Survival of the most creative - Innovation and fast action were key in making COVID-proof franchises a reality
I have been so impressed with the innovations I have seen from the franchise industry these last few months. COVID has been an unprecedented and significant threat to our industry. That threat has fueled creativity. From small pivots to major changes, franchisors have put on their thinking caps and made swift moves to protect their systems. It has been exciting to watch and has created permanent improvements for the long haul.
Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” From what I can see, franchising is full of quick-thinking leaders. In talking to dozens of franchisors, I have learned about some creative moves they made to stay afloat. Here are just a few:
Offering new services and products
The pandemic created a need for products and services that stop the spread of COVID-19. Commercial cleaning and restoration franchises were at the ready to help. With the equipment and training already in place to conduct these services, franchisors made small pivots to market the services toward COVID-cleanup. Once implemented, local franchisees were quickly inundated with sanitizing requests. “These services will be in demand for the long term,” said Todd Hopkins, CEO of Office Pride Commercial Cleaning.
Helping businesses reopen and stay socially distant, signage franchises launched several new products like sneeze guards and floor decals. “We became a go-to resource for businesses that were reopening,” said Sarosh Nayar owner of FASTSIGNS in Northeast Dallas, Texas.
Delivering products and services in a new way
Many food franchisors had already embraced technology with apps and curbside pickup before the pandemic, but franchise brands from other sectors quickly changed the way they delivered services. Fitness franchisor, The MAX Challenge, pivoted to virtual classes. “We immediately jumped into action and created a nation-wide virtual class with more than 2,000 people participating,” said Bryan Klein, the fitness brand’s CEO. “With our #maxfromhome initiative, franchisees have continued leading live, interactive virtual classes.”
Even some unlikely franchised businesses began offering curbside pickup such as Unity Road, a cannabis dispensary franchise. Deemed essential in states where cannabis is legal, the company began offering curbside pickup and delivery services. “We were able to stay open and comply with social distancing regulations,” said Mike Weinberger, Unity Road’s founder and COO.
Using all resources
With an all-hands-on-deck mindset, smart franchise systems pooled every resource possible for the best outcomes—and that included input from franchisees. Using video conferencing, many brainstormed through Zoom and similar platforms. With Washington state having some of the first cases of COVID, Seattle-based PuroClean franchisee, Bob Jordan, was at ground zero when the pandemic hit. He contributed significantly to the restoration company’s COVID operations plan. “We are all working toward the greater good. I am happy to add value where I can,” he adds.
To instil a positive mindset through his franchise system, City Wide CEO, Jeff Oddo created an initiative called “Project Lemonade.” “We are on a mission to make the most of the pandemic and come out stronger in the end,” he said about his building maintenance franchise. With feedback from franchisees, the company added commercial truck cleaning to their arsenal of services. “COVID created a need for the service, and we implemented it system-wide,” Oddo added.
Instead of laying off or furloughing employees, many corporate franchise teams were utilized in different ways. For example, sales teams shifted focus to support. Instead of working to bring in new franchise partners, efforts were moved to supporting current franchisees.
Showing their human side
Countless franchisors rallied their systems in creative ways towards the greater good. In doing so, they strengthened their brands and created a stronger sense of community at the local level. In response to COVID-19, Teriyaki Madness created a “pay it forward” program where customers gave donations of catered food to healthcare facilities. “Our franchisees love giving back and it has done a lot to boost morale,” said Michael Haith, CEO of the fast-casual food brand.
Junk removal and moving franchisor College Hunks offered no-cost moves to victims of domestic violence through the pandemic. “With service as one of our core values, we felt that it was especially important to give back when people needed it most,” said Nick Friedman the company’s co-founder. “Sheltering at home put some women in a vulnerable situation. We were happy to make a difference for them.”
Adapting for efficiency
What started out as short-term solutions to get through COVID, ended up as permanent SOPs for many franchise systems. In everything from sales processes to franchisee training, franchise brands have created new and more efficient ways of doing things. Among these, virtual training and discovery days have kept the franchise sales process moving and allowed new franchise owners to open doors without disruption. Even in the heat of COVID, some new franchise owners opened for business. “I had all of my employees in place by March 30 and was open for business on April 2, 2020,” says Douglasville, Georgia, College Hunks franchisee Jarid Ison.
In many systems, initiatives that were intended for later in the year were moved up to make use of a down turn in business. At Floor Coverings International, the company implemented a new CRM system and had franchisees train during the shutdown. “We wanted franchisees up and running with no distractions once everything was reopened,” said CEO Tom Wood about the mobile flooring brand’s strategy.
Seminars that were planned for Fibrenew franchisees later in the year were moved to a virtual platform and were conducting in the heat of the pandemic. “The seminars took everyone’s minds off the crisis and made good use of our time,” said West Central New Jersey franchisee Scott Neal about the fabric restoration franchise.
Supporting the industry
One key ingredient to keeping franchising going through COVID has been the collaboration between industry leaders. People in franchising—even competitors—have been bonding together and sharing best practices. Throughout the industry, franchising folks have met in fun and unique platforms including virtual happy hours, “Whiskey Wednesdays,” and mastermind sessions for mutual support. Creating hashtags like #franchisingstrongertogether, the unity in the industry has never been stronger.
Franchise consultants have played a huge role in supporting the industry by serving as matchmakers for franchisors and aspiring business owners. With the onset of COVID, that has meant attending and leading virtual presentations, shows, and meetings rather than traveling to industry events. With an influx of candidates due to unemployment, they have used their creativity and soft skills to help find the right opportunities for the recently furloughed and laid off. With innovative methods like personality profiles and business matching tools, they have been able to help people embark on new careers while helping franchisors grow their brands with the right franchisees. Because of the pandemic, the value of the franchise consultant has been elevated, with their services in more demand than ever.
Collaboration is part of what makes franchising innovative. Creativity flows when you can brainstorm as a group. One of my favorite quotes is from franchise leader Catherine Monson, who is the current chair of The International Franchise Association and the CEO of FASTSIGNS. She summed it all up when she said, “None of us is as strong as all of us.”
Jill Abrahamsen is Editorial Director at the International Franchise Professionals Group (IFPG), a franchise broker network that helps hopeful entrepreneurs identify and invest in franchise businesses. As Editor of Franchise Consultant Magazine and FranchiseWire, Jill Abrahamsen writes and edits articles about success through franchise ownership.