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The benefits of international franchising in times of crisis

The benefits of international franchising in times of crisis

If it weren’t for the collective efforts of its global network, this franchise would be looking at very different mid-year sales results.

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In times of crisis, the benefits of being a part of a franchise network become even more apparent. It’s valuable to have a large network full of experienced professionals – both on the franchisor and franchisee ends – to lean on in times of uncertainty.

While the ongoing pandemic has certainly put a strain on all business around the world, it could be argued that the small businesses that operate under the umbrella of a large franchisor have been less vulnerable to the negative impacts of COVID-19 than the standard “mom-and-pop” businesses that are entirely on their own.

Regardless of what support is available, we’ve seen in the U.S. how regulations can vary from one state to the next, and even from one city to the next within the same state. Those differences are even grander on a global scale, so keeping the entire network in line with local government and health mandates can be tough on an international franchisor. This all might cause one to assume that operating internationally in the midst of a crisis adds to the current challenging circumstances, but I believe the opposite is actually the case.

Edible Arrangements is one of many franchise brands that operate on an international scale, with more than 1,100 locations spanning seven countries. It would be a lie to say that everything has been smooth sailing across our entire network for the duration of this crisis. However, the negative impacts of this pandemic have been surprisingly minimal on our network as a whole. In fact, we’ve experienced in the past six months a spike in sales by 18 per cent, even though the economy as a whole is struggling.

There are a number of factors I could credit our recent success to, but a key piece I always come back to is the fact that having a presence on multiple continents has actually served us well during these tough times. From our experience so far, these are the main reasons why being an international brand has helped us not only survive but actually thrive during this global health crisis.

We were a step ahead of the game

While the coronavirus was not officially declared present in the U.S. until early 2020, its first- reported origins date back to the end of 2019 in China. In addition to Edible having stores spanning the Asian country, we also had suppliers based in China. Because concerns of COVID-19 began affecting those partners of ours early on, we had some advance notice in terms of preparing for this crisis. We were helping our franchisees in China figure out how to respond to mandated closures before it was even a topic of discussion in other parts of the world.

“Communication has been crucial for all organizations throughout this pandemic”

We also made a point to order from our Chinese suppliers much further in advance than we normally would, and we built relationships with new suppliers in countries not yet affected by the virus. By the time the pandemic reached our home base in the U.S., we were already familiar with the virus from what we learned from our international partners who had already been affected, and we never experienced any supply shortages because we had already begun efforts to avoid such an issue.

We enhanced relationships with our global partners

Communication has been crucial for all organizations throughout this pandemic, regardless of whichever industries they belong to. For those of us in leadership positions for our companies, none of us can say that we were completely prepared for handling a crisis like this. We’ve had to be flexible and willing to adapt to the constantly-evolving circumstances of the issue at hand. Throughout this learning process, my team and I found the value in leaning more heavily into our international partners for direction in order to pen a suitable solution.

Every country around the world has implemented different standards for business operations during this pandemic, and those standards have been evolving on a daily basis. In some nations, Edible’s services have continued safely with no-contact delivery and curbside pickup initiatives. But in others – in China, for example – there was a time when operations needed to halt entirely. We communicated constantly with our franchise owners and associates in different countries about what their local governments’ expectations were, and then we had thorough conversations about how our brand should cope with the various regulations.

Having these discussions on a regular basis kept us in tune to what was happening not only to our company on a global level, but to society as a whole. It gave us some foresight into what could be expected from one country to the next as certain trends began making themselves apparent. Our global knowledge helped inform the decisions we made in every country where our brand is present.

We improved local community relations, which led to impactful innovations

One of the major components of Edible’s success thus far in 2020 despite the ongoing pandemic was our realization early on that we needed to listen to our customers first and foremost, making sure we provided what they actually needed during this difficult time. Customers’ needs varied from one country to the next, so we needed to be really in tune with what our audiences were interested in depending on where they were located.

Listening to our customers more than ever before led to the introduction of some important innovations across our network, all of which were designed specifically for the countries where they were made available. For example, in North America there was a general concern among people about how safe grocery stores would be, but going without fresh food was not an option. To help ease these concerns, we introduced via our North American stores delivery of fresh produce boxes, thus launching our entry into the grocery space.

In the UAE, on the other hand, Ramadan occurred from April- May, right at the height of the pandemic. To ensure people could still celebrate this popular religious holiday from the safety of their homes, we introduced cakes and other baking items relevant to this market that would add something special to people’s homebound Ramadan festivities.

Both product introductions were major hits where they were offered, and we owe that to a willingness across our network to involve ourselves in the communities we serve by focusing on the needs of our customers there, recognizing along the way that those needs differed from one country to the next.

Going global is worth it

While being an international franchise brand does present inherent challenges in terms of organization, communication, and compliance, it also aids in the maturity and sophistication of the business. Were it not for the collective efforts of our global network, we could be looking at very different mid-year sales results because we would not have been as educated or prepared for a crisis of this size. If your franchise brand is contemplating whether or not to pursue international development, I urge you to keep in mind these potential benefits of having global knowledge when the future is uncertain.

THE AUTHOR

Cheikh Mboup is the president and COO of Edible Brands, the parent company of Edible.

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