When it comes to being a "STAR" franchise development player, the best keep winning--and they keep working to get better.
Franchise Update Media honored the top performers in franchise sales and development at its annual STAR Awards dinner, a highlight of the Franchise Leadership & Development Conference, held Oct. 14-16 in Atlanta.
The STAR Awards (Speaking To And Responding) recognize brands for overall development performance and in the key areas of franchisee recruitment, online sales follow-up, telephone responsiveness, website effectiveness, social media, and franchisee satisfaction.
"Franchise Update Media and the STAR awards are the only kind of awards in our particular part of the industry," says Pete Lindsey, vice president of franchising at Sport Clips, a 2015 STAR Award recipient. "It is really the only way we can benchmark how we are doing. We really appreciate this environment so we can learn and measure ourselves against others."
STAR Award winners are chosen based on evaluations by a team of Franchise Update sales and lead generation experts. We caught up with representatives of the winning brands to uncover their secrets to business success.
1st Place: Wild Birds Unlimited
When you capture two STAR Awards--one for Best Overall Performance and one for Best Franchisee Satisfaction in the retail category--you know your sales development program is on the right track. And for Wild Birds Unlimited, which placed second last year in this category, the two awards go hand in hand.
"You can have the greatest franchise development response, the best website, the best process, and the most incredibly talented franchise development team, but if your franchisees aren't happy, you are never going to grow your brand," says Paul Pickett, vice president of franchise development for the backyard bird feeding and nature specialty brand, which began franchising in 1983.
Thanks to the popularity of bird watching as a hobby, business is soaring at Wild Birds Unlimited--and so is interest from potential franchisees. The company has 291 stores and nearly 20 more in the pipeline--a growth rate that has prompted tweaks to an already successful development system.
Nearly two years ago, anticipating future sales growth that would come with planned marketing programs, Pickett hired a manager of franchise development. In 2015, as franchisee interest continued to heat up, he added an extra step in the application process to include an intense write-up and full candidate interview with the chief operating officer or director of retail operations.
"That was a change in our development process," Pickett says. "We had the operations folks be part of the development process to ensure the quality of candidates was going to stay as good or get even better."
Transparency in the sales development process rules the roost at Wild Birds Unlimited. To make sure there is a cultural match, the brand includes validation early, encouraging prospects to study satisfaction results and speak with franchisees before turning over a financial disclosure document. "Making sure you know what you are looking for in your candidates and giving them the information they need to make a very solid, long-term business decision is really important," says Pickett.
The company is passionate about bringing people and nature together, he says, and looks for that same passion in new franchisees--not only for birds, but also for running a business. "They have to be the right people to execute well in a way that is going to bring them joy," Pickett says. "We talk about joy in our concept. We want our franchisees to have a phenomenal ownership experience that is joyful."
2nd Place: Sport Clips
At Sport Clips, successfully connecting with a prospect is all in the delivery.
"We have a saying here: We don't work to our convenience. We work to our prospect's convenience," says Pete Lindsey, vice president of franchising for the franchise, which not only took home second place honors for Best Overall Performance, but also a first place STAR Award for Best Overall Prospect Responsiveness.
Lindsey credits his brand ambassadors--the call qualifiers--for a job well done for the chain, which has 1,443 salons in the U.S. and Canada.
"What I have learned in my 27 years is that it is about the people working for you and if they are invested in what they are doing," he says. "We also take the time to make sure they understand exactly what the process is. We go over scripting, and even the mystery shop questions that Franchise Update Media uses to help us. We use those to make sure we are collecting the right information from our prospects, because those change over time."
Quick prospect contact (five minutes or less) in the competitive haircutting space is a Sport Clips best practice designed not to overwhelm prospects with too fast a response, but rather to build trust and move the process forward while interest is at its peak, says Lindsey.
After noticing that it was losing 50 percent of its prospects in the handoff from the call center to the sales team, Sport Clips deployed a technology solution to close the loop in the early recruitment stage. Call center qualified leads are now entered directly into the online schedules of the internal sales teams and area developers, creating a seamless transition for prospects to the next stage of the sales process. "I'm convinced it is those little trench work things you do that make it easier for prospects to engage in your process," says Lindsey. The multiple awards this year back that up.
Bach to Rock
On Bach to Rock's recruitment website, what you see is what you get. It's a winning formula for the fast-growing national music education brand that took top honors for Best Website Best Practices.
The company, which began franchising in 2012, relaunched its recruitment website two years later with a commitment to transparency "in terms of unit economics, investment in the business, and who and what we are, as a brand," says Brian Gross, president of Bach to Rock, which has six company stores and 37 franchised units.
The website, says Gross, is designed to provide an engaging and easy way for prospects to experience Bach to Rock at whatever commitment level they choose. Information is brought to life with video, graphs, charts, and illustrations. Potential franchisees ready to dive into the process can download a thorough, 35-page brochure. The integrated platform also reaches out to recruits in a various ways, including blogs, portals and remarketing. Potential franchisees can make inquiries directly by email or phone.
"Our goal was to give them as much information as we have available, so they can make an informed decision and see if their objectives are consistent with our brand--and, if so, help them take the next step toward ownership," says Gross.
The strategy is paying off. Since the website's launch, web leads have risen 200 pecent--quality leads that prompted Bach to Rock to adjust its best practices to ensure the company continues to handle the volume of interest promptly and with a personal touch. And sales are up 70 percent.
Burgeoning business is matