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How field reps, managers help franchises work to reopen


Franchise support teams are being put to the test, tasked with communicating a seemingly never-ending string of updates, fielding concerns from panicked franchisees and all the while working to determine just how they’ll help manage the reopening process minus having a physical presence in the store.

Will field support teams become de facto video production managers, filming and narrating step-by-step reopening checklists for franchisees to follow in lieu of in-store visits? Will compliance checks require operators and general managers to live-stream a walkthrough of their location as field reps analyze the placement of signage or zero in on cleaning procedures? Both scenarios are likely and brands already are deploying technology in new ways as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other video conferencing platforms move from nicety to necessity.

At The Lash Lounge, a company-wide daily digest was created March 16 and each day since has focused on a single, specific message aimed at providing franchisees with necessary information while not overwhelming them in the process, said Meg Roberts, CEO of the eyelash extension salon brand. Each week also starts with a clear schedule of deliverables, day by day and topic by topic.

Meg Roberts

Meg Roberts

As the focus of communication has shifted from the process of closing The Lash Lounge’s 106 locations to sharing details of the reopening strategy, Roberts said the company’s field reps, or franchise business managers as they’re called, helped develop a “T-minus 7 process—all the steps you need to take in the week leading up to reopening, including take a day off.”

“Our franchise business managers each contributed to a section, broke it down into bite-size pieces, dedicated tasks for each day,” said Roberts. Those tasks include everything from turning appointment reminders and scheduling back on in the POS to hosting a welcome back lunch for staff during which “employees are lashing each other.”

And of course there’s a day dedicated to prep, cleaning and reviewing policies for the use of personal protective equipment.

“The theme, timing and cadence is all intentional,” said Roberts, “so that they can get it all done and also breathe. If someone wants to get it done in two days, they could, but our whole goal is to help them not panic.

“We need to set the tone, and that tone needs to be calm.”

The Lash Lounge’s four franchise business managers, along with its field training team, are typically on the road 75 percent of the time, visiting franchisees. Because travel is being limited and field staff won’t be in the stores, the company created a video walkthrough detailing the T-minus 7 process, shot at the salon in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which Roberts owns. Video checks will also help the company monitor franchisees as they reopen, but Roberts said she isn’t worried that franchisees won’t comply.

Grimaldis Pizzeria

As it considers when and how to reopen dining rooms at its restaurants, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria President Eric Greenwald said general managers are helping gauge the local reaction.

“That attitude of our franchisees, they’re excited to have all the processes and see it as differentiation,” said Roberts of changes that including having uniformed stylists wearing disposable masks and nitrile gloves.

“We’re in an intimate service industry. We’re very aware of the level of professionalism that’s required,” she continued. “We are adamant that our stylists follow rigorous attention to hygiene and safety—that’s always been the case. We already have such a rigorous certification process for our stylists.”

Along with that certification process comes ongoing stylist training, which Roberts said they’ve stepped up in recent weeks with virtual classes from the company’s corporate training center in Southlake, Texas.

The goal is to “train as many people as we can during this time,” she said. “Then they’re equipped to train and revitalize the skillset in the local salon.”

A private Facebook community for stylists, launched back in January, now serves as another resource and a place for stylists “to talk lashing” and stay connected even while salons are closed.

Assigning accountability

All but two of Grimaldi’s 42 company-owned pizzerias are open for business, offering, like most other restaurants operating with COVID-19 restrictions still in place, to-go, curbside pickup and delivery service. The two closed locations are on the Las Vegas strip, where customers are nonexistent following the mandated shutdown of casinos and other hospitality business.

Eric Greenwald

Eric Greenwald

“We’re fighting the fight,” said Eric Greenwald, president of Grimaldi’s, which began offering franchises in April 2019 and so far has a five-unit deal signed with Tablez Food Company in Dubai.

While the coronavirus health crisis halted Grimaldi’s discovery day process and, as Greenwald noted, put franchise development “kind of on hold,” the company’s restaurant support center is getting plenty of experience that will come in handy when franchisees do open units, assisting store managers with changing safety protocols and funneling information back to corporate from the store level.

Daily 9 a.m. calls with store and area managers help ensure communication is going both ways, said Greenwald, and at the corporate level “we assigned accountability across marketing, HR, legal, et cetera” so each respective team knew what type of communication was needed and how much of it.

“The changes are coming at lightning speed right now,” he said, particularly as states begin to announce plans for lifting some restrictions. Those plans, Greenwald and his team quickly learned, can vary widely.

Though Texas didn’t officially ease restaurant restrictions until May 1, for example, Greenwald pointed out that the mayor of Colleyville, a suburb of Fort Worth, issued his own order five days earlier allowing restaurants to serve customers on patios, resulting in packed outdoor dining spaces.

While Grimaldi’s doesn’t have a store in Colleyville, it has a restaurant in Fort Worth and ones in nearby Grapevine, Dallas and Allen, and so its area managers were keeping a close watch on the situation.

“We’re going to take it market by market,” said Greenwald of reopening dining rooms, “and rely heavily on general managers to gauge the local reaction.”

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