Franchise Brands Detail Coronavirus Protections at FIC
At an Altitude Trampoline Park in Fort Worth, Texas, Mike Rotondo, CEO and a speaker at the Franchise Investment Conference, said the brand put out a video last week emphasizing employee hand-washing and cleaning every touchable surface, among other measures.
The sharp smell of hand sanitizer punctuated the airplane trip to the Franchise Investment Conference, March 9-11 in Dallas, along with emailed reassurance from the airlines. Delta, for example, touted its "expanded cleaning and disinfecting at our airports and on board our aircraft; distribution of hand sanitizer and amenity kits to help customers stay clean; and the technology on our aircraft to filter and replace cabin air."
As some attendees replaced hugs or handshakes with elbow bumps (including new International Franchise Association chair and FastSigns CEO Catherine Monson) and even toe taps, we asked several attendees what they and their brands were doing to guard against COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
Spring break season was in full swing at Altitude Trampoline Park in Fort Worth when we visited March 9, and so was an increased emphasis on cleaning every touchable surface. The brand created a video and sent it to all its 76 parks, with a message urging employee hand-washing.
"You've got parents coming in, so we have even more monitors" pushing the cleanliness drill, said CEO Mike Rotondo, adding the brand rates high in cleanliness on customer surveys. "On a regular basis, it's one of the top marks we see. We're just pushing that hard."
Extra cleaning drills were the routine at TruFusion, too, a fitness concept backed by Alex Rodriguez and based in Las Vegas. "We're doing a lot" to guard against the virus, said Azim Mamdani, an area developer in Dallas with one location opened as of last August. "Other fitness studios don't have a cleaning staff. We have a janitorial staff clean after every class." Large buckets of hand sanitizer are in every classroom as well.
Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, has locations open in that city, the first in the U.S. to report a significant outbreak and several deaths at a nursing home, and Mamdani believed TruFusion gyms there were in greater peril than in Dallas. "That area has been impacted more. Gyms will be the first to be affected," he says. He takes cleanliness personally. "I'm very phobic. If I see dirt on the bathroom floor," he gets on it.
Adam Zeitsiff, CEO of Gold’s Gym, with 98 corporate gyms and 211 franchise clubs in the United States plus more international, including Japan, Indonesia, India, Dominican Republic, said, “We’re rigorous about keeping our gyms clean.” They already do hourly team cleans and so are simply stepping that up, instructing franchisees to continually spray and wipe down equipment, and of course members are supposed to do the same.
At 98 corporate locations, “we added a ton more hand sanitizing stations,” and are encouraging franchisees to do the same. “We also ordered a couple hundred thousand individual hand sanitizers to make available to our clubs."
The brand is in constant communication with franchisees via company emails and through the company’s franchise business consultants (field reps), he said.
In a statement contributed to SELF magazine about the virus and gyms, Zeitsiff said, “In light of the current health concerns, we are absolutely stepping up those efforts in each of our gyms and we will continue to watch the situation very closely. Should it worsen, we will take direction from public health officials and take whatever actions are required" in order to protect members, team members and the general public.
Carty Davis, co-founder of consulting firm C Squared Advisors, also operates 60-some Sport Clips haircutting studios in North Carolina, which obviously put barbers and customers in close proximity. "Sport Clips has doubled down on cleanliness and hygiene," he said, with emails talking about another level of "washing hands, cleaning tools." Precautions are taking place. "Everybody's conscious of it. We get an update from Sport Clips every other day," he said.
"It's a concern we're taking seriously," but leadership "feels it's fear-based and overdone. We can't let fear drive our daily lives and businesses," he said, adding he has not seen a decline in sales in his stores.
As for the restaurant owners he advises, "the conversations I've had is the effects really started this week, not before, and delivery services are way up," he said. "The most vulnerable are casual dining and full service. If you have a drive-thru you have an advantage."
Pedal Pub, the people-powered party vehicle brand under the newly formed Go Xperia umbrella, saw its first direct effect of the virus, in Pensacola, Florida. "We just had two potential franchisees put it on pause because they just had a case" in their area, said Shane Dunn, chief development officer. The brand has put out comments about precautions to take from the Centers for Disease Control. They also added an extra 20 minutes of wipe-down, instructed franchisees to always have hand sanitizer available on the bikes, and told drivers to repeatedly tell guests not to share drinks on their rides.
Said Bob Ruhland, CEO of Go Xperia based in Minneapolis, "It isn't so much getting the virus, it's the disruption. It's not easy to find rice in Minnesota at a Target store," he said, according to his daughter who went to three stores to find some. "It's that disruptive."
Quick hits: A Wendy's executive said travel was not restricted by the brand but employees who did not wish to travel were accommodated without repercussions. Burger King, Arby's, Jimmy John's and Sonic were other big brands sending speakers to the Franchise Investment Conference, but a North Carolina restaurant operator canceled his appearance after Taco Bell nixed its franchisee conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, scheduled for the same week.
Mary Rawlins, VP of finance for Firehouse Subs, based in Jacksonville, Florida, said staying home was not an option for executives because their restaurants are all over the country, including one of the most recent in Alaska. The brand is always focused on cleanliness, she said, so they're merely emphasizing the need for diligence.