What franchisors can learn to emulate and avoid from the victories and failures of their counterparts.
Legacy brands are those that have established a presence, grown and remained relevant across multiple generations. Legacy brands have outlived fads and maintained their competitive advantage over time. Legacy brands are the ones people trust and are happy to patronize and be associated with.
So what happens when legacy brands face conflicts that have the potential to crumble the rock-solid foundations on which they’ve built themselves up?
Take Papa John’s for example. The pizza chain has been embroiled in a highly-publicized back-and-forth with its founder, John Schnatter, for much of the last year, and revenue is suffering as a result. While a number of marketplace factors have contributed to the decline in sales the brand is experiencing system-wide, the fallout from Schnatter’s ousting and the subsequent struggle for power has left Papa John’s in a precarious position with its franchisees and the public.
“It’s easy for a brand to create a persona around a particular individual,” said franchise consultant Mark Siebert, founder and CEO of iFranchise Group. “The key to being a legacy brand, however, is being true to that person’s image over time and recognizing that when you do tie a brand so directly to a founder or other individual, disasters can occur.”
Siebert, a franchise industry expert with more than three decades of consulting experience, noted several other instances of brands being negatively impacted by the actions of their figureheads, including Jimmy John Liautaud and his namesake Jimmy John’s, and, more seriously, Subway and the crimes of Jared Fogle.
“The lesson to be learned here is that the extent to which a brand associates with a particular individual needs to be determined by the extent to which that person understands their life is directly tied to the brand and commits to living their life as a brand ambassador,” Siebert said. “Before you put your name on a brand, you have to have your ducks in a row, now and well into the future. Make a decision on what you’re willing to sacrifice.”
As far as common threads between the most successful legacy brands he’s worked with, Siebert pointed to two focus areas that franchisors should concentrate on as they pursue growth to a legacy level: commitment to franchisee success and a strong corporate culture.
“When brands invest in the success of their franchisees, those people become brand ambassadors and build the brand culture from within,” he said. “This commitment gets all employees of the franchisor, from the corporate team down, all reading from the same playbook.”
On top of achieving franchisee buy-in, brands that make a concerted effort to build a strong corporate culture are the most successful, Siebert continued. He pointed to McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A as great examples of companies that have created consistent, cross-generational cultures that bring synergy to their business by facilitating an atmosphere that every corner of the business wants to be a part of.
“When brands can eliminate discord and disharmony, brand performance is generally better as a result,” he said.
Brands seeking to scale and reach legacy status should start by prioritizing these two elements throughout their systems. Siebert also said that his best piece of tactical advice in conjunction with adhering to these best practices involves franchisee selection.
“You don't create strong company culture by finding people who have diametrically opposed viewpoints and trying to convert them to your brand’s point of view,” Siebert said, adding, “You create that culture by selecting franchisees who share a common belief system in the first place. Use selectivity in the franchise sales process as a first step toward achieving better franchisee buy-in and consistent culture. People are everything.