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Do more than check the box with training, Living Large brands say


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Initial training is crucial to the onboarding process within any franchise system, but what happens after the doors are open? Ongoing support isn’t just a nicety mentioned by franchisees, nor should site visits only come when the franchisor needs to drop the hammer on a ‘zee deviating from brand standards.

Within smart franchise systems, it’s not simply the business field staff members should be assessing but also the relationship between franchisor and franchisee, ensuring those at the top are receptive to input while working with operators to communicate the needs of management. Ask franchisees about their experience to gauge the effectiveness of various tools and then put that feedback to work improving the system.

A quality assurance checklist is a must-have, our Living Large CEOs note, and when implemented correctly it’s a tool for both parties and even a way to recognize operational excellence. And as the system grows, don’t let franchisees wriggle out of additional training. Instead, tailor education programs to the various experience levels within the system to add value for those who are past the newbie stage.

David Morton

“It’s not our style to catch people in the wrong—it’s counterproductive and demoralizing.” — David Morton, DMK Burger Bar

Tailored support at DMK

“There’s really no substitute for live and in person,” says DMK Burger Bar founder David Morton, speaking about his brand’s philosophy on franchisee training and ongoing support. That’s why, as he prepares to expand outside DMK’s home market of Chicago, “we’re looking for opportunities to simultaneously co-invest—having a corporate store there as well to support franchisees.”Those corporate restaurants would serve as local training stores, putting DMK Burger Bar staff “shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side with franchisees,” proximity the company has thus far found beneficial with its first franchisee operating the first of her restaurants in the nearby suburb of Oak Brook.

The goal is to have a dedicated training and support contact for each franchise market, explains Morton, overseen by Jonathan Hoover, a veteran of the Freshii system who’s now DMK Burger Bar’s director of training and operations.

The opening of corporate restaurants in new markets is also an HR strategy for DMK Restaurants as a whole, which has eight other Chicago concepts. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm internally from employees interested in growing with the franchised burger concept, notes Morton, and promoting from within would help provide stability throughout the system.

Beyond initial training and grand opening assistance, Morton views ongoing education and franchisee support as vital parts of the franchise system that should be more than a checklist or preset number of visits.

“Training in general is not something that should fall to a checklist,” says Morton, and while DMK’s operations manual and brand standards are “extremely thorough, it’s not cookie cutter.

“We recognize each of our stores as a connected but unique location that, if we’re paying attention, could have slightly different needs.”

All DMK Burger Bar restaurants will “look, taste and act like DMK,” but field support will be tailored to each market and each franchisee—as will responses when issues arise.
“It’s not our style to catch people in the wrong—it’s counterproductive and demoralizing,” says Morton. Instead, staff will start by asking why a franchisee is deviating from the system and take it from there.

Josh Sevick

“Regional managers walk a fine line. We tend to have the hard line come from corporate.” — Josh Sevick, CPR Cell Phone Repair

Credibility counts for CPR

When Merrymeeting Group acquired CPR Cell Phone Repair in 2014, the Cleveland-based firm also inherited the brand’s franchisee support structure, explains Josh Sevick. It’s one in which area developers are responsible not only for growing franchises in a market but also must have their own operating store. The developers “are also responsible for support in-market, they’re the feet on the ground.”

“And in our world, the area developer shares in a large portion of the royalties,” says Sevick, CEO of CPR, which itself acquired Living Large brand Digital Doc earlier this year. Sevick acknowledges it’s an expensive way to run a support system and one that, as CPR grows, the franchise wants to move away from as it focuses on selling multi-store agreements versus signing area developers.

“And some area developers, frankly, our franchisees don’t respect them,” says Sevick, noting in those situations it’s usually a function of the AD being out of touch and CPR not leaning on them enough.

“In those instances, the franchisee will ping the regional manager instead—they have a lot of street credibility,” says Sevick.

Those managers cover one of six regions and aren’t “just hired off the street” but are all former owners and leaders from other chain or franchise systems. The RMs, as they’re called, serve as the first point of contact for franchisees and handle regional meetings and trainings, which are focused on a new retail sales initiative to bolster that segment of the business.

CPR also launched a secret shopper program last year as a way to “have a check on franchisees to make sure they’re keeping up with the look and feel, the brand standards,” and, Sevick continues, “to audit, to ensure transactions are actually making their way into the point of sale.”

