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Romancing your candidates takes art, science


Young Chefs Academy relies on a simple idea when thinking about wooing franchisees: take cute photos. With online dating, image is everything. All those hours posing in front of the mirror can make or break a profile, but when that’s your first impression, you have to make it count.

For Waco, Texas-based Young Chefs Academy, it’s the same way. The brand is very experiential, but with only 20 locations around the country, there’s not much opportunity for prospective franchisees to check it out in person. CEO and founder Julie Burleson says the chain has turned to a heavy focus on social media in order to convey what sets it apart.

“The best way to convey it is finding channels to share our story,” Burleson says. “We look at it through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know anything about Young Chefs Academy.”

That means cute kid photos, and lots of them. While already having a lot of kids may be a turn-off in the dating world, it’s a selling point for YCA. The company encourages each franchisee to get parents sharing photos of their kids on franchisee Facebook pages.
 To prod the process along, it has contests like a gingerbread house decorating contest at each location. The winner gets merchandise and a free party, which not coincidentally may also end up on social media.

Prospects who run into the company as a result of social media are one of the strongest channels for Young Chefs Academy—while quantity is not high, those who do approach this way are noticeably more likely to eventually become franchisees.

Giving away prizes works internally as well. Young Chefs Academy asks its franchisees if they have any friends who would be open to a relationship, then pays them $2,000 if things work out. At the moment Burleson says the company is in talks with two or three likely leads from this channel.

High touch, low maintenance

If the big names are the kind of franchise you have a childhood crush on, San Ramon, California-based Vitality Bowls presents itself as the type you marry and settle down with.

In contrast to the “bad boy” rock star brands that have national advertising budgets but don’t offer much support, Vitality Bowls promises to be there for you when you need them.

“We’re a young franchise, so all of our franchisees get to be a part of corporate,” founder and COO Tara Gilad says. “We have monthly calls, we do weekly calls with a lot of our franchisees. Right now it’s the owners supporting our franchisees.”

Gilad admits she doesn’t have the ad budget or national reach of larger rivals. But she says due to relationships with suppliers, her franchises can get price breaks on more superfoods than the other brands.

She also emphasizes flexibility and cost. Without a grease trap, hood or oven, franchisees can generally get into the business for $200,000, and on rare occasions as little as $50,000 (including the $35,000 franchise fee).

“We’re also low startup compared to a lot of restaurants,” Gilad says. “We’re very flexible. If the floors are good keep your floors. It doesn’t matter if it’s not exactly the color.”

But Vitality Bowls has standards of its own. Gilad doesn’t want deep-pocketed distant management companies but owner-operators who have a passion for health. As part of the discovery process she tries to scare away bad prospects by being clear about what she expects.

“We’re not looking for investors,” Gilad says. “We look for somebody who has that passion for healthy food.”

Tara Gilad

“Right now it’s the owners supporting our franchisees.” — Tara Gilad, Vitality Bowls

Staying classy a must

Beauty may be skin deep in dating, but for New Orleans-based My Salon Suites, it’s a key point of difference.

“In this field it’s aesthetics,” CEO and President Ken McAllister says. “We developed a better product.”

McAllister, who likes hotel analogies, calls his product a Hilton and his “middle-low” competitors a Holiday Inn Express. The overall look and feel of every location is designed to be attractive and high end. This in turn allows franchisees to recruit higher end renters.

Recently the company has started offering a lower-end concept called Salon Plaza, which McAllister freely acknowledges is a lot closer to the Holiday Inn Express end of the spectrum. But for franchisees, having both options under one umbrella allows them a flexibility other companies don’t offer. Furthermore, the company offers hands-on support starting right at site selection.

 “Instead of saying ‘go build it’, we facilitate that process,” McAllister says. That assistance continues after building with technical support. Part of the My Salon Suites model is that franchisees hire staff to help their renters make sure they have the right licenses, market their own businesses effectively, etc.

Even with an attractive product, McAllister says it’s important to have wingmen. In September 2015 he increased franchise development staff from one person to three in hopes of doubling his unit count in 2016. Two staff members filter leads from franchise networks like FranChoice and one filters organic leads from the web. Good leads get invited to the all-important first date: a “meet the team” day where ‘zee and ‘zor get to know each other better.

The system seems to be working. Not only are new franchisees continuing to sign up, but also they’re doing well in their markets compared to nearby rivals. “Occupancies are higher,” McAllister says. “The proof’s in the pudding.”

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