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Talk, Lead and Listen: Help Franchisees Embrace the Vision, Mission and Values

Franchisees are full-blooded entrepreneurs bottled up in a small business and need franchisors to get to the next level.

The only way a franchisor can create a successful business is by helping franchisees succeed. A big part of that involves getting everyone on board and engaged in the vision, mission and values of the organization.

Communication has the power to encourage engagement, but it must go far beyond the management team talking to a mute audience of franchisees. Open, high-quality communication in various forms is vital. It requires sharing information, listening for feedback, discussing options that benefit all parties and then agreeing on a solution.

Without taking time to listen and consider the franchisee point of view, franchisors can miss opportunities to help those franchisees better understand the organization and embrace the company’s objectives. That mistake can be costly, impacting brand growth, sales increases, product innovation and even franchisee recruitment.

Talking Transparency

People become franchisees because they don’t have 100 percent of the resources to build their own businesses from the ground up or they don’t have the necessary structure to launch a small operation. Potential franchisees considering a 10- to 20-year commitment are seeking a partner. In many ways, this long-term relationship is like a marriage with both parties working to build trust, respect and cooperation.

When doing due diligence, all potential franchisees should investigate transparency in the franchisor’s organization. Transparency tells you that the franchisor is willing to work with its franchisees, allowing them to be a vital part of the building process. Most franchising organizations have an advisory council made up of leading franchisees, and this can reveal a lot about the organization’s transparency.

It is a red flag if franchisors fail to brag about their franchisee advisory councils. Those that have great relationships with their council will recommend that potential franchisees speak candidly to some of the members. Franchisee leaders can tell the potential franchisee how the organization operates and exactly what to expect as part of the team. In a transparent organization, the franchisor feels comfortable about letting franchisees speak openly to potential recruits.

At Dunkin’ Brands, this franchisee group is referred to as the Brand Advisory Council. The BAC has five separate franchisee subcommittees that tackle the topics of IT, development, profitability, innovation and marketing and then share ideas and recommendations with management. There are popular products in the stores today that were originally brought to the R&D team by franchisees.

Of course, all store operating standards come from Dunkin’ Brands, but franchisees have an established system for making recommendations that contribute to building a better brand and superior system.

Engagement Through Giving

Today, it is expected that businesses will support the communities in which they operate, and giving back is a significant part of the Dunkin’ Brands culture. In 2006, the company established a charitable foundation made up of franchisor employees and franchisees who work together to support community projects nationwide. While the foundation is a separate entity, it is an important element of their brand strategy.

Last year, the foundation conducted 46 fundraising events, generated nearly $2 million in funds and distributed 96 grants that totaled $1 million. This was achieved through fundraising dinners, golf outings, bowling events, in-store canister collections and a “paper icon” program that allows store guests to donate to a particular cause and sign a piece of paper that is displayed on a wall in the store.

The public appreciates small businesses that support charities at a grassroots level, and this program communicates the company’s commitment to the neighborhoods it serves. While reflecting positively on the brand, these fundraising endeavors encourage camaraderie − and often healthy competition − among franchisees. Without a unified effort from a supportive franchisee community, such an undertaking would be impossible.

Franchisee as Customer

Franchisors make money when the franchisee makes money. Nigel Travis, chairman and CEO of Dunkin’ Brands, recognizes that the franchisee is the company’s customer and the reason the business thrives.

Travis frequently tells franchisees: “Thank you for being our customer.” But he doesn’t just say that with an email sent from the corporate office. A program called “Coffee with Nigel” puts him on the road, traveling to visit with groups of franchisees around the country. Everyone sips coffee for a couple of hours while having a face-to-face dialogue with the CEO.

It’s highly unusual to see the leader of a major corporation in the field encouraging a free exchange of ideas. Franchisees appreciate the opportunity to speak up, and the program’s results have been beneficial. Franchisees have pointed out areas of the business that need extra attention, and as a result, company objectives have been revised and refocused.

The CEO is not the only executive to foster communication. Along with Travis, other members of the management team attend regional and district meetings, interacting with franchisees and building relationships. It’s fantastic to have senior management listening to the opinions of those franchisees who are in the retail trenches every day.

This exchange of ideas is important to continually enhance the system and get buy-in from the franchisees. Franchisors need franchisee leadership behind everything they do, from introducing new programs to dealing with products that are being eliminated.

Of course, there are times when franchisors and franchisees must agree to disagree, and all parties realize that the franchisor has the brand and will have the final say on a controversial issue. However, a past history of solid, two-way communication − plus trust and mutual respect − will make those tough times easier.

The Bottom Line

Every business wants to be as profitable as possible. Franchisees who embrace the company’s vision, mission and values are more likely to meet the company’s expectations, adapt to changes, adopt new programs and add value with creativity and innovation. And as a result, they are more likely to make money for themselves and the organization.

Franchisors who take the time and make the effort to communicate and collaborate with franchisees provide additional reasons for them to get on board, actively embracing the company’s vision, mission and values.

Franchisees are full-blooded entrepreneurs bottled up in a small business. They need franchisors to help them get to the next level. That is the reason they invested in the system in the first place. When franchisors help franchisees win on the front line, the company wins too.

Mitch Cohen franchises 13 Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Long Island, N.Y. Cohen co-chairs the Baskin-Robbins Advisory Council and the Dunkin Donuts Baskin Robbins Community Foundation and serves on the IFA Franchise Relations Committee and board of directors. Find him at via the directory.


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