Controlled Growth Key to Success for New Franchise Concepts!

Working with entrepreneurs exploring franchising as a business expansion strategy, I’m often asked the question, “How does a new franchise company sell franchises without brand recognition?” Here are my thoughts…

Initially, the founder is the brand. It’s his or her passion for the business. It’s how he or she treats customers and employees alike. It’s how the business is promoted within the local market. Not just through typical advertising efforts, but through solid grassroots, organic efforts.

The initial franchise candidates are actually the “low hanging fruit” of the original business. These are the customers that inquire whether or not the business is a franchise and how they can learn more about owning their own. Most are interested because the business appears to be thriving and they’ve seen the owner (founder) time and again, always smiling and shaking hands. Public Relations efforts should ensure this occurs.

They admire the owner a great deal and will base their decision to open a franchise location, on the potential of establishing a relationship with the owner. They’ll compare the opportunity to other franchises and justify to themselves that they’re in on a ground floor opportunity with a direct line to the founder. As such, they feel their probability of success is greater because their location will be in the home office city and if they need help, they could easily approach the founder and the home office because of the proximity to their franchise location.

Ideally, the next few franchisees will also be in the same market as the original business and the first franchise location. It’s prudent to only expand locally until critical mass is established in the market, ad cooperative is developed and support systems are perfected. Now the concept is ready to expand outside the initial market.

However, it is often financial suicide to entertain requests from candidates all over the country. Instead, development efforts should be concentrated on one or two cities relatively close to home office city. For instance, if original business and home office is in Houston, the natural progression would be to promote the opportunity next in San Antonio/Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth areas.

As these markets start to become established with franchise locations, it’s advisable to promote the concept in another two or three areas. Maybe, explore another “hub” and “spoke” scenario. Let’s say, Atlanta as the next hub.

Expansion efforts should be the same as they were in Houston and expansion out of that market shouldn’t occur until Atlanta has a critical mass. Then, when that occurs, the opportunity could be promoted close by in Nashville and Charlotte. Now, you see the spokes of national expansion beginning to form.

While this is going on, maybe inquiries start coming in from the San Francisco area. So, the next phase of expansion might be in the Bay Area. The Bay Area becomes another hub, and once developed, the franchise opportunity could be promoted up the road in Portland and to the East in Sacramento and the process continues.

It’s all about controlled growth and the founder exhibiting tremendous restraint in expanding too fast and in areas far away from his core group and subsequent hubs to be able to provide ample support, create ad cooperatives and build the brand geographically. Chances of franchise success are far greater at all levels of the franchise organization within the parameters of a controlled plan of development.

So, to answer the often-asked question directly, I suggest everyone in the system having a clear understanding of the founder’s vision and if it includes anything but a controlled development plan with his or her firm commitment to actively participate in the franchise sales process, the chances of selling the first ten to twenty franchises will be a frustrating, monumental task that most likely will fail miserably.

Franchise Sales: A Tale of Two Theories

franchise_salesA couple of years ago, there was a discussion in the Franchise Executives group on LinkedIn with the posted question, “Who is using outside franchise sales groups [brokers]?”

Below are some interesting responses from group members that are not franchise consultants or brokers:

An experienced franchise executive stated:
“Why wouldn’t you develop your own small sales group? Using a service that sells multiple franchises diminishes your quality control to some degree. I have been a part of 2 franchisors for 25 years and neither has ever used any of these groups and we have had lots of success. What are you trying to achieve by using these”groups”? Lower cost of acquisition, less hassle, expecting more leads, more foot soliders?”

The president of a national franchise concept wrote:
“We do not work with an outside group. In talking with our prospects it seems important to them to know that our development staff are part of the company and experts on the concept they are selling. We even have a dedicated sales team for each concept. My advice is to talk with some of your new franchisees to see if it would have made a difference in their decision making process.”

A franchise attorney posted his response:
“…if you use an outside broker in the true “sales” role, they can lose credibility if they appear detached and not knowledgeable about what they’re selling (often happens when your brand is only one of many in the broker’s portfolio). That should factor into your due diligence process when you’re looking at outside brokers. But when the relationship stays between the franchisee and the sales person, the prospect’s going to be let down when that sale is done and the sales person is on to the next prospect. Besides, I always wanted my sales person’s relationship with the prospect to taper off once the sale was done – the franchisee’s relationship should be with someone on the development then someone on the operations team. Two points – first, I always caution my clients to use brokers more as “matchmakers” rather than “salesmen.” What should really “sell” the franchise is not the sales person (internal or external) or the broker, but the confidence that the prospect has in the brand and in the ability of the management team; and, second, if my clients use outside sales people, I always make sure the outside sales team attend the same training I give my client’s internal team and do so at the same time. That way the outside sales folks get entrenched into the company’s culture, they know what to expect from management, they see how to use management to “sell” the franchise, and they know what management expects of them.”

