How to Run Your Franchise Like a CEO

When you open a restaurant franchise, you don’t just “manage” or “run” the place: you become Chief Executive Franchisee.

The totality of your business – the brand, employees, customers, finances, community and strategy – all rest on your shoulders. This is no small burden, but it becomes one of the most rewarding experiences, both personally and financially, if you cultivate the mindset of a CEO. This outlook distinguishes the franchisees who thrive from those who don’t.

Thinking like a CEO is both an art and science. It’s an endeavor to connect the dots between means and ends while synchronizing your short-term and long-term goals. The bedrock of business leadership is what I call “calibration”: the process of continuously learning from all the good, bad and ugly to iterate and improve. By connecting the dots, balancing short-term and long-term, and always calibrating, you can build an enduring business and love what you do.

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the dots is an inquiry into what you’re doing and how you could be doing it better. It’s examination of means and ends that teaches you how to repeat successes. When you open a franchise, you inevitably hire a mixed bag of employees. Some crew members will provide outstanding service and meet your brand standards – others will struggle. Connecting the dots here is about finding the pattern.

What type of employee performs best and why? Which employees stick around or take off? You rely on a combination of intuition (art) and results (science) to figure this out. Gradually, you build an image of the ideal employee and learn how to identify it in the hiring process. That image is unique to your franchise – no else can tell you who to hire.

You connect the dots of the customer experience in similar way, with analogous questions. In your franchise, what does great service look like, and how do you know if you’re achieving it?

The more you observe your restaurant with fanatical attention to detail, the better you can answer the question. For example, do your customers look frustrated standing in line? Are they checking their smartphones incessantly and stepping aside to see what’s happening at the front of the line? Is the restaurant filled with new faces or loyal customers? When your guests look for seating, how do they react to your environment?

When you compare these details (art) against your transactional data and social media conversation (science), you discover what matter to the customer. If they’re complaining about the long waits and dirty tables on Yelp, it’s time to act.

In each and every aspect of your business, there are dots to connect and opportunities to calibrate. The franchisee who just “runs” a restaurant keeps it running – the Chief Executive Franchisee tries to make it better every day.

Short-Term and Long-Term Thinking

Now, tomorrow and this week, you have short-term tasks you must hit to remain in business. Long-term though, you might have aspirations to operate multiple franchises and hire a management team.

Short-term and long-term goals are usually interrelated. For example, let’s say you hope to open multiple restaurants. Your current hiring choices will determine whether or not you have a leadership team capable of managing multiple locations. You have to start eyeing locations now.

Where do you see dirt being excavated? If it’s the ideal spot, go to the developer and lock a deal before the competition does.

Sometimes, the connection between short-term and long-term is more subtle. Let’s say a direct competitor is launching in your trade area in two years, and you both specialize in catering. What should you do now?

A smart Chief Executive Franchisee builds a long-term competitive advantage by becoming relevant to local schools, businesses and non-profits. You can host fundraisers, join networking events, sponsor local sports teams, staff a soup kitchen with the team or donate extra food to shelters. In the short-term, you’re giving back to the community. In the long-term, you’re becoming a local institution rather than a mere restaurant that can
be interchanged with others. When the competitors arrives, you’ll be unbreakable.

Gut Check

When you open a franchise, it can feel like the restaurant runs you as much as you run it. Step back, observe yourself and refocus on the big picture of where you want the business to go. Look holistically at the good, the bad, and the ugly, and keep calibrating.

If this process is fulfilling, you are meant to be a Chief Executive Franchisee. I know franchisees who, 30 years into the business, have only grown more passionate about their work. They love their role, not just the results they’ve achieved by connecting the dots and balancing short-term and long-term priorities. It all starts
with the CEO mindset.

Tony Gioia is the Chairman and CEO of Togo’s Holdings, LLC. He has more than 30 years of business building achievements within the grocery, restaurant, packaged foods, and beverage and consumer products industries. Tony’s proven track record of formulating brand development and consumer-focused initiatives has been successful with Fortune 100, highgrowth, turn-around, public, and startup companies.

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