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!

Franchise Sales Process: Consistent or Flavor-of-the-Month?

Occasionally, I take a look at some of my posts from a few years back just to compare my thoughts and perspective from then to now. I always ask myself if I’m consistent so as not to confuse anyone. But more importantly, am I focused for the long-term or for just the here-and-now. Well, below is a post from June 2009. I’m sure you’ll agree that I have been consistent and have not jumped on any flavor-of-the-day bandwagon… It really is about fundamentals and best-practices!

Franchise Sales During the Recession

WSJRecently, in one of the franchise groups on LinkedIn, there was some discussion about the Wall Street Journal article, “Franchise Sales Pull Back During the Recession.” Several franchise professionals posted their comments and, of course, I added my “two cents” as well. Okay, I was definitely long-winded compared to the others, but as most of you who read my articles are well aware, I have a passion for franchising and franchise success and tend to go on and on to share the same with all who will “listen.”

“I too, believe there are many well-qualified candidates exploring franchising. Some as a career alternative, and also, in the case of already being a small business owner, as a business expansion strategy and/or an income diversification plan.

No doubt, the number of overall franchise leads has diminished quite a bit. But I believe many of the “tire kickers” have gone by the wayside while the more qualified candidates continue to search, inquire and ultimately decide franchising is right for them to achieve their goals and objectives. However, in order to fully realize this trend, one must realize that the candidates’ approach has evolved.

Today’s qualified franchise candidate is more sophisticated, educated and technologically advanced than we have ever seen before. Add to the mix, a sense of extreme caution, and their process in exploring franchising and specific franchise opportunities has become more of a detailed, well-thought out strategy.

Always understanding that there is risk in any entrepreneurial endeavor, today’s candidates explore franchising because it may provide even the slightest edge against failure. Their mantra has become, “failure is not an option” and they now live it by doing everything humanly possible to dot every “i” and cross every “t” and then rechecking only to do it over and over again until they have full, complete confidence in their decision.

To that end, the overall process from initial inquiry to franchise award is much longer than in years’ past and that is something franchisors must be prepared to effectively handle. It’s a primary reason I believe social media works so well in the new era of franchise sales as it creates an environment for today’s candidates to research organizations, share information, communicate with individuals at all levels of the franchise organization from franchisees to corporate executives, view photos, audio and video, etc. And, they can do so at their own pace and to their full understanding. That is the key.

Understanding and adapting to today’s qualified franchise candidate will help franchisors ride out this current economic downturn. Putting their heads in the sand and just complaining about the poor economy and the franchise candidate pool drying up will only incorrectly prove true that their negative thoughts are correct.

All that being said, certainly there are challenges in securing financing and other variables that must be contended with and addressed accordingly. But as the franchise candidate pool diminishes and many of the tire kickers aren’t around to waste our time, we should now have more time to explore all options, use our creativity and innovation, network beyond our comfort zones and seek out alternative solutions. I believe those solutions are out there and many are capitalizing on them as we speak. They will not only survive, they will thrive as others have done in other recessionary periods.”