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The Franchise “Space Programme”

(Published in ETRetail.com on 6 December 2013)

Franchising isn’t rocket science, but advanced space programmes offer at least one parallel which we can learn from – the staging of objectives and planning accordingly.

A franchise development programme can be staged like a space launch, each successive stage being designed and defined for a specific function or role, and sequentially building the needed velocity and direction to successfully create a franchise operation. The stages may be equated to Launch, Booster, Orbiter and Landing stages, and cover the following aspects:

  1. Launch: assessment of the franchiser’s own readiness to launch and manage a franchise network in the target geography
  2. Booster: having the franchise pack ready to target the appropriate geographies and franchisee profile
  3. Orbiter: franchisee recruitment
  4. Landing: operationalising the franchise location

Stage 1: Launch

The first and perhaps the most important stage in launching a franchise programme is to check whether the organisation is really ready to create a franchise network. Sure, inept franchisees can cause damage to the brand, but it is important to first look at the responsibilities that a brand has to making the franchise network a success. Too many brands see franchising as a quick-fix for expansion, as a low-cost source for capital and manpower at the expense of franchisee-investors. It is vital for the franchiser to demonstrate that it has a successful and profitable business model, as well as the ability to provide support to a network of multiple operating locations in diverse geographies. For this, it has to have put in place management resources (people with the appropriate skills, business processes, financial and information systems) as well as budgets to provide the support the franchisee needs to succeed. The failure of many franchise concepts, in fact, lies in weakness within the franchiser’s organisation rather than outside.

Stage 2: Booster

Once the organisation and the brand are assessed to be “franchise-ready”, there is still work to be put into two sets of documents: one related to the brand and the second related to the operations processes and systems. A comprehensive marketing reference manual needs to be in place to be able to convey the “pulling” power that the brand will provide to the franchisee, clearly articulate the tangible and intangible aspects that comprise the brand, and also specify the guidelines for usage of brand materials in various marketing environments. The operations manual aims to document standard operating procedures that provide consistency across the franchise network and are aimed at reducing variability in customer experience and performance. It must be noted that both sets of documents must be seen as evolving with growth of the business and with changes in the external environment – the Marketing Manual is likely to be more stable, while the Operations Manual necessary needs to be as dynamic as the internal and external environment.

Stage 3: Orbiter

Now the brand is ready to reach out to potential franchisees. How wide a brand reaches, across how many potential franchisees, with what sort of terms, all depend on the vision of the brand, its business plan and the practices prevalent in the market. However, in all cases, it is essential to adopt a “parent” framework that defines the essential and desirable characteristics that a franchisee should possess, the relationship structure that needs to be consistent across markets (if that is the case), and any commercial terms about which the franchiser wishes to be rigid. This would allow clearer direction and focussed efforts on the part of the franchiser, and filter out proposals that do not fit the franchiser’s requirements. Franchisees can be connected through a variety of means: some will find you through other franchisees, or through your website or other marketing materials; others you might reach out to yourselves through marketing outreach programmes, trade shows, or through business partners. During all of this it is useful, perhaps essential, to create a single point of responsibility at a senior level in the organisation to be able to maintain both consistency and flexibility during the franchise recruitment and negotiation process, through to the stage where a franchisee is signed-on.

Stage 4: Landing

Congratulations – the destination is in sight. The search might have been hard, the negotiations harder still, but you now – officially – have a partner who has agreed to put in their money and their efforts behind launching YOUR brand in THEIR market, and to even pay you for the period that they would be running the business under your name. That’s a big commitment on the franchisee’s part. The commitment with which the franchiser handles this stage is important, because this is where the foundation will be laid for the success – or failure – of the franchisee’s business. Other than a general orientation that you need to start you franchisee off with, the Marketing Manual and the Operational Manual are essential tools during the training process for the franchisee’s team. Depending on the complexity of the business and the infrastructure available with the franchiser, the franchisee’s team may be first trained at the franchiser’s location, followed by pre-launch training at the franchisee’s own location, and that may be augmented by active operational support for a certain period provided by the franchiser’s staff at the franchisee’s site. The duration and the amount of support are best determined by the nature of the business and the relative maturity of both parties in the relationship. For instance, someone picking up a food service franchise without any prior experience in the industry is certainly likely to need more training and support than a franchisee who is already successfully running other food service locations.

Will going through these steps guarantee that the franchise location or the franchise network succeeds? Perhaps not. But at the very least the framework will provide much more direction and clarity to your business, and will improve the chances of its success. And it’s a whole lot better than flapping around unpredictably during the heat of negotiations with high-energy franchisees in high-potential markets.

Evolution, Process and Decay

It has been around 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin, and about 150 years since the publication of his and Alfred Wallace’s thoughts on evolution by natural selection. In their honour, let us remind ourselves of the basic theory that all of us learn at school. (So I’m a few months late acknowledging it – please bear with me!)

On Evolution: Change Happens

(1) Species differ from each other, but individuals within a species also differ from each other quite a bit.