A Vice President of a national franchise concept went on to write:
“For a variety of reasons I’m personally a big believer in building sales teams from within the company. But then again I’ve had the luxury of working for established franchisors and had resources to either develop salespeople from within the company, or rely on referrals to hire from outside and train them to become franchise salespeople. Both methods take time – generally about 12 months for a franchise salesperson to really “hit their stride”. Many franchisors don’t want to wait that long, or can’t wait that long, or don’t know how to train franchise salespeople. In those situations it may make sense to bring on outside franchise sales groups.”

So, that’s what franchise professionals were saying a couple of years ago… but what about today? Please, let us know your thoughts!

Social Media… A Jungle for Franchising?

Franchising is no stranger to change. The industry adapted well to the internet when it integrated its then traditional marketing at tradeshows with development of elaborate websites. Next, the industry adapted again as it integrated its marketing efforts and web presence with franchise consultants and brokers through a multitude of franchise portals.

Well, as Bob Dylan once wrote, “…the times they are a changing.” Much has been written and spoken about weeding through the many tire-kickers experienced on the internet, shuffling from one portal to the next with the same non-objective to “see what’s out there.” The franchise industry has literally seen thousands of these leads with no purpose, no chance of ever presenting a franchise opportunity.

Instead of trying to catch fish in a wide open ocean, why not direct your attention to the fish in a lake, pond or even, a barrel? That’s correct, a barrel! In searching for qualified franchise candidates, we, as an industry, need to locate the barrels of candidates that exist in the market today. How do we accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task? We need to embrace new technology and integrate the same with traditional efforts. Specifically, Social Media and all it has to offer.

Social Media is truly extraordinary, consisting of many different aspects beyond the familiar LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. There are wikis, webinars, blogs and podcasts, just to name a few. But there are others as well. To the many, the thought of stepping foot into this jungle is daunting, and therefore, the journey continues to be delayed. So, as the old adage of how one could eat an entire elephant (of course, one bite at a time), it’s necessary to take small bites out of the Social Media elephant and step through the jungle carefully, one step at a time – using all the tools at our disposal to reach our destination… our objective.

The following is a discussion on a blog by Michelle Bonat originally posted in 2008 but still very relevant today. Michelle discusses taking small steps towards integrating Social Media Marketing with classic (traditional) marketing programs.

Babysteps…How to integrate social media with traditional marketing programs

Social media marketing is most effective when it is an integrated part of your overall marketing efforts. But how do you jump into social media when you already have some really effective classic marketing programs in play? Here are a few ways you can babystep into the world of social media by leveraging the good stuff you already have.

1) Maintain a single consistent marketing strategy through classic and social media marketing.

Your goals, objectives and messages should be consistent across all of your marketing. Sounds simple, but unless you define and enforce this it won’t happen.

The good news here is that you don’t have to re-figure this all out just for social media. It is really just taking your existing marketing platform and extending it.

2) Extend your reach – Reach out to your influencers in ways that they like to communicate.

Use your existing marketing knowledge about who influences your product’s purchasing decisions, and use social media tools to create a discussion with them where they hang out.

Some specific examples: Are your influencers kids? Get on the social networks catering to the younger set. IT buyers? Figure out which bloggers are influencing this community. Mobile sales professionals? Deliver content in a mobile enabled way, such as Twitter.

3) Invite your customers into the process.

While you are planning your next product, refining your messaging, or even launching a marketing campaign, figure out a way to get your customers involved whenever possible as early as possible. When you do this they feel that they have been heard, feel more engaged and valued, which results in a tighter connection with your company and product. It also gives you the benefit of upfront input. A product that people actually want? Described in a manner that speaks to them? Wonderful!

A good way to on-ramp this customer involvement include online communities (public or private, even a public group on an existing social network). You can even ask them to deliver their thoughts in video form by way of a contest – “describe what our product means to you”.

4) Turn an online forum into a social media hub.

Make people feel more at home by adding profile information and allowing the posting of pictures (or pointers to a picture posting service like Flickr).

Recognize that you have to give to get. Start a genuine conversation with your audience by having company employees contribute to the forums in their own words. For example, instead of just asking for feature enhancements suggestions, tell them what direction you are headed and, if possible, the timing for these enhancements (without giving away too much info). Then ask them their opinion.

Try these few tips to help ease into a social media program that leverages your existing marketing – and you will soon be on your way!

Note: This post was revised from earlier post on this site, “Web 2.0 – A Jungle for Franchise Development” (Mar 2009)


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