bannerFranchisor Stories

How Brands are Bringing Franchisees Closer Together Despite Social Distancing

Even at six feet apart, franchise networks are coming together during this trying time to help fuel success.

Amid the fallout from the coronavirus crisis, brands across all industries are being forced to adapt to an unprecedented situation, leaving some business owners feeling uncertain about the future. As a result, the value of a franchise system is becoming more and more apparent as franchisors offer industry-leading support and franchisees come together to share best practices and provide a shoulder to lean on. 

“Communication” has undoubtedly become the key word for many franchise brands. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, franchisors across all segments have prioritized open lines of communication between franchisees and the leadership team to ensure that everyone is on the same page. 

“There are so many resources available right now, which allows our franchisees the opportunity to stay ahead of the game,” said Danessa Itaya, brand president of Property Management Inc. With a wide array of support options for small business owners, including PPP loans, the CARES Act and SBA loans, franchisors have worked hard to educate franchisees through frequent webinars, virtual town halls and updates.

Mark de Gorter, COO of the fitness franchise Workout Anytime, sends out daily updates to the entire franchise system that are each filled with tools designed to help owners navigate all aspects of their business. “When it became clear that COVID-19 was going to impact our clubs for an extended period of time, we did everything in our power to set our franchisees up for success,” said de Gorter. “We made it our top priority to be an available resource for our franchise partners, regardless of what they need help with. At the end of the day, we’re only as successful as our ownership group, and we’re now preparing to help them reopen their clubs when it’s safe for everyone to return.”

SoBol Brand President Paul Gucciardo also points to communication as being the key to bringing franchisees closer together, whether it be through frequent emails, video conferences or phone calls. “We are coming up with new and exciting ways to improve promotions and operations but communication is our number one priority—we encourage our franchise system to reach out directly to us,” he said. “Our weekly updates have become so much more structured and have included so many more details. We have so many franchise owners that have truly reengaged with their stores due to the crisis. They're thinking in different, creative ways—they're appreciating our support and using these resources to their benefit.” 

Buffalo Wings & Rings CEO, Nader Masadeh, notes that communication has grown “exponentially” as the leadership team steps in to support its franchise owners as they navigate the crisis. “I try to speak with at least a few franchisees every day whether that’s through a text, a call or an email just to see how they’re doing and to let them know that we’re here for them during this time,” he said.

In addition to leadership support, franchisors are also implementing unique ways to bring franchisees closer together during this difficult time. “We have been highlighting franchisees that have been getting creative and fighting for their business, encouraging other franchisees to do the same, collaborate and communicate with one another,” said Gucciardo. “We have seen a positive result in terms of morale.” 

While establishing an association of franchisees as a formal conduit of information between a franchisor and their network has always been important in franchising, now, more than ever, this franchise advisory council forum is essential. These groups of franchisees serve as a resource for brands, bring franchise partners closer together and create a voice for owners within the system to ensure that their ideas, suggestions and concerns are heard. 

According to Justin Waltz, vice president of operations for Big Blue Swim School, right now is a crucial time to utilize the franchise advisory council. “If you don’t have a franchise advisory council or a coronavirus committee, I’d start one now so that franchisees are a part of the decision-making process,” he said.

“Our franchise advisory council is very young — it’s a year and a half old,” said Itaya. “One of the things they want to help us with is coordinating national partners and vendors, and then communicating that to our network. They’re checking in with franchisees to see if there are any partnerships that are being used locally that could turn into bigger relationships to help generate referral and lead sources.”

By creating a place for franchisees to have these types of collaborative conversations, share best business practices and create meaningful relationships, franchisors are positioning themselves for a stronger infrastructure in the future. 

“What we’ve seen is that there are varying levels of performance across the country. Some brands are slower to respond while there are others that are way ahead of this,” said Erik Herrmann, partner and head of CapitalSpring’s restaurant investment group. “That’s the learning — responsiveness is different from concept to concept. It’s important to have tight alignment between franchisees and franchisors. That will determine how you optimize and survive on the other side of this thing.”