Like most relationships in life, a strong bond between a franchisor and their franchisees is built on several core values of communication. Availability and consistency. Open, honest interaction. Trust and support.
At Golden Corral, we have nearly 400 franchised restaurants in 40 states. With a franchise that large, it is a challenge to maintain important and consistent communication with all of our franchisees. As much as we work to provide great food at an affordable price, we also strive to keep our franchisees informed and motivated, and listen to what they have to say.
One of my favorite lines from the International Franchise Association is that “Franchising is being in business for yourself but not by yourself.” Franchising gives many small business owners a substantial amount of independence to manage their individual operations. At the same time, franchisees know they are part of a larger organization and need the proper amount of guidance and support from the franchisor. They need to know that franchisors have their backs in good times and bad. To that end, it is imperative that franchisors maintain a frequent dialogue with their franchisees and make sure they have an available outlet or contact at all times where they can go to voice their questions or concerns.
There are many different ways upper management can communicate and show their support to their franchisees. One of the foundations of franchise communications is through field support. This is where the first and most frequent interactions take place. On-site representatives provide the franchisee with advice or suggestions to make sure they are properly executing the systems in place. Franchisors should emphasize the importance of this communication with the field staff and ask them to pay special attention to problems that arise. They should position the field team as representatives of the franchise’s business philosophy, culture and mission.
Another valuable way to communicate with franchisees is through a franchise advisory council. Most franchisors have an advisory council to offer face-to-face opportunities to discuss the state of the franchise. These meetings are a very effective way to inform franchisees of what is happening with the franchise and the industry, as well as what the competition is doing. The advisory councils also provide a forum to solicit feedback from franchisees on current programs and listen to any concerns they have.
Franchisors can still communicate with those who are not members of the advisory council by speaking and listening to franchisees at meetings and conferences. At these regional or national meetings, franchisors can share viewpoints and discuss policy changes and industry issues. This also enables franchisees to receive important company information straight from the source, rather than hearing incomplete messages through the grapevine.
These events are a great way to make connections, recognize franchisee achievements and keep people informed at every level of the organization. This also provides franchisors with an excellent opportunity to meet and directly interact with their franchisees. Just knowing they have the ability be heard and to learn more about the business gives franchisees an active feeling of engagement within the company.
In addition to the frequency of contact with franchisees, the way in which franchisees communicate is also essential. They should always be positive and professional. They should use technology and communication tools to their advantage. Franchisors can quickly convey new company ideas and policy changes through e-mail, e-newsletters and blogs. At the same time, they shouldn’t forget the personal touch. Reach out directly to a franchisee with a phone call or hand-written note to congratulate them on a recent achievement or exceeding sales goals. It may take a few extra minutes, but it can be an effective way to make a franchisee feel appreciated and an important part of the brand.
Franchisors should communicate their message with energy and enthusiasm. One example of this is in introducing a new system-wide concept. Franchisees can be skeptical about new products and are resistant to change. Management spends considerable time and effort developing these new concepts to keep the brand fresh for the overall benefit the franchise. The way in which franchisors present these new opportunities will affect how quickly franchisees “buy in” to the changes.
Even with all these suggestions on how to have frequent, productive communication, there will always be situations in which there are disagreements between the franchisor and franchisee. Although conflicts may be unavoidable, responding properly to these situations is critical. Franchisors should pay special attention to any problems that arise and address these issues head on. Waiting or expecting things to go away often makes things worse and sours the relationship with the franchisee.
Establishing consistent and effective communication with franchisees requires commitment and hard work on behalf of the franchisor, especially for larger companies. Keeping franchisees informed and engaged, however, is a vital part of the success of the franchise.
Bob McDevitt is Senior Vice President of Franchise Development at Golden Corral, the nation’s largest grill-buffet chain. He has spent more than 40 years in marketing and operations with top restaurant brands such as Pizza Hut, Tony Roma’s, Arby’s and Golden Corral. McDevitt joined Golden Corral as Chief Marketing Officer in 1994, responsible for marketing, food and beverage, purchasing and distribution. In 2004, he was promoted to Senior Vice President of franchising, overseeing franchise operations, franchise sales and quality assurance. McDevitt is a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) and currently serves on the International Franchise Association Board of Directors.