Running a franchise-based company presents its own unique set of challenges for a chief executive. Not only does a CEO need to keep a customer base happy, but they also need to keep franchisees and partners happy and on the same page.
SpeedPro Imaging CEO Larry Oberly knows franchises—he has a deep background running franchises as a former Baskin-Robbins franchisee and most recently in global operations with RE/MAX. Oberly spoke with Chief Executive about the challenges and opportunities franchise businesses offer, the importance of connecting directly with franchisees and how to keep everyone in a franchise organization engaged.
The challenges and opportunities of franchise organizations
I really love this space. I think it’s one of those real interesting sets of culture and a lot of people, not just myself, but a lot of people think in terms of a franchise kind of like the same relationship with a marriage. You know, you’re great individually, you’re better together, but there are still bumps in the road along the way and you’ve got to find a way to work through those and you hope as you mature and you go through that it’s very satisfying, you have children, and they have different outcomes that come out of it. And you hope at the end of the day it helps you live a more fulfilling life and different things like that, but it’s those little bumps in the roads and how you work through those is, to me, is the real fascinating part of franchising, because you could put a location too close to someone, you could change your fee structure or something like that and all of a sudden, this dynamic changes from this independent kind of semi-independent relationship.
And it gets thrown for a tizzy because of monumental changes like that and it can really quickly damage a relationship and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I thought I was independently owned and operated,” and different things like that. So it’s that real interesting dichotomy and then that balance that you’ve got to strike to make it work.
Creating brand consistency across franchises
Consistency is really, really important. We have a number of really large clients—for instance, one is a shipping company that contracted with us with one of our Fort Lauderdale studios and she’s worked with our studios in Detroit and Cleveland and New York, installing all their graphics, so there’s expectations not only from the purchaser in Florida, but also then all of the others that get touched by that service. And so, if we don’t have the consistency across the board, then our Fort Lauderdale franchisee could feel the negative effects of that. And so consistency is really important and what’s interesting with us compared to a McDonald’s or even my Baskin-Robbins back in the day, everything was kind of set to real interesting standards and as long as you follow that playbook to make a burger or to make an ice cream cone or whatever, you’re pretty much home free.
But for us, every job is customized and it’s going to be different and the environment in Fort Lauderdale for an installation is going to be so far different than in New York or Detroit or what have you. And so you really have got to be on your game to make sure that that consistency is solid across the board.
“With our franchise advisory council, I look at them as partners and my coach, because they’re going to help me make sure I don’t step on landmines.”
The importance of facetime with franchisees
The important part of getting out [to meet with franchisees] is understanding the constant pain points. By being in a studio talking to the team plus the owner or a group of owners, I can really better understand what those pain points are and understand by being there how much it has to do with how they’re running the business themselves, or things that we can maybe help them with through training or development versus what we need to do as initiatives from the home office. You obviously can’t get that from a phone call.
And the other side of it is that you can walk in any business and you get a vibe. I can walk into places and I can I feel tension, you know? And so, I also walk into our studios and try to learn that vibe and feel what that curb appeal is. While we don’t really have a lot of walk-up customers because we’re B2B, but still understanding what that curb appeal feels like and is it a good place to work and is it a good warm environment for team members? I try to pick up on that and try to coach from that perspective, as well.
Keeping franchisees engaged
That’s where I bring my franchisee hat to the mix, because I was kind of one of those cranky franchisees back in the day. I had very high demands and I had high expectations of my franchisor, so I always lead with that and knowing that everybody is watching, waiting, trying to get signals and signs about the direction and different things. So, one, I want to be a really clear communicator for sure and partner to the nth degree with our franchisees.
With our franchise advisory council, I look at them as partners and my coach, if you will, because they’re going to help me make sure I don’t step on landmines. If I have this great idea, they may say, “You know, maybe that’s not such a great idea.” Maybe they should think of it a different way.
The franchise advisory council will actually interview the people, as well, because I want to make sure not only do we think it’s the right person, but the people we hire are going to be interfacing with our franchisees and so I want to hear that from them, as well. And, you know, with 135 owners collectively, not on years of experience, but their backgrounds and what they’ve been through, they know a whole lot more than collectively we do here in the home office and so trying to tap into that is really, really important. So they are helping us brainstorm initiatives, make sure they’re the right ones, that it’s the right number. I really believe that you can have too many initiatives going at one time and you can’t get any of them accomplished, so they really help make sure we’re doing the right ones and it’s up to me then to know how many from that point of view.
From that group, we’ve made a number of changes with our training programs, adding a really robust, one-day financial management class and a two-day sales management class into our initial training, which we’ll also offer to existing owners. Those are changes that we just made based on what I’ve heard and the direction we need to go.
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