(2) These differences are due to changes to the basic genetic framework of the organism (mutations) which can get passed on to following generations.

(3) The environment keeps changing physically, climatically and biologically.

(4) In the new (changed) environment some of the mutations survive better than others (“natural selection”).

(5) The effect of these changes over several generation results in the evolution of species, and the rise of new species.

The primary reason I am highlighting this theory is because, to my mind, businesses are like living beings. Businesses are conceived, given birth to, they grow, and most of them die after a few years or a few decades. During their life some businesses get married (merged or acquired), and sometimes they give birth to other businesses.

About 2-3 years ago, the business climate seemed predictable and only looking upwards – the biggest challenges in the food and grocery sector seemed to be whether your ambition was bigger than your competitor’s. Many predictions were made about how the large – more “organised” – businesses would quickly kill the small.

However, with much turmoil in the business environment in the last year or so, it is evident now that it is not just the small companies that are vulnerable. The change in the environment is also giving new growth opportunities to the smaller or younger, previously vulnerable, businesses. While some of the larger businesses have died or are in the process of dying, some of the smaller businesses are mutating even more to survive better in the changed surroundings.

Although small businesses are always looking for growth, the new environment can bring such a surplus of opportunities that, in the helter-skelter growth the learnings are quickly lost and the business may actually go off the tracks.

On Process: Passing On the Genes

The challenge for the smaller businesses now is to pass on their genes down the generations; for the management to ensure that the newer stores and the newer recruits gain from the learning and the adaptations already in the organisation.

At an entrepreneurial stage, the core team handles critical activities and is on call to guide others. The team is knit quite tightly, and located geographically close together. The stores are few and in locations with a similar environment. “Knowledge” is inherent in the way you do things, guided rather than taught.

You may recall my stressing culture and organisational personality, the “people” end, in a previous article. At the early stage of the business, very often, that is all there is. But growth needs replication and predictability.

Biology again gives us a great lesson in how to replicate learnings and functionality: genes (DNA) provide the template for cell functions, and are reproduced almost faithfully from previous generations.

In a business, such replication comes from well-designed processes incorporating the intent, the activities and the desired outcomes. For growth, processes are a must; they are the genetic code of the business. Processes provide the design for how a customer would interact with the store, how the store would interact within itself and with other points in the organisation, and how the organisation would interact with external agencies.

You may ask, “How much process should we depend on, and how prescriptive or restrictive should we make them?” You may also point out that processes start off with very good intention, but with time – and often distance from head office – the processes decay.

And you would be right.

On Decay: Bad or Good

Even in bureaucratic organisations, adjustments are made to fit people or situations, and that causes the process to mutate.  Sometimes the change is temporary, at other times the process may change completely and permanently. If changes happen passively and are not channelled the existing process will decay.

I use the word “decay” carefully. While the process change itself may be good at a point (e.g. responding to a customer need), the organisation as a whole may not learn much from it, or the change may affect one part of the organisation and not others. If that happens, the organisation and its systems will become dysfunctional at some point.

For instance, it could be the little leeway that the merchandising head provided to some managers that erupts into an uncontrolled working capital epidemic across the chain. Or a margin adjustment with a vendor at a certain point in time becomes a deadly norm.

So, back to evolution: mutations are a fact of life. Adaptations are happening because of the changes in the environment. Managers need to critically question: does this change meet a current ongoing need or provide an ongoing advantage, and can it apply to the rest of the business? If the answer is no, ask people to read the rule-book (the process manual).

If the answer is yes to both, change the rules, and make sure the new process is implemented quickly and smoothly across the organisation.  Then it will be “adaptation” rather than “decay”.

After all, the conclusion that Darwin, Wallace and many others have given us is this: it is not the strongest, the biggest, the fastest, but the most adaptive who survive.

Immortal = I + M + Mortal

Why do entrepreneurs start companies? Why do individuals form organisations?

An obvious reason is that they cannot do everything themselves. Another is that they don’t have all the resources / skills that are needed to grow the business. If they work well, teams can certainly achieve more than individuals alone.

However, another compelling reason comes to mind for creating an organisation – the concept of immortality.

All living beings are susceptible to the phenomenon of “death” at some point of time or the other, and immortalise themselves through producing the next generation through reproduction.

Just as reproduction is a way to immortalise the genetic code of the species in our next generation, organisational development is a way to immortalise the “genetic code” containing ideas, principles and philosophies.

However, this can only happen if the leader / founder / entrepreneur faces the Big Reality: “I am mortal”. Once he or she faces that fact, there are two choices for him / her – the organisation / business can die with him or her, or there can be another generation to carry on the genetic code.

Mortality is the root / route to immortality. If one is truly wedded to the principles of the organisation, one will create the framework and the environment for the next leadership to emerge, and will nurture the next generation to the leadership position.

The route / root to Immortal is “I M Mortal”!

A couple of great resources come to mind, both from Jim Collins and his co-authors: “Built to Last” and “From Good to Great”. (A great concept from the latter book is that of “Level 5 Leadership” which is well worth a read.)

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