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Tactics to shorten the learning curve, in Living Large


If you have to learn something, you might as well do it from the masters. That’s the philosophy adopted by Watermill Express, a drive-up drinking water and ice franchise based in Brighton, Colorado, for franchisee training procedures.

Since the ratio of corporate to franchise locations for Watermill Express is almost three-to-one, the best managers from the corporate locations provide training to franchisees. “They’re not just trainers, they’re actually managers of other Watermill Express markets so they really do provide practical advice on the ground,” says Lani Dolifka, president and CEO. The training includes a combination of classroom (a minimum of 23 hours), video and on-site hours, and support continues on an ongoing basis.

“Franchisees know that if they have a problem, we might have encountered something similar and have some ideas to help them.” For example, when a franchisee was looking for help with site selection, Watermill held a conference call to share ideas from a corporate perspective with the senior VP of site development, Dolifka says. “I believe our real strength is that we have so many corporate locations, we’re not using the franchisee as a guinea pig. We live the same world they live, every single day.”

Because Watermill Express has a few multi-unit franchisees, support networks are informal and both franchisees and corporate locations trade intelligence. “That type of sharing is a form of education because we share good ideas, the ones that don’t work and everybody’s intent is to improve our concept and the brand,” Dolifka says.

Lani Dolifka

“We’re not using the  franchisees as a guinea pig. We live the same world they live, every day.” —Lani Dolifka, Watermill Express

Multi-pronged strategy

Constant improvement of the brand and related training procedures is also the cornerstone of Spray-Net, an exterior painting franchise based in Canada. Carmelo Marsala, founder and president, remembers the days when training used to consist of him standing in front of a classroom and asking if people had any questions.

That has since evolved into a thorough multi-pronged approach with classroom instruction, on-site training and a whole suite of training videos that covers a range of topics from how to clean the equipment to how to apply paint to a variety of surfaces.

Spray-Net also has a week of training on franchisees’ sites to help them with customer service: how to approach customers and explain what the concept is all about.

Once the jobs are lined up, Spray-Net also walks the franchisees through a couple of early jobs to make sure franchisees and staff understand how to actually do the work.

Training is spread over four weeks in addition to the pre-training with video modules. Marsala says they’ve found such a system is essential because of the technical nature of the paint application procedures and also because of the many computerized systems in place.

Spray-Net sets up weekly check-ins with first-year franchisees and bi-weekly with second- and third-year franchisees. Marsala says franchisee performance is tracked through metrics and Spray-Net helps franchisees set up sound business plans to strengthen their foundation. The parameters for these cover the gamut from the know-how of staff to how many sales leads they will need to make a certain dollar amount.

While there’s no formal mentorship program and Marsala is open to the idea of a continuing education program for franchisees, he does encourage them to communicate with each other through an internal email portal. The other day, he says, a franchisee asked for a picture of a house in a certain color that he wanted to show a client, and lo and behold, another franchisee supplied it in short order. “One of our strengths is that we adapt and change for the better,” Marsala says, and this applies to Spray-Net’s training systems as well.

Carmelo Marsala

“One of our strengths is we adapt and change for the better.” —Carmelo Marsala, Spray-Net

Training incubators

Constant improvement is also the foundation for Blink Fitness, a low-price fitness model, based in New York. Blink set up over 50 corporate-owned locations before it began franchising and it transfers the expertise garnered from corporate on to franchisees.

Training systems for corporate have been in place for a while now, says Todd Magazine, president of Blink Fitness, and “franchising really gave us an opportunity to formalize what we were doing more tribally, if you will.”

Blink has set up corporate-certified training clubs and training club managers to bring franchisees up to speed.  Training managers are culled from the best corporate performers and the training clubs, which are actual functioning gyms, serve as incubators for franchisees to test-drive real-world situations. Between in-class and in the gym, Blink offers 150 hours of training (6o in-class and 90 in a gym), all the way from orientation, which happens shortly after signing, on through grand opening.

Blink’s franchisees access an internal intranet portal where they can reach out to fellow franchisees or corporate, to exchange ideas through a social media approach. A robust training manual is also part of the system and, Magazine says, it’s a “living, breathing document” that shapes how franchisees incorporate Blink’s culture into their operations.

Ongoing support complements franchisee training and Magazine says problems are diagnosed through data analytics, and fixed before they become full-blown. Blink remembers there’s a fine line between oversight and independence. “We’re not into the gotcha approach; our franchisees’ success is our success,” he says. “Our goal ultimately, which is part of our training, is not to be a stick, but to be more of a carrot.”

Todd Magazine

“Our goal ultimately, which is part of our training, is not to
be a stick, but to be more of a carrot.” — Todd Magazine,
Blink Fitness

Expert tips on field support

“One problem that you do see is when franchisees try to get out of some portion of the training. They’ll say, ‘I already know that.’” Don’t let them wiggle away, advises Steve Beagelman, SMB Franchise Advisors president and CEO, “They need to be there for the full amount. A new franchisee might say that they don’t need all of the training—but yours is a different concept, so they need to attend the full training program.”

In today’s franchise marketplace, there is less of a dependence on the written word. Video and hands-on experience used in training have been found to be the vehicle the majority of franchisees prefer, says Christopher Conner of Franchise Marketing Systems. He encourages franchisors to figure out how their training program will be executed and delivered. “You need to review and report how effective your franchise training has been,” he adds.

Ask franchisees about their experience, gauge the effectiveness through surveys and use the information to make decisions related to franchise training improvement, Conner says. “It is an ongoing process that requires good mechanisms to keep tracking your franchisees and their progress in not only learning from training, but also maintaining their skill sets and operating behavior.”

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