How to Harness the Elevated Relationships With Franchisees

How Companies Can Maintain Momentum of Engaged Franchisees.

The relationship between franchisor and franchisee is absolutely critical to the success of a company. This is true no matter what the circumstances are, but the stakes are seemingly more intense in times of crisis and uncertainty – much like the coronavirus pandemic.

As many franchise businesses can attest, COVID-19 rocked daily operations to their core – leaving owners with a multitude of questions and franchisors with little turnaround time for answers. The franchise companies that deployed effective responses and overcame the hardships brought on by the pandemic, like East Coast Wings + Grill, share a key similarity: they demonstrated an unwavering commitment to their franchisees.

ECW+G has always been data driven and hyper focused on unit-level economics, and that focus did not change in with the arrival of the pandemic. In fact, it only reinforced our efforts and, in turn, those efforts continue to solidify our outstanding relationships with our franchisees.

For other franchisors looking to create similar bonds with their owners, here are three ways to harness, elevate and leverage franchisee relationships for the betterment of your company.

Set the tone early on

When you speak with franchise prospects and candidates, many will cite “culture” and “support” as reasons why they’re looking at specific companies to invest in. To that point, franchisors have a lot to gain, and potentially lose, when it comes to setting the tone early with its owners.

At ECW+G, we pride ourselves on the relationship we have with franchisees and the internal culture we espouse – one built on support, commitment, trust and data-driven strategies and tactics. From the onset of the pandemic, we wasted no time updating and implementing new operation procedures to reflect the current realities our franchisees were facing. These updates included refining labor models, revisiting financial-analysis programs, providing timely white papers, supply chain inventory, COVID educed unit level break-even models, debt/ rent deferment strategy, pivoting our business model to emphasize delivery and curbside options, and more.

As a franchisor, one of your first priorities, and arguably the most important, for you to focus on is setting the tone with your franchisees. Ensure they understand you are there to support them at the beginning and through the duration of any storm.

Keep open lines of communication

In any successful relationship, communication is key. The presence, or lack of, of open and honest communication will play an essential role in determining a company’s success.

In today’s world, business owners are being challenged by some of the toughest realities ever faced. The value and importance of providing frequent and transparent communication to franchisees cannot be overstated. 

For example, to keep our franchisees looped in and sustain their faith in us as a supportive franchisor, ECW+G provided constant updates where the brand was in its response process and shifted monthly conference calls to biweekly. We even provided templated letters franchisees could send landlords for rent relief and banks for loan deferments. These enhanced communication measures allowed us to give real-time updates, share strategies and provide a solid shoulder for owners to lean on during these hard times.

Franchisees want to hear from their franchisor just as much as the franchisor wants to hear from the franchisees. A positive, elevated relationship between the two requires a constant commitment to keep lines of communication open.

Continue moving forward

The pandemic inspired a lot of questions and uncertainty. Just because there are so many unknowns, however, does not mean the creative process should halt. Quite the opposite; for the sake of their franchisees’ success, franchisors must maintain momentum and continue moving the brand forward.

We at ECW+G realized it was more important than ever to continue to entice potential guests with deals and initiatives, like timely promos around Father’s Day and National Chicken Wing Day. We also introduced new items to keep our menu fresh and seasonal.

However, it was equally just as important to respond to the new realities and consumer behaviors the pandemic brought on. As such, we enhanced our pay-at-the-table experience, fast-tracked and launched a brand-new app, and introduced both a curbside pickup and delivery service.

Franchisees need assurance from their franchisor that they’re doing everything they can to continue driving business into their locations. By implementing new initiatives and responding effectively to everchanging consumer habits, the franchisor is taking a forward-thinking approach that will keep franchisees happy and satisfied.

The lifeline between franchisor and franchisee is being analyzed, prioritized and scrutinized more now than ever before. To set your company apart and make sure you end up on the positive end of this spectrum, it’s crucial to elevate the relationships with your franchisees and harness those them to your benefit. By setting the tone early, keeping lines of communication open and maintaining forward momentum, franchisors give themselves the best opportunity leverage those relationships to drive the company forward.

Sam Ballas is the Founder/CEO of East Coast Wings + Grill and CEO of ZorAbility, an advisory and investment strategy firm. In addition to being in the c-suite for two different companies, Ballas also serves on International Franchise Association (IFA) Board of Directors. Ballas graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1989 and six years later in 1995, founded ECW+G. Under his leadership, ECW+G has won several awards and accolades.

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