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How Brands Can Utilize Data to Optimize Franchise Development

Nick Powills, Mainland CEO, shares insights the company has gathered by profiling nearly 200 franchisees to learn about the average timeline of their inquiry process, why midlife crises may be playing a role and more.

Mainland* — a marketing and communications company and 1851 Franchise’s publisher — recently hosted a Coffee and Analytics webinar in which CEO Nick Powills walked through the company’s May findings to explain how brands can utilize data to optimize their individual franchise development process. The webinar revealed interesting insights into the franchise industry, outlining some common takeaways Mainland learned by profiling nearly 200 franchisees across its client portfolio this past year.

“At the turn of the year, Mainland decided to pull data from all of the franchisees we talk to across all of the brands we work with in order to build insight and report on what the future holds, instead of just looking at the past,” said Powills. “Now, moving into the second half of the year, we are really starting to see the connections, stories and insights we can use to impact franchise development for our clients.”

Collecting the Right Data

Powills says he firmly believes that a franchise is arguably the most difficult thing in the world to sell. “You are asking people to invest their life savings in a business they will have little control over,” he said. “That is a complex thing. In historical franchise development, we were looking to break down that complexity by looking at how much we spent this month versus what we got back this month. Now, with the data we have, we can start looking farther ahead and evaluate how the decisions we make right now could impact growth in 2023.”

This month, one of the primary strategies, Powills says, was to start dividing up the data based on investment level. “This will give us a more in-depth understanding of how much time it takes from impression to inquiry,” he said. “We are breaking up those investments into low, medium and high and trying to decide if the timeframe and behavior change drastically depending on the number.”

Last month, Mainland found that the average timeframe for a prospect to go from the first impression of a brand to inquiring about the franchise opportunity was 7.4 months. Interestingly, in May, Powills says the average has dropped by an entire month to only 6.4

But that's not the only number dropping, Powills says. The average age of freshly-signed franchisees came in at 44 years old this month among the pool of owners Mainland profiled. 

“There has been a swing lately of trying to focus on younger buyers like Millennials, which is right,” Powills said. “But really, if you were to take all of your franchisees, you would probably see a wide range of ages, backgrounds and stories. So, you don’t want to only target those who are 44, but if that is the sweet spot, you know that other brands are focusing on, and maybe you can aim outside of that range. By finding the average age of a buyer for a specific brand, we can ask: where are people of those ages spending their time?” 

The average age of 44 could reveal another interesting insight about franchising, Powills says, in the form of the infamous mid-life crisis. “A mid-life crisis is about hitting your 40s with a little bit of money and asking yourself: did I accomplish my goals? This could prove to be valuable in how we position these franchise development stories,” he said. “For example, you could leverage the stories of other franchisees and speak to them about the changes and life adjustments they made in their 40s.” 

Powills says Mainland is also working on better dividing the data based on individual brands. “We have several clients who have accelerated their findings and are asking us to do a persona project,” he said. “We extract insights on who we are targeting and how to get them.”

Franchisee Profile Buckets

As part of the data collection, Powills says Mainland is better at classifying the buckets franchisees fall into. Traditionally, Powills says there were two types — business operators and franchisees. Business operators have built an accumulative wealth, and franchising is an opportunity to push the pedal down and increase that wealth. This means they are likely already thinking about opening multiple units. On the other hand, a franchisee is someone trying to build wealth, so they will probably be investing in a single unit

“So, the question is: which one of these owners is going to have the highest return on investment for the brand? If a brand gets 25 franchisees who can operate 200 restaurants, do you hit your sales goals in numbers as quickly? Probably not. Are you putting another cap on how to qualify candidates? Probably. But the value of a multi-unit franchisee opening five-plus units can add significant value to your wealth and the enterprise as a whole,” said Powills. 

A better way to divide up those buckets, Powills says, is to break them up into single-unit, multi-unit and multi-brand. By doing so, he says franchisors can better begin to qualify the ideal candidates for their growth strategy.

“If I am qualifying a candidate at a single-unit, the chances of them becoming a multi-unit operator is a little bit more of a crap shoot versus someone you qualified in at three units,” he said. “Within the FDD, you have the required one year of operating capital, but what if you increase that to two years? For example, I was talking to the owner of an emerging brand, and I asked them how much they needed to live outside of their business, and they said $5,000 a month. That means candidates looking to replicate the business would need $120,000 for two years. So, he should only qualify prospects with that much in their bank, plus the amount it will take to open the business.”

How to Use Data for Stronger Franchise Development

By looking at the data, Mainland gives clients several ways to optimize their franchise development marketing

For one, Powills says, franchisors need to really make their stuff work for them. “We want to give clients the tools to take the content they are developing and use it for business development or lead generation,” said Powills. “Are you using content in a newsletter? Are you re-engaging cold leads through webinars? Once you are, you can take the data of who is opening or clicking on the link and determine the actual names of those interested in that content. If we write a story on 1851 Franchise, are you taking that story and sharing it internally so others can share it on social media? Those who are one degree separated from your established group will probably be the next several buyers. So we must get positive stories out there to get people excited about the opportunity.”

Additionally, franchisors must ensure they integrate content onto their franchise development website. “You want to create an internet resource for buying a franchise, including the team’s vision, projects, news, FDD tips, best practices, etc.,” said Powills. “For example, Mainland has launched a news widget that can be used to better build out the brand’s research page. If you build up that content inventory on the research tab, it can be of tremendous value, especially since we see on Google Analytics that franchisee prospects often bounce back and forth on the brand’s website.”

With that content, franchisors should also be building out drip campaigns to keep people in the funnel and informed. “Take that content and regularly send it out to the right audience, including current candidates in the process,” said Powills. 

Overall, Powills says the primary goal of leveraging this data is to deliver more impactful information to the right candidates and hopefully help them feel happy and comfortable with buying into a specific franchise. “At the end of the day, your existing franchisees have all the data you need to find similar ones, so learning more about them and collecting that data will provide a pathway to winning,” he said. 

Mainland clients interested in seeing more info about their specific brand can ask their account manager. If they want to accelerate the strategy, they can also invest in a persona project that can be used for both media relations and advertising.

Watch the full webinar with Nick Powills here.

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.