Franchisors should draw upon expertise of star franchisees to unify the system
In the life cycle of a franchise brand, there comes a time when a franchisor needs to draw upon its system to help drive the brand forward. Whether a brand has 60, 600 or 6,000 units, a franchisor needs to rely on its network of dedicated franchisees to lend their unique expertise to benefit the entire system.
Lisa Almeida is one of those franchisees. Formerly in sales and marketing for BellSouth for more than 25 years, her true passion was boating. She made a career shift in 2009 and worked for a Freedom Boat Club corporate location in Jacksonville / St. Augustine, Florida, before buying the location to run herself. After just a year and a half, she was asked to come back and work for corporate -- this time as the franchise director. When her location continued to grow, she knew had to focus on running her business. However, her efforts at corporate didn’t go unnoticed; when CMO Wanda Kenton Smith came up with the idea to start the franchise marketing advisory council in 2014, Almeida was one of the first to get on board.
“The council was created to be a communication tool, a feedback tool and an idea generation tool,” said Almeida. “There were 8 or 9 of us from the start and we got involved in the marketing and acted as representatives for the franchisees to corporate. In just a few short years, ideas that started in the council have already been implemented across the 125-unit system and that is exciting to see. ”
Collaboration and teamwork are two big pieces to a successful marketing advisory council, and it takes a specific type of franchisee to be successful at it.
“Franchisees that are selfless, savvy in marketing, successful in their local franchise and respected by the system as a whole are ones that make great council members,” said Almeida. “We each own a separate location, but we are a team and all members of Freedom Boat Club, working together for a common goal.”
Christopher Conner, President and Founder of Franchise Marketing Systems, a sales and marketing consultancy, echoes Almeida’s thoughts, adding, “The council should be comprised of the most active and engaged franchisees within the network. These are the people who care and are devoted to the success of the franchise brand. It’s generally pretty easy to determine who these people are in that they will come to you when you put the word out that you are putting a council together.”
Marketing advisory councils are typically created when a brand reaches a certain point in its growth trajectory. In Conner’s experience, that sweet spot usually occurs when a brand hits 25 to 30 locations.
“The franchise systems we have worked with in the past who have made the move to develop franchise advisory councils have been in a position where the brand is expanding, the franchise network is adding units and it was evident that there needed to be some controls in place to manage the distribution of the brand,” said Conner.
For Mosquito Joe, a 170-unit pest control franchise, the council was created very shortly after opening franchised locations to help formalize communication between franchisor and franchisee.
“When franchisees and franchisors communicate often, they're maintaining the relationship that was built on trust, and ultimately striving to work together for the benefit of the entire system,” said Julie Green, Marketing Manager for Mosquito Joe. “Our company grew quickly and we wanted to stay ahead of the curve, so for us, the council was born around the end of our second year of operating franchise units.”
Green adds that planning is another necessary step in creating a successful council and urges franchisors to create a plan before they need it and set the stage early so that it doesn’t get overlooked.
“The most important thing is to understand the purpose of a council and what your company's specific goals are for its organization so you can determine launch timing and build a solid implementation plan. This plan should include formal by-laws so that members and other franchisees understand what the council does and doesn't do, how members are selected, and how they can best support the brand's goals,” Green said.
Once the council is formed, letting it act as an independent unit is paramount to its success.
“The franchisor should not be the most significant contributor to the council, only the conduit to an open, productive team of primarily franchisees,” said Conner. “The best councils I have seen franchise systems facilitate have a team of five or seven franchisees, the franchisor plays a role in supporting productive work together and most meetings are held virtually, but bi-annual in person meetings should be considered.”
Big and small brands alike can benefit from a franchise marketing advisory council to garner ideas from the savviest and most involved franchisees who live and breathe the brand day in and day out. Through the council, franchisors can expect consistent idea generation, out-of-the-box thinking and a realistic approach to creating impactful marketing strategies to share with the rest of the system.