Linda Whitney explains how to judge whether you can work well with a franchisor
Franchise relationships matter. Not just the ones set out in the franchise contract, but the personal ones that influence how well a franchisee works with the franchisor.
However, when you’re at the early stage of considering a franchise, you don’t know the franchise management team well. How can you be sure you will get on with them long term?
Paul Stafford from Chantry Marketing and Franchisee Recruitment says: “Assessing a franchise is a mixture of research and gut feeling.”
Research the franchise team
Ideally, do this before meeting any of the franchise executives in person. Include the business owners and the whole franchisee support team.
Research their backgrounds online, looking at LinkedIn profiles, blogs and news about them.
Paul says: “Try to judge whether you can gel with these people and that you can envision a strong working relationship with them. You must feel that they truly care about your success.”
Don’t forget that even if you have no background in the franchisor’s industry, it doesn’t mean you cannot work well with them. Most franchisors don’t look for people with experience in their sector - rather, they prioritise the right attitude.
Andy Knights, director of the Stagecoach UK performing arts franchise, says: “Prospective franchisees don’t necessarily need a background in performing arts.
“We look for people who are passionate about making a positive impact on children’s lives. If a prospective franchisee shares this outlook, they’ll work well with us and with the rest of the network.”
Meet them in person
Meeting franchise executives in person is vital in deciding whether you can work with them - but beware first impressions. Don’t base your decision on the welcome you get the first time you meet them, be it at the head office or a franchise exhibition.
If you feel they are being anything less than honest or trying to rush you into a decision, back off and rethink.
Paul says: “You should feel they are being open and honest with you in your research. Franchisors worth joining will have integrity and patience, as they understand the commitment you’re making.”
Meet existing franchisees
This is the best way to research the overall culture and day to day working of the franchise, including the working styles of the management.
Good franchisors will encourage you to meet any franchisee you choose. Ask them what the management is like. Don’t limit yourself to the star performers - you can learn a lot from those who have needed more support. Try to get a range of views.
Weigh up what you know
Don’t jump to quick conclusions. Paul says: “Give yourself time to think about who you’ve met and what you’ve learned.
“Factual research and your instincts on the people in the business should build a good picture of whether can see yourself being happy there.”
Roger Kennedy, a franchisee with education franchise Tutor Doctor, says: “I found Tutor Doctor at a franchise exhibition and then continued to research other options until I settled on Tutor Doctor.
“The recruitment process wasn’t easy, which reassured me that they took pride in the brand and exercised quality control over who was coming in.
“I spoke to other franchisees and the family feel and supportive nature of the network was clear. The openness and enthusiasm from the team sold it to me in a genuine, non-salesy way.”
Nurture the relationship
Once you’ve signed up, nurture your relationship with the franchisor with honesty, open communication and involvement.
David Glover, franchise director at care franchise Caremark, says: “Communication is key. Honesty and openness on everything from finances to personal motivation help develop a relationship that’s rewarding and commercially advantageous.
“I particularly appreciate when a franchisee is willing to ask for help when it’s needed and to accept advice when it’s given.
“Then it’s about being involved. Interact with your network, participate in meetings and events - show you value the business you’ve become a part of and are passionate about the brand.
“At Caremark, we appreciate franchisees getting involved, as this builds relationships and a level of mutual respect between franchisor and franchisee.”
Tara Dixon, who owns a Stagecoach franchise with husband David Hunter, says: “The head office team answers any questions, but at no point does it feel like we’re being talked down to - we feel like business owners.”
David adds: “We’ve built a relationship with our franchisor based on mutual respect.”
Avoiding relationship breakdown
“As in most human relationships, the crux of most problems is poor communication between franchisee and franchisor,” Paul says. “It’s when the talking stops that problems build.”
Good franchises have open channels to discuss things, such as franchisee representation groups and regular franchisee meetings.
Let your franchise team know about how you are getting on - and not just about problems you’re having. Be honest and open and expect the same from them.
What can go wrong
Common problems include long established franchisees getting upset when innovations change the way things are done.
Paul Stafford from Chantry Marketing and Franchisee Recruitment says: “Good franchisors communicate the reasons for the changes, show their positive impact and discuss and address concerns.
“But we’ve seen franchisors impose changes with little or no discussion that exacerbated a particular franchisee’s worries and their relationship never recovered.”
Another common problem is a franchisee thinking they can revolutionise the business model overnight.
Paul says: “Suggesting new ideas and innovations is welcome, but ignoring brand guidelines or altering the model by yourself will cause friction.”
Don’t forget, franchising involves following a business model and system, with a legal agreement in place that governs the rights and obligations of both parties. Breaking the terms of that contract can turn things sour quickly.
Frank Milner, president of education franchise Tutor Doctor, says: “One of the biggest mistakes we made as a franchisor was ‘forgiving’ franchisees who weren’t following the model.
“We quickly learnt this wasn’t good for the franchisee in question or for the rest of the network.”