Midyear in Review: IFA President & CEO Robert Cresanti Reflects on Achievements Made in Franchise Industry During 2016
Midyear in Review: IFA President & CEO Robert Cresanti Reflects on Achievements Made in Franchise Industry During 2016

As we enter into the second half of 2016, 1851 spoke with Robert Cresanti to discuss the headway made in the franchise industry and the work that still needs to be done.

Back in 2015, Robert Cresanti announced that the franchise industry was under horrific threat. Between proposed minimum wage legislation, the evolving definition of a full-time employee and the impending impact of the National Labor Relations Board rewriting joint employer law, Cresanti believed that the culmination of these things—and more—revealed that the very branding of franchising was being challenged.

That same year, as a storm brewed within the industry, Cresanti took the reigns as the new president and CEO of the International Franchise Association. He came armed with a wealth of government, corporate and trade association experience to fight back in a powerful and impactful way. And from day one, he made his mission loud and clear: to protect an industry that more than nine million people have come to rely on, the common narrative of the franchise story needs to change. Only then can the focus be shifted to franchising’s unequivocal benefit to the American economy.

“Franchising represents the biggest trainer of jobs and creator of brighter futures in America, and maybe even in the world,” Cresanti said. “We train more people for a successful employment future than even the U.S. military. We need to shout that story from the rooftops to help secure our future and ensure that even more people can use franchising to climb the ladder to success for decades to come.”

Today, Cresanti is a busy man. With the midyear point behind him, much ground has been gained in the franchise industry’s battle. At the state level, the IFA has already helped to pass laws that protect franchise employment standards and legislation that codifies the traditional definition of joint employer in Michigan, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Texas. Potentially discriminatory wage laws have also been shut down thanks, in part, to the IFA’s lobbying efforts in cities like Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and they’ve also helped hold back attempts to pass new, restrictive laws targeting franchising in other cities and states.

To win the war, however, Cresanti believes that more progress still needs to be made in the years ahead. To better understand the headway that the IFA has made, 1851 Franchise spoke with Cresanti to take a look back at 2016, while also discussing the work that still needs to be done.

1851: You took on the role as President and CEO of the IFA at a very challenging time. What were your main goals when you first took office?

Cresanti: The goals were twofold. I had to make sure that we were in touch with IFA’s membership, and, conversely, that membership was aware of the current state of franchising. We had gotten to a point where we were out of sync with a lot of our members—it was important to forge a harmonious relationship. That was marked by getting the house in order with regard to getting everyone on the same page as to what the challenges were in the industry and what they could mean. That included the franchisees, the franchisors and the suppliers—because they’re all equally and negatively affected by the changes brewing.

Secondly, we needed to truly understand the challenge we face in regard to communicating to the public and policy makers. We also needed to better understand what their perceptions of franchising are. The past six months have been an eye-opening experience, and I’ve come out with the realization that we need to figure out how to engage those guys and find a way to fill their knowledge gaps with good and accurate information. So now, we’re tasked with formulating that messaging, and it all centers around this core issue that people don’t understand what the franchise business model truly is.

1851: What are some of the misperceptions out there about franchising?

Cresanti: People believe that there’s a large brand out there that’s controlling each and every local franchise location. In a very odd way, we’re victims of our own success—the bigger we get, the harder it is for people to see the individuals behind it that we owe our success to. People think that every Chick-Fil-A out there, for example, is identical—that they’re uniform throughout the country. But in reality, each of them are locally owned—it’s being operated by someone who is part of that community and wants to make an impact. It’s a lack of understanding, and it’s our biggest challenge to change that message.

1851: What is the IFA doing to help spread that message?

Cresanti: We’ve recently launched a new campaign called @OurFranchise, and it’s about telling the real stories of franchise owners, their employees and the communities they impact across America. Through educational events, advertising resources, research and economic data, our goal is to educate policymakers, the public, the media and prospective franchisees about the importance of the franchise business model to the U.S. economy. With this campaign, we hope to show what it takes for local business owners to build a franchise brand with hard work and the contributions that they could have on their communities and the economy.

1851: What progress has been made so far?

Cresanti: We wanted to ready, aim fire. Not ready, fire, aim. We can have the perfect message out there, but if it’s not told through local outlets in local places, then the messaging is worth. It’s a grass roots exercise, and it’s about putting the right resources and the right materials in front of people to inspire them. We believe that when people see the impact franchising can have for themselves, they’ll understand what we’re all about.

We have a person who runs a $130 million business. But before that, he came from a place with no electricity and no running water. Now, he lives in a mansion. He picked himself up from a place where he was washing dishes and carrying trays to make a living, to owning upwards of 500 restaurants. If you ask him how he did it, he’ll say this: “There’s nothing special about me. You can be in this same position. It was the franchising model that helped me to get to where I am today.”

We need to get more people who are on that same level and willing to share their story. There’s so much success out there in this industry, and we need to give it a voice and a forum to speak.

1851: What gives you hope about franchising moving forward?

Cresanti: What gives me hope about franchising is the difference that it can make in people’s lives. I can’t believe there are people out there who want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Take a look at where the majority of people get their first job experiences from—there’s a good chance that they started at an entry-level job in the franchising industry. Whether that’s carrying bags at a hotel, taking out trash, or working a cash register, most people got their start in the franchise industry. This is an incrediblly strong and successful business model—one that produces revenues for the U.S. at a level that’s almost unmatched by any other industry out there.

Every day I get to come into work and represent the guys in the white hats. It’s a rare treat—you can’t always pick your clients. And I can’t imagine a better client than this industry.