Why This Brand?

When you have over 500 different brands that you represent, the reality is that you can’t know each and every one of them to the same degree. As I’ve been speaking to people interested in changing their lives for the better, I’ve come to have a list of “go-to” brands in each of the major categories. How these brands got on this list is, I think, instructive for every business.

I was actually speaking about this topic to a development director at one of the brands who reached out. Her first question was about the commission structure. We consultants get paid by the franchisors based on people signing franchise agreements and not by the candidates. I gather that for some consultants that how much of a commission they can make influences their choice of which brands to put forward. Point number one: while it’s obvious that the brands are my customers since they pay me, it’s impossible to work in a situation where the candidate’s interests diverge from the brand’s. In my mind, therefore, the commission is a non-factor. I can’t expect to earn anything in a situation where I hand off an unqualified candidate to a brand. My point is that in any sales situation, every stakeholder’s interests must be considered and subordinating what’s right for one party to a potential higher commission isn’t going to work.

One thing that influences my choice of brands a lot is the amount and quality of information the brand provides. You would not believe how little information I have about some of these franchises, several of which are businesses I don’t quite understand. In some cases, all I have is bare-bones information about costs and royalties and a link to the consumer website – not even a “want a franchise?” page which I have to find on my own. Where some brands give us presentations, folders, one-sheets, and research, others give us nothing. You can guess which brands get pitched. Point number two: don’t send your troops into battle without arming them properly.

The next thing I consider is responsiveness. In many cases, getting the candidate engaged enough to want to speak to a franchisor is a time-consuming effort. Once they are ready to go, I want someone at the franchisor who will be as proactive as I have been to get the candidate this far.  Once I’ve made an introduction, I expect the brand to reach out within a day, hopefully within an hour or two. Point number three: if you’re not going to work as hard on making a sale as others engaged in the process, you need to know that there are other businesses out there who will. Be responsive. Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

Finally, I also consider communication. Some brands tell me every time they have an interaction with my candidate. Others have been radio-silent. You can guess which type I prefer. It’s very hard to over-communicate in any business.

Those are things I consider when choosing partners. Anything I’ve missed that you think is critical?

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Mental Health Is Business Health

Happy Foodie Friday! One thing I’ve learned in my franchise consulting is that people have a fascination with the food business. A significant percentage of the candidates I speak with want to invest in something food and beverage related. I’m generally fairly blunt with them, reminding them that it’s often a business where you’re open for 14 hours a day and are really busy for about 90 minutes. The margins aren’t great, the labor is often unskilled and sketchy, and there are liability issues hanging around everywhere.

Today it’s those 90 minutes I want to talk about. The really busy time. It’s incredibly stressful from what I remember of my days working in foodservice. The stress precipitates everything from accidents caused by rushing to fistfights. It’s not for the faint of heart! That’s why I was happy to read the following this week:

Chipotle Mexican Grill will be providing access to mental healthcare and financial wellness for more than 80,000 employees in 2020 through Employee Assistance Programs and enhanced benefits offerings. This is just one of the many ways that Chipotle continues to enable its workforce by offering world-class benefits.

By simplifying access to mental health benefits and identifying work-related risk factors, Chipotle is trying to minimize the effect of mental health in the workplace.

So many good things here. First, I’ve worked for bosses to whom employees were disposable cogs in the business machine. Someone burns out and isn’t getting it done? Replace them and move on. It’s frustrating as hell when you don’t share their attitude but your hands are tied with respect to offering a solution to the stressed-out team member. Having also worked in places with an Employee Assistance Program I can tell you that they can be literal lifesavers and well worth the cost.

Second, you probably haven’t forgotten that Chipotle had some issues with e.coli a couple of years ago. You know you have a problem on your hands when research showed that 22% of all respondents and 32% of those who don’t currently eat Chipotle said that “nothing” would make them want to visit more often.  The food issues have been fixed but the bad taste lingers. Demonstrating concern for your employees is part of rebuilding the brand. Happy employees don’t make stress-related mistakes that lead to bacterial contamination, right?

You can never go wrong doing right for your staff. As a manager, they are your eyes, ears, hands, and voice. Keeping them happy and healthy is doing the same for your business.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud, Franchises

Who’s Calling?

