Auntie Anne's: Happy Franchisees = Happy Customers

Managing brand strategy for more than 1,150 domestic and international franchise locations is no small task. That's exactly what CMO Heather Neary does for Auntie Anne's, which was acquired by Focus Brands in November 2010. Neary has been a part of the Auntie Anne's marketing department since 2005. Under her leadership, sales grew from $275 million in 2006 to more than $370 million in 2010. We asked her to discuss the role of franchisee satisfaction in creating satisfied customers and a thriving brand.

What do you do as CMO?
As a chief marketing officer, it is important for me to work collaboratively with all internal departments to ensure that every decision we are making is in the best interest of our franchise partners' long-term success. It can be easy for organizations to fall into the trap of working in silos and developing territorial boundaries. A multidisciplinary approach is critical to having the best outcome of business strategies.

What are you doing to create happy customers?
We aim to create happy customers every day by fulfilling our founder's threefold philosophy of service, quality, and cleanliness. When we can serve our customers a great-tasting product with a smiling face and a clean store, we will continue to create a lifetime of happy customers.

How do happy customers affect franchisee satisfaction?
Happy customers - those at the store level - are happy, no doubt, because the franchise partner is satisfied and is able to focus on service to the customers because of the high level of service they are receiving from the franchisor. It's a cyclical relationship: one misstep on any of three fronts (franchisor, franchise partner, customer) can cause an upset in the equilibrium of the service provided to the franchise partner and the customer.

What does franchisee satisfaction mean at Auntie Anne's?
Our franchise partners are truly our partners. For our partners to be satisfied, we need to go above and beyond on every facet of our business operations. When our franchise partners are satisfied, they are able to focus on their day-to-day operations in their store(s) and can better serve our customers, which means greater success and profitability for all parties.

What are you doing to create and maintain this relationship?
We focus on continuous improvement. Our processes are by no means perfect and are constantly evolving to meet the needs of a growing and diverse franchise organization. By being open to evolution, we are able to maintain satisfaction from our franchise partners, which leads to happy customers. We are accessible to our franchise partners and they know they can reach out to any individual on the corporate team if they have concerns or a question. We pride ourselves on providing the same level of care that Auntie Anne herself first demonstrated when she began the organization in 1988.

Do you require and assist your franchisees with local-level marketing?
We provide several different to our franchise partners to aid them with their local marketing efforts. We do request that each franchise partner spend 1 percent of their annual sales on local marketing efforts. To assist them in this effort, we provide a team of local marketing specialists who are available to help them create tactics that meet their defined strategies. We also have an Idea Generator resource binder each franchise partner possesses and is encouraged to use, as it offers a plethora of tactical ideas for ways to increase sales at the store level. We also offer an online local marketing toolbox that gives them the opportunity to customize elements of our POP to meet their local needs. All these as well as the collaborative nature we demonstrate with our leadership franchise partner group on constructing multi-layered marketing campaigns, helps drive their satisfaction.

Editor's Note: Look for the complete interview with Heather Neary, with more on how to create franchisee satisfaction, coming soon in Franchise Update magazine, Q1.

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