The Covid-19 pandemic has hit businesses around the world and across all industries both operationally and financially with the greatest global challenge we are all likely to ever face.
When the pandemic hit, franchisors were completely impacted by the challenge of not only getting their entire brand up and running quickly, but also the need to support their franchisees in their own businesses in every way they could, financially, practically and emotionally, to get through. the storm that lies ahead. Innovation and creativity came to the fore as franchisors had to invent entirely new ways to deliver not only their product or service, but also the way they interacted with their franchisees, and provided training and mentoring. The success of a franchise brand is dependent on the survival and success of its franchisees and thus the key words became adapting, communicating and supporting. Franchisors’ energies focused inwardly on their existing franchise network, while actively pursuing new recruits was necessarily on the back burner. Simply put, franchisors have moved mountains to keep their business and their franchisees afloat.
As the restrictions under which we all lived began to ease, the world emerged blinking and changed forever. And within the world of franchising, as we return to “normal life,” I am now witnessing long-term changes in the way franchisors operate — the legacy of the necessary shifts in practice brought about by the pandemic. As a franchisor, my role within my own brand and the way our team works and communicates has changed, changes that can certainly be seen as positive and that we will continue to pursue.
Within a franchise network, franchisees in most cases operate at a physical distance from each other. The pandemic forced those brands that may not have yet adopted online conferencing platforms and other communication technology to get started quickly — and quickly realize its benefits. Just as in the early months of the pandemic, all of us looked to our leaders and news outlets daily for information, news, guidance and reassurance, so franchisees looked to their franchisors for the same thing. Hence, the communication between franchisor and franchisee became much more frequent than at any time in the past, a pattern that seems to have been maintained across most franchise networks, with franchisors being much more visible within their brand on a daily basis and leading from the front and middle. Franchise networks have become much stronger communities and many franchisors report having closer relationships with their franchisees.
“The pandemic was actually beneficial for us to achieve one of our most important goals as a network, which is to improve communication,” said Helen Simmons, CEO of Caterpillar Music, a British children’s music franchise. “We are now a smaller, much closer team and the geographic barriers have been overcome through a much wider use of online platforms. The pandemic has simply pushed us to use these channels earlier than we might otherwise have.”
Delivering hands-on skills training and structured support was the focus of many franchisors before the pandemic, with their role as leader, innovation and problem-solving. But when the pandemic hit, franchisees faced incredibly stressful situations, both in business and at home, and they needed to be heard and answered. To help their franchisees through these times, franchisors needed to recognize the need for softer skills, such as listening and empathy, and a better understanding of how to support their team on an emotional level. Health and wellness have become a central focus of a supportive post-covid franchise model, with many franchisors now looking beyond the traditional business and financial support systems they already had in place and adopting strategies to support their franchisee’s physical and mental wellbeing. entrepreneurs and as people.
“I think as a franchisor, the role became almost pastoral in a way, where we became even more holistic in our approach to the emotional rollercoasters franchisees can go on,” said Charlotte Salter, one of the founders of debut, an early drama franchise based in the United Kingdom. “We’ve always been a flexible lifestyle company, but we now have a headquarters-based first aider and a much more important buddying system”
Franchisors have also recognized the value of leveraging the strengths and skills that exist within their teams. Even the most traditional brands had no choice but to adopt a mindset shift to ensure their survival. While change can often be seen as a source of distrust and resentment among franchisees and can even damage the franchisor-franchisee relationship, the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic made change not a choice but a necessity for both parties to the franchise agreement. Franchisors listened to feedback and gathered ideas from their franchisees, held open forum discussions and developed initiatives to give them the tools needed to keep their team motivated and engaged during this time. This kind of proactive and collaborative working relationship between the franchisor and the franchisee has led to a long-lasting and positive culture change at many franchise brands after the pandemic.
In times of crisis, franchisees will look to their franchisors for leadership, guidance, solutions and support, and never more so than during the pandemic. Never before has there been such a steep learning curve. Franchisors who were able to adapt and change their role, leadership style and the way they work and communicate to ensure the needs of their franchisees were met during the global pandemic and beyond are now likely to be in a stronger position than ever within their networks, and in turn now better and more confidently equipped to deal with all future curveballs thrown our way.