Enforcing those parts of the franchise agreement fall to corporate instead of the RMs, who instead focus on being an operations resource to franchisees. “Regional managers walk a fine line,” says Sevick. “We tend to have the hard line come from corporate.”

Andy Howard

“We always want to have open communication … but initially we say, get your store open and give it six months before you start bringing us ideas.” — Andy Howard, Huey Magoo’s

Quality checks mean coaching

At Huey Magoo’s, executives’ past experience is a boon to ongoing training and field support, says CEO Andy Howard. Himself a former executive vice president at Wingstop, Howard also has the 1,000-unit chicken wing chain’s former vice president of training and its head of international training on his new chicken tender-focused team, in the form of Mike Sutter and Shawn Lawler. Sutter is now Huey Magoo’s executive VP of operations and training, while Lawler serves as operations and training supervisor.

“They’re a 24/7 hotline for franchisees,” says Howard and will be the core of Huey Magoo’s training and field support team as the brand expands beyond its seven Orlando, Florida-area restaurants.

To be most effective, Howard believes trainers and field reps should be in close proximity to the restaurants they’re supporting, “so depending on where the next stores go, we will try to locate staff nearby.”

New franchisees partake in a three-week training program at Huey Magoo’s corporate restaurant, and when they’re ready to open, Sutter and Lawler spend “at least seven days” with franchisees in their restaurants working out any operational kinks. Anticipating some of those inevitable bumps means Huey Magoo’s doesn’t publicize a new restaurant opening—at least not right away.

“We do a quiet opening to get the bugs out and then come back about four weeks later,” says Howard.

Ongoing support includes regular “QSC reviews”—quality, service, cleanliness—with Lawler visiting each location six times each year. Huey Magoo’s also uses an outside mystery shopping service to check in on every restaurant twice a month.

“And we follow our Yelp reviews very closely,” says Howard. “If we see something pop up, we’re all over it and address it immediately.

“We’re not just looking to do a ‘gotcha’ or be the brand police,” says Howard. “We want to work alongside you to identify what you’re doing right, what you can improve.”

That said, a key purpose of field support reps is to maintain brand standards, and if a franchisee is taking liberties with product sourcing or altering recipes, “you’re gonna get slapped pretty good with that one.”

“We always want to have open communication, but initially we say, get your store open and give it six months before you start bringing us ideas.”

Managing Editor Laura Michaels follows three franchises through a year’s worth of challenges in Living Large each issue. Reach her at lmichaels@franchisetimes.com, or join her Franchise Insights group on LinkedIn.


What the experts say

Consistency first. Don’t be rigid and don’t be lax when it comes to quality assurance checks, says Stan Friedman, president of FRM Solutions, a franchise relationship management company. “The best thing is to be fair and consistent,” he says, commenting in the Franchise Times Insights group on LinkedIn. “Use tools that enable you to visually document the reasons for your findings and with tools like we provide at FRM, those photos get archived digitally, in the franchisees’ records.

“Too many times franchisees take for granted the things that they see every day, like a dirty window or floor,” continues Friedman. “whereas a visiting field support person is likely going to view those things through a slightly different lens. Remember, the one thing that every stakeholder shares in common is the need to protect the brand. So, make it less about the franchisee personally and more about their behavior.”

Act as an adviser. As a franchise is building its field staff, it needs to understand the top four or five areas that drive business and have regular measurement of these areas, says Mary Kennedy Thompson, COO of the Dwyer Group. The field team, she says, needs to know and understand how the company supports these goals so they can truly support franchisees, versus merely focusing on compliance. “Be an adviser, not just analyzing, but advising them on where they need to go,” she says.

Don’t boil the ocean, as Thompson puts it. “Learning where to say no to things and where to measure the initiatives you do have in place—are they moving the needle, are they worth it,” continues Thompson. Franchisors need to remember that with everything they’re trying to do, the field team is going to need a reliable system for teaching the system to franchisees. “Sometimes we forget to make a system for the system …You’ve gotta make sure you have a way to roll out the information to your franchises. Start small, break it up into manageable chunks.”

Join the conversation in the Franchise Times Insights group on LinkedIn. Upcoming topics are: human resources, using big data and mobile marketing.

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