If you carry a smartphone, and nearly everyone does, you’ve probably had the experience of your caller ID showing a fake number that’s calling, often with a fake name or organization displaying. You might think it would require a great deal of technical knowledge to be able to spoof a number or generate a fake caller ID, but you’d be wrong. There are several apps available in the Android or Apple stores that will do just that for you. They’ll even change your voice and add fake, location-specific background noise. I’m not clear what the legitimate purpose of these apps is but for $8, you can set yourself up to run any number of scams if you’re so inclined.

It dawns on me, though, that many folks do exactly the same thing with their social media posts. Their food is picture-perfect. They’re always smiling and having fun, often in some unusual locale. Their party never stops. They never mention that they’re short on cash, their job is unfulfilling, and they’re slowing sinking into depression. I mean, what’s the point of being happy if you can’t post it? As with the phone apps, everything is not as it seems.

I think businesses can learn from this. I’m not suggesting that they use social media to bum us all out, but I am saying that being authentic and transparent will win the day. People appreciate being made spoof-proof, and that happens when they know the businesses they follow aren’t posting visual checks that their real-world business can’t cash. Are they using “influencers” to say nice things about their business when that person has never been in the place or used the product? Have they generated some FOMO by purchasing fake followers?

Don’t believe every number that pops up on your phone. The IRS isn’t calling you. Neither is the Social Security Administration. I’ve had my bank call me but I’ve never had them ask me for account information over the phone. Don’t believe that everything you see on social media is the whole story. It might have been the only good day in a month. And if you run a business, there are very few people who will patronize you based solely on some pretty Instagram photos. Dozens of review sites will keep you honest. People like to know who is calling for real. So be real.

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Local Flavor

This Foodie Friday I’m writing to you from a condo in Myrtle Beach. It’s a place I used to come to only once a year with my golf outing but now that I only live a couple of hours away I’m down here more often. I’d be lying if I said that Myrtle Beach is one of my favorite places to go. Honestly, except for the golf (and there is LOTS of that here), there really isn’t much about it to love. The beaches further north on the coast are way better – less crowded, prettier, and less touristy.

Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo

One thing my golf group learned about Myrtle Beach long ago was that there really isn’t a lot of great food here. Oh sure, damn near every chain restaurant has one (or more) iterations and there are local executions of generic food types that one can find anywhere: Italian, sushi, burgers, etc. There are, however, a handful (OK, a couple of handfuls) of places that do their damndest to capture the local flavor and that’s our topic today.

I wrote about Mr. Fish 10 years ago and I still visit when I’m here. His success at capturing the local seafood flavors of the Carolina Coast has enabled him to build a much larger place. There is a huge local supermarket here – Boulineau’s – that has a great kitchen serving local specialties and taking out the fried chicken to the beach is a local tradition.

I’m not going to run down all of the local places that do similar things but it’s instructive to any of us in business. Sure, the national chains are mobbed by tourists that love the notion of eating the same meal here as they can get at home. Those aren’t the loyal customer base though. Any business should be trying to be a local business even if the local outpost is one of many. I represent a national coffee franchise that insists that each local cafe be decorated in a local style, using photos of the town in which it’s located. That’s smart in my book.

People look for the local flavor. You can see it in the push to patronize local small businesses. How can your business be “small” and capture the local flavor even as you grow? Something to think about!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Something For Nothing

I went to one of the warehouse club stores yesterday to make some bulk purchases. If you’ve ever been in one of them – Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, etc. – you know that one feature of walking around the place is that there are usually free samples. You can taste the latest and greatest in meats, cheeses, and frozen things to cook while you’re too busy to make something yourself. That got me thinking about the fact that you really don’t see a lot of sampling elsewhere.

I’m a fan of the free trial. It gets customers walking through your door and using your product. What I don’t particularly like are those “free” trials that require you to fork over your credit card. Free means without strings, right? In particular, if you’re a business that is built around what I think is the gold standard – recurring revenues – you ought to be spending a good chunk of your marketing dollars on free trials.

It’s relatively simple math, right? What’s the lifetime value of a customer? What does it cost you to offer up a free trial – a visit, a free month, whatever? What is the conversion rate of those freebies – how many of the trials become regular customers? Recurring revenues are predictable and generally pretty stable. I bet you’ve signed up for subscriptions of some sort and forgotten you’ve done so or don’t use them as often as you thought you would. For a business, that’s a customer without costs, and that’s a nice margin!

When I talk to people who are looking at franchise opportunities and who don’t have a particular brand or industry in mind, I usually talk to them about the businesses with recurring revenue models. Things like cleaning services. Not a sexy business, but very profitable and that, in part, is because of the recurring revenues. Same thing with spa businesses or some hair salons that feature memberships. Are those businesses that can offer a free trial? Maybe if you’re an out-of-the-box thinker. Giving a converted customer the ability to give away a free trial to a friend is another great way to expand your base at very little cost.

Here is the thing about free trials leading to recurring revenues. As with any business, you have to maintain a high level of customer service. After all, when someone’s credit card is getting dinged each month and your business appears on their statement, it’s an opportunity for them to reconsider.  If they walk away, no amount of free sampling will get them back most of the time. Everyone loves something for nothing. The opposite – nothing for something – is very much NOT true!

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Harder Than It Is

Happy Foodie Friday! I was menu-planning the other day (an absolute must before the weekly trip to the grocery store) and I came across a dish that I know to be pretty easy to make yet which appears way more difficult. I’ve served it before and people are always all “oh, that must have taken hours” about it when it’s really about a 15-minute prep. As an aside, there are many other dishes I know – really good Bolognese sauce, for example – that take way more time than you’d think even using a pressure cooker to speed things up.

Seeing that dish got me to thinking, in a roundabout way, that we humans have a tendency to think things are way more difficult than they are in many cases. In fact, I think some of us go to great lengths to make it that way. I’m not talking about a particular type of person I’d run across in business every so often. You know the one – they create problems so that they can solve them and be the hero. No, what I’m talking about is that we love to make things harder than they actually are.

Think about it. What things did you do today that purposefully made your life more difficult ? It was probably so small a thing, or something so ingrained in you, that you didn’t even notice that you did it. Maybe you didn’t set your alarm to allow for enough time to be someplace. Maybe you sat on a task until right before a deadline and you couldn’t get it done on time because something unforeseen happened.  Or maybe you just enjoy the drama. It’s sort of the same thrill as riding a roller-coaster, right? You put yourself in danger and when you survive, you feel a thrill.

Here’s my take. Life can be like some seemingly-fancy dishes – much easier to pull together than meets the eye IF – and it’s a big if – you have the skills required, leave adequate time to complete the task, and don’t make it harder than it has to be. All of us make our lives both in and out of business harder than they have to be at times and unless and until we recognize the times that we’re doing it, nothing much will change.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Learning From Leads

Like many businesses, I purchase leads to drive revenue. Leads are everything in the business I’m in now and without them, you starve. When I went to our consultants’ convention last July, nearly every conversation I had with one of my peers eventually turned to the subject of where we were sourcing leads and how productive those sources were. As an aside I’m having Glengarry Glen Ross flashbacks as I’m writing this:

These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. To you, these are gold; you do not get these. Because to give them to you would be throwing them away.

In any event, following the convention, I tried out a couple of new lead sources and one of them has proven to be quite good. The reason I’m writing about them today, however, isn’t so much the quality of their leads as it is the quality of their customer experience. They do some things that are instructive for any business that has customers (and find me one that doesn’t!). If you don’t think it’s important, remember that Oracle found that 86 percent of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience.

First, although they sell packages of a fixed number of leads, they let me put together my own package as a test case. They were flexible and focused on my needs rather than on “this is how we do things.”

Second, they are generous with “freebies.” Sometimes the leads are actually not real people – the phone number is bad and the email bounces. Sometimes someone is playing a prank on someone else by sending their information in without their knowledge. Not only have I never had an issue getting the company to refund a lead because of that but they will sometimes throw me an extra couple of leads because I had a less than optimal experience. Let’s face it – who doesn’t love something for nothing?

Third, they follow-up. I get asked regularly if I’m happy with what I’m getting and if they can improve my experience in any way. That’s big because I know they’re listening and that they care. Of course, it’s imperative that if the customer does come up with a suggestion that you communicate back to that customer how you’ve handled it (and just tossing it in a drawer isn’t acceptible!).

That leads to another thought. We should always go overboard when correcting mistakes. Yes, they happen, but if you’re transparent about it and more than makeup for the error, people can be quite forgiving and what was a negative can become a positive.

It’s really about being customer-centric and showing those customers some love, isn’t it?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints