For a new franchise competing in a busy market, nothing is more important than originality says Peter Ortiz
The franchise industry, especially in the fast-casual sector, is flooded with new concepts each year – many of them far too much alike. And, with more than 3,000 franchise brands already in the marketplace, originality in our industry can be a rare commodity. Needless to say, sustained success (i.e. consistently strong franchise sales growth) relies almost entirely on a concept’s ability to differentiate itself from the competition.
Prospective franchisees are going to want to understand exactly how a concept is uniquely positioned in the segment, and how the brand’s leadership is invested in its franchisees and their success.
What sets this brand apart from the rest? How does the home office drive initiatives that give franchisees a leg up on competition? Answering these questions is key, and there are several ways thoughtful franchisors can distinguish their brands from the competition.
Step 1: Look at leadership
Let’s start with leadership. Differentiating a franchise brand from the pack starts or, quite literally, sits, at the top. The senior executive team must be devoted to franchising, invested both in what it takes to grow a brand through franchise sales and the investment it takes to provide existing franchisees with top-notch support. The team’s understanding of these initiatives is fundamental to success, and being able to speak to this with prospects is integral.
If senior leadership doesn’t feel strongly about franchising, franchisee support programs and both the near and long-term potential of franchising, it’s up to the franchise development team to inspire them.
Develop a strategy to educate them about franchising and how it is a strategy that can sustain company growth for many, many years; bring in external experts to speak on the topic, introduce them to some standout existing franchisees, or tour a franchise location to demonstrate the way franchise units follow the brand’s systems and processes.
Seeing things firsthand is always best – insist that senior leadership spend the time to understand just how greatly a strong franchising plan can grow a business and make a concept a segment leader.
With the backing of senior leadership, the franchising arm of a business will be empowered to support existing franchisees and, equally important, take the necessary steps to grow the brand.
Step 2: Don’t be afraid of a fresh perspective
Now that you’ve gotten the C-Suite onboard, it’s time to look inward – at the franchising team itself. If a brand is in a rut, a fresh perspective in the franchising development department is a crucial step in a brand’s journey to differentiation.
In order to grow your system and sophisticate your concept, sometimes new forward-thinking team members with ideation on how to do things differently is just what the doctor ordered.
A fresh point of view can bring a variety of benefits, one of which is the ability to identify (and present solutions to) possible systemwide inefficiencies. Newcomers will be less attached to current operations and open to changing things up.
A new point of view can also bring diverse ideas to the table on how to better support franchise owners – which brings us to the next step in our path to distinguishing winning concepts from the rest.
Step 3: Invest in existing franchisee support
Now that we’ve covered how to position the home office team, it’s time to make sure your existing franchisees are set up for success. The quality level of franchisee support offered is a huge area of differentiation for franchise brands and presents several opportunities to lead the industry.
For instance, make sure technology or proprietary software is as up-to-date, effective and efficient as possible. Also, offer ample technology training opportunities to your franchisees and their staff. Always strive to finetune and improve processes, as well as properly train franchise locations on how to best implement them. Refresher courses are always constructive.
Finally, recognize franchisees’ success and inspire them to invest their very best in their business. A great way to do this is through holding an annual conference for franchisees to network with one another, hear from industry experts, and connect with home office leadership one-on-one.
These conventions present a strategic opportunity to honor franchisee achievements over the past year, as well. Develop an awards program that recognizes successes and stellar performance.
Call out top producers, those who follow systems and processes, and the franchisees who exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit. This will not only endear your top performers to your brand, it will also serve to inspire the entire franchise system to strive for improvement and excellence.
Step 4: Enhance the customer experience
Lastly, a concept lives and dies by its clientele. They need to want to return and purchase whatever you’re selling again, and again, and again… so, while this is the last step in the path to differentiation, it’s likely the most important.
At the end of the day, consumers have plenty options. So, why should they choose your brand? Sure, price points matter, as does the product’s quality. But the area a brand can really differentiate itself is in the customer experience. Customer service should be a leading – if not the leading – focus for all locations.
Customers are going to come back to your location because the employees are pleasant, or maybe they’ve even developed a rapport with the staff (who should strive to know regulars by name!). Excellence in customer service isn’t just a smile and a warm greeting.
Get to know the customers. Make those experiences memorable; employees should knowledgeably and pleasantly answer questions, for instance. Employees should be patient with customers, and not rush them through the line.
It starts with teaching staff the importance of customer service and giving them the necessary tools to deliver. Train them on the hallmarks of memorable customer interactions. And, remember that continued learning is essential to making these practices stick day-to-day.
We’ve covered the four steps to making your concept different. Remember, it starts at the top – the buy-in of senior leaders will position the entire franchise for success. Then, look inward at the franchising team itself. A fresh perspective can help finetune systems and processes and bring in new ideas, from development to advocating for franchisees. Once the home office is on the right track, focus on enhancing both franchisee support and the customer experience. These four steps may seem simple, but they’re the bedrocks of a stand-out franchise infrastructure that is positioned to differentiate itself from the rest, for the long-term.
Now, go be different.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Ortiz, vice president of franchise development for Potbelly Sandwich Shop, has more than 25 years of experience in the franchising industry. He has led franchise development for iconic brands including Moe’s Southwest Grill, Carvel, Schlotzky’s, General Motors, and Better Homes and Gardens.
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