Nothing could have prepared any franchise for a crisis like the current pandemic. We have never seen an event like this in our lifetime, so this experience has been truly new for everyone.
As the franchisor, even though this is unchartered territory, we’ve had to learn and adapt as we go and lead by example while guiding the franchisees through this challenge.
Although there are no exact formulas for how to navigate through this, there are actions that all franchisors should be doing to help set their franchisees up for success.
1. Communicate early and often
Time is of the essence during a crisis, whether it is an economic crisis that franchisees will have to power through or a health-turned-economic crisis like the current landscape. From a franchisor perspective, we made sure to communicate with franchisees early and often, for example through system-wide Zoom calls.
We made sure our franchisees thoughts and concerns were heard. We had the chat function on during our Zooms in case franchisees had questions – but still kept the mute function on to avoid talking over each other and deviating too far from the topic. In times of crisis like this, it’s easy to get sucked into a rabbit hole and have a conversation get away without accomplishing what is needed. This is why we had a presentation prepared so that we had enough time to discuss important items as well.
It is also crucial to let the franchise system know you are there to support them. After all, franchisees join a franchise to get the support in both good and difficult times. This should be sincere, and you should make sure to follow through helping out franchisees that ask for it.
During the pandemic, we reiterated to our franchisees that their health and safety is our number one priority and the financial aspect of the business would not change this fact.
2. Be encouraging, but don’t sugar-coat
As a leader, it’s your job to be the voice to elevate others to be the best they can be. Even in situations that are tough like the pandemic, it’s your responsibility to find the glimmer of hope in a dark time. However, it’s also important to be realistic and not sugar-coat reality.
Franchisees should know that if they are struggling, other people are in the same boat. Even though it may be a challenging road ahead, the corporate team will be there along the way. Being honest allows the franchisee to feel comfortable to reach out if they need help.
3. Offer advice and a plan of action
As the franchisor there is a reason franchisees joined the brand, so this is the time to share your business knowledge with the franchise system. Take the time on a Zoom call to go through options available for locations. For example, we made sure to let people know they did have options to file for the PPP loan and offered advice on how to do so.
If you’re offering advice, it’s important to let franchisees know their options so they can choose what’s right for them. Unless it’s a system-wide policy, one option may not fit all. It is better to guide the franchisees on how to enact the plan and customize it for themselves. This way, you are still providing support while letting them run the show.
4. Create a sense of urgency when necessary
With the PPP loans, our team had a call to action at the end of our system-wide Zoom where they needed to look at their options and decide fast. If they were going to file for a loan, there was a time crunch to file and we wanted our franchisees to know of this tight deadline.
Additionally, during the pandemic many of the brands that have survived have done so by adapting and adapting quickly. Our team also urged our franchisees to get creative on how they could still be able to help clients. For example, we suggested offering virtual estimates at the beginning of the pandemic. By doing this, gave all the tools the franchisees needed to be set up for the best scenario possible.
Of course, 2020 has been an unpredictable year to say the least, but that’s not to say we can’t learn from this time and how we can better adapt to it. As a franchise system, our franchisees are like a family to us, so it’s more important now than ever to continue our support along the way.
Scott Walker is the CEO and president of Screenmobile – a nationwide leader in screen doors, windows, porches and screen repair. Walker and his family founded Screenmobile in their garage in 1980 in Glendora, CA. After 40 years in business, Screenmobile has grown to more than 120 licenses across the U.S.