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Developing an Effective Support Organization

The franchise industry today has grown significantly and now represents such a broad spectrum of business concepts and market segments that it is nearly impossible to define any single strategy or organizational structure best suited for the task of franchisee support. The International Franchise Association alone represents more than 1,100 franchise organizations doing business across a vast array of industries and assorted vertical markets, and all located within a kaleidoscope of geographic and cultural environments. With all this diversity, it is no wonder there is no single answer for the effective delivery of franchise support.

Essentially, no single style of corporate culture, no single field support philosophy, and no single set of support methods will ever cover all of the variations inherent in the franchise industry. The inevitable conclusion for developing a franchise support organization is “one size does not fit all.”

Where Do You Start?

Finding reference material on the subject of building a franchise organization can be a challenge, but one good place to start is with the IFA and its website, www.franchise.org. There you can find resources, publications and franchise relations documents offering the reader a comprehensive library of industry-related materials. The subjects there range from franchise law to closing a new unit sale or from the formation of franchise advisory councils to succession planning and franchisee support.

On the latter topic of franchise support, the inherent dilemma in a one-size-does-not-fit-all conclusion is addressed by the IFA’s Franchise Relations Committee in its recently published handbook titled Effective Development of a Franchise Support Organization. This new document covers topics such as, franchise support principles, components of franchise support, franchise support standards and goals, objectives and measurement.

Franchise Support Principles

Principles are the basic assumptions, ethical standards, characteristic ingredients and ways of working within a system of thought or within an organization.  In the franchise industry this includes how a company’s culture affects decision-making and setting policy, as well as how franchise relations are used to perform effective communications. How the organization develops over time and how support resources are allocated are all functions of sound support principles with the goal of developing an effective support organization.

Here is a brief summary of the key principles outlined in the IFA handbook:

Company culture sets the tone. The “you win, we win” culture allows for strong two-way communications and full collaboration between the franchisor and franchisees.

Franchise relations is the foundation. Strong relations enable constructive development, build essential elements of trust, facilitate an alignment of goals and create a transparency in the allocation of resources.

Organizational development is the strategy. This represents the planned and controlled process necessary for the company to adapt and restructure itself to meet the ongoing demands of change inherent in every evolving franchise organization.

Support techniques are the tools. The diversity and availability of support techniques are matched only by the variety found in the business models and concepts comprising the franchise industry in today’s marketplace.

Components of Franchise Support

The basic elements for providing strong franchise support are not much different from those found in any top quality customer service organization. The culture within the company and the quality of franchise relationships most certainly shape the structure, quality, volume and tone of the support organization. The challenge is to turn attitude into action, channel communications into effective development and maximize the use and application of limited resources.

The IFA handbook summarizes these franchise support components in this way:

A well-developed organizational structure. This structure utilizes sound management principles and strong collaboration between all company departments and personnel.

A well-trained and competent support team. It is essential to have knowledgeable and experienced staff who can deliver the business model as designed.

Effective management of the support organization. This calls for the ability to consistently prioritize and match the franchisee’s needs with available financial and human resources.

Techniques for improving reluctant franchisee relationships. Success comes from building consensus and uniformity and all franchisees need to be included.

Recruit, train and retain good support personnel. Nowhere is this component more important than in franchising where unique skill sets are invaluable.

Franchise Support Standards 

Given such a wide variety of products and services being delivered by franchise companies within their respective market segments, it is difficult to narrow down the industry support standards into a one-size-fits-all format. For this reason, there tends to not only be a wide variation of standards within similar organizations, but also a tremendous amount of variation among different types of franchise concepts, particularly between service-oriented businesses and retail or product-based organizations. In the end, franchise support “standards” are driven by both the business concept, as well as by the culture adopted by the parent organization.

It is very difficult to narrow down actual support standards, but the following is a partial list of some of the most common ones practiced by many successful franchise companies:

On-site or Field 

Operations and or marketing manuals.

Individual support representation assigned to each franchise location.

Support specialists for specific or highly technical support needs.

Annual on-site (field) support visit.

Compliance or certification visits.

Quality control or product/service training.

Home Office

New franchisee training and orientation.

Resale franchisee training and orientation.

“Help Desk” for common inquiries and supplies.

Distribution center for collateral marketing materials.

Online or Internet  

Virtual Private Network or intranet providing bulletin boards, document libraries and other resources.

Marketing and printing services for “on demand” collateral materials.

Goals, Objectives and Measurement

Every level of the franchise organization should be constantly setting, following and measuring goals and objectives. The franchisor sets the high-level goals for the entire enterprise so everyone involved understands the focus and vision of the business concept. Franchisees set unit-specific goals first aligned with the franchisor’s directives, then to convey their own personal vision, and most importantly to meet the needs of their own business investment. The support team also sets goals aligned with the vision of the enterprise, in addition to those set to meet the needs of the individual franchisees they represent.

Objectives refine those goals into more expedient, manageable and measurable tasks. Measurement of the goals and objectives may take many forms, but should be scheduled, consistent, quantitative and informative. If goals are the destination, then objectives are the landmarks along the way. Measurement is the analysis of whether your organization reached the destination, while the successes enjoyed, the hazards overcome and the lessons learned along the way are there to be applied against the next set of goals and objectives.

Regardless of the type of franchise, every franchisee relies on the strength, depth and breadth of the support services delivered by the parent organization. Strong franchise relations, a well-structured organization, sound application of management principles and a well-qualified support staff are all the essential ingredients required to make it work. For more information about how all these components come together, visit IFA’s website, www.franchise.org, and check out the Franchise Relations Committee handbook, Effective Development of a Franchise Support Organization. ⎯

Jack Pearce, CFE, is executive director of franchise relations at Annex Brands, Inc., a 450-plus unit franchise organization comprised of five unique brands within the mail and parcel, custom packaging and shipping industries. Pearce is a member of the IFA Franchise Relations and Information Technology committees. He can be reached at jpearce@annexbrands.com. 

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