I Was a Franchisee, Now I’m a Better Franchisor: How Franchisee Experience Adds Important Perspective to Franchisor Role

To understand the challenges franchisees face, you have to walk a mile in their moccasins. Or better yet, walk many miles over many years.

I entered the automotive franchise arena in the 1980s when I was in my early 20s. I eventually operated eight stores and became the company’s top franchisee. I was grateful for the opportunity and earned a good living and then some, but I wanted to strike out on my own. I knew I could do things better.

During my time as a franchisee, I served on numerous franchisor-level ad, marketing, and vendor committees. I learned about both sides of the process. It helped me gain perspective on what is expected of franchisors. That includes vendor contracts, leveraging buying power, training and marketing. Here’s a sampling of what I learned as a franchisee and how I apply those lessons as a franchisor.

Marketing support and transparency

People don’t go into the franchise business to learn marketing. Long gone are the days of putting an ad in the Yellow Pages and a couple of magazines and calling it a day. Now there are social media platforms to consider, as well as digital marketing concepts like search-engine optimization and organic growth. It’s the responsibility of a franchisor to have an adequate marketing fund at the brand level and execute it expertly. You want your franchisees to focus on their customers instead of chasing marketing techniques and tactics.

It’s important, however, to allow some leeway and accept feedback from the local level. A franchise advisory council can help franchisors understand marketing and product needs at the local level. Former franchisees understand the importance of this. A company can’t just do a blanket national campaign. Feedback from the local level is crucial because franchisees understand their community. Digital marketing allows for localized campaigns. This is integral to growing a brand. Individual stores should see leads and conversions, of course, but the marketing goal is to drive traffic into local stores.

Transparency is important, too, so franchisees should have access to ROI numbers and analytics in real time as opposed to an annual summary.

Buying power and buy-in

As a franchisor, I build on my experience to fill gaps and add value in areas that are appreciated by franchisees. This includes support with compliance issues and disclosure documents, but most importantly, buying power. As a franchise starts to scale up, it attains significantly more buying power. When I was a franchisee, I felt the buying power fell short. I had to use local store value to negotiate better prices, rather than across the brand. My franchise is intensely focused on national and international buying power, leveraging value of the entire company rather than individual franchises. And the good prices and local marketing efforts keeps our franchisees loyal with our vendors. This perpetuates buy-in, not because we are telling our franchisees to do so but because they see the value.

Five stars and trends

We maintain a strict focus on same-store sales growth. We want them to get profitable as quickly as possible. Toward this end, we’ve a launched new five-star program that allows us to grade store performance on a variety of factors, including customer service, products, services, operations and financials. We then benchmark the results against the rest of the team. This proactive approach means the operations team can step in and provide support in certain areas before a store enters a spiral that can be difficult to reverse. On its face, franchisor to franchisee support is a simplistic thought process: What do we need to achieve for each location to grow and be as successful as they can? We point out negatives, of course, and identify areas where franchisees might need additional training. But we cross-pollinate the positives by directing franchisees to stores that are excelling in areas where they may be deficient.

As a former franchisee, I shy away from a sink-or-swim mentality. To ensure franchise growth, a company has to stay ahead of trends and offer the latest in-demand products and services. A franchisee cannot be expected to put too much time into this, he or she is trying to run a profitable business. We are incorporating a robust online purchasing feature across the company, for instance, and are stocking and planning for inventory related to the growth in the semi-autonomous vehicle space. We are also promoting energy efficiencies as carbon-neutral products grow in demand.

As mentioned above, our goal is simple: To help our franchisees succeed. My experience as a franchisee gives me a special perspective on building success, and that includes the use of great systems, trust, communication and teamwork. Remember: If franchisees are successful, the entire company will be successful.

Charles J. Bonfiglio is the founder and chief executive officer of Tint World® LLC, a privately owned franchise chain of independent retail window tinting, mobile electronics, auto accessories and appearance centers. He can be reached at charles.bonfiglio@tintworld.com.


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