carrier partnerships. That’s the power that comes with a company like Gallagher. Second, we can track every location to verify and ensure protection consistency across the brand. Franchisors need these types of programs to be simple and valuable so every franchisee complies. That’s where my passion for franchising comes into play. I can combine that passion with the resources afforded by Gallagher to positively impact the industry. I love it!
Q: So that’s interesting. Talk about it from the franchisee’s perspective.
Let’s go back to Larry and Aline and all those hundreds of thousands of small business owners like them. Let’s face it. Insurance is not exciting to them. It’s not exciting to most people. It’s not the reason they invested their life savings into their business. They have big dreams about growing a sustainable business for them and their children. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for most of them. They’re not only the CEO but they’re also the front line manager, the CFO, the head of HR, the head of sales and so on and so on. We give them the coverage they need to protect their business and operational solutions to give them more freedom to grow. If we can help them by simplifying the back office with things like payroll and workforce management tools, employment law compliance, just to name a few, they’ll have more time to do the things they are passionate about. The things that drove them to start their own business. And all the while they have the peace of mind to know their business is protected from all of those hidden dangers business owners face. That’s exciting stuff. And that’s a commitment we’re ready to make.
Q: What trends do you see in the industry right now?
Well certainly the dual employer issue is hot and it’s good to see positive momentum towards a permanent solution. The other big issue we see is healthcare and finding affordable solutions for these small business owners and their employees. There might be help on the horizon. There’s a potential for association healthcare plans to come back to the market as a result of a recent rule change announced by the Department of Labor. This could lead to small business owners and their employees having greater access to more affordable healthcare options. We are watching this very closely so we can react as soon as possible once it’s finalized. This could mean significant savings. Time will tell but it looks good.
Q: In the meantime, what healthcare options do small business owners have now?
The good news is there are some options today. Most, however, are designed for large employers. This is one of those gaps I mentioned earlier. At Gallagher Franchise Solutions, we’ve made it easier for the typical franchise owner to shop options within their market. The other key thing is administering the plan. Again, small business owners already have too much on their plate so we make it easy with simple enrollment and administration programs. That’s the key. It has to provide real value and be easy to obtain.
Q: So what’s next for you and Gallagher Franchise Solutions?
We’re staying on top of all this. We continue to look for ways to make it easier to run a small business. That’s our focus. We also continue to evolve the Gallagher Perks portion of our program to bring more valuable savings to our customers that they and their employees can use not just in their business but in their everyday lives. Today we offer a variety of things like discounts at major retailers, travel providers and a host of other resources like protection against identify theft and pet insurance. And the team is working on adding more things this year as well. It all goes back to the Williams in Oklahoma. I never stop thinking of ways to serve folks like them and an industry that has given me so much.