Keys to Building a More Cohesive Franchise Brand That Is Ready for Expansion

A thriving brand is the sum of many interdependent parts working simultaneously and complementing each other.

If done right, the customer will keep coming back for a consistent and top-notch experience. In the fast-casual restaurant industry, this is especially key to the success of a brand.

When I stepped in as CEO of Chronic Tacos in 2012, the franchise had ballooned to more than 40 locations in just a few years. The biggest challenge that greeted us was the lack of management and direction the franchisees were previously given. All of the systems and processes weren’t documented and there was no enforcement from the franchisor to ensure that every franchise was running the same across the board.

I knew our primary focus was restoring the consistency of brand and scaling back our locations until we could move forward with renewed expansion. During that period, our team established three complementary objectives to keep the brand consistent for our new period of growth.

Consumer Demand and Brand Perception

Our brand has been able to gain a loyal following through customer engagement. Before making any changes to our franchise operations, we wanted to know what customers liked about the brand – what kept them coming back and what changes did they want to see. Within my first year, our team conducted a consumer study and the feedback gave us valuable insight into what we were doing wrong and what was right. The process was humbling, but it served as the motivation we needed to restore our brand to its original vision. The customer survey served as a blueprint for determining where the brand needed to be and how to get there.

Going further, our team made sure to open the lines of productive communication within the franchise system. That entailed working with each franchise to source their perception of what was and wasn’t working. The franchisees explained their need for a better way to communicate within the franchise system, share marketing and management ideas, and gain access to corporate tools. By listening to their feedback, our team engaged
in several initiatives internally that increased franchisee communication and participation and which led us to create an internal portal and organize a franchise advisory council. Today, the portal and the council serve as a forum for discussion amongst the franchisees and corporate to discuss best practices and experiences.

Evaluating perception among customers and franchisees was a valuable first step to getting our current franchisees back on the right track. Knowing what aspects of our brand we needed to stay true to and what operational aspects could be enhanced for our franchisees was the first key in establishing a culture among franchisees of aligning their goals and aspirations with the franchisor.

Brand Commitment

To make progress, every aspect of the relationship between the franchisor, the franchisees and the customer had to be approached with equal significance. The franchisor’s commitment to keeping the brand consistent across the board reflects positively across the system. I knew the brand would be successful if all those interdependent pieces were a part of the decision-making process. What helped our team the most in realizing this process, was viewing those three components as three inter-locking circles – or a three sided venn-diagram that joined in the middle. When deciding upon a course of action, we considered our venn-diagram first and every point of view. Where those three components met in the middle was the direction we usually took. We never approached an issue as too trivial for this process; because of that the brand grew stronger and more consistent. We want our franchisees to see our brand as interconnected and trust our corporate team to keep it running smoothly. This meant putting the right leadership in place and building a team that understood our vision and the steps to make our system more consistent.

Corporate Brand Leadership & Evolution

Communication doesn’t stop within the corporate team; it should cascade down through our entire system. I knew that having the right approach to leadership would resonate with our existing franchisees and help prepare our system for new franchisees. I aligned my goals and aspirations with that of the franchises.

Another important aspect of leadership is constant evolution and progress. Our franchisees know that as we evolve, it is a direct result of listening to various opinions within the system and evaluating the success of that decision. A proven leader will listen before communicating. I don’t come from a franchise or a restaurant industry background, but I do bring a business philosophy that puts emphasis on evaluating what is a brand’s strength. For Chronic Tacos, that strength continues to be the customers and the franchisees. From consumer focus groups to operational feedback from the line cooks, there was no stone unturned. We approached our new commitment to consistency by actively recognizing ways to evolve the brand and avoid becoming stagnant.

We’re starting to see the fruits of our labor as we see more prospective franchisees approach us, eager to bring our brand into their markets. This year we expect to open locations in Washington, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina. With our approach, we are in a position to experience rapid growth and still maintain the brand’s original vision, which is to provide a positive experience to our customers.

Chronic Tacos opened its first store in 2002, in Newport, CA, and was quickly followed by the second at Huntington Beach, CA. With the first franchised Chronic Tacos opening in April of 2006, there are now more than 30 locations throughout California and beyond, including Nevada and Canada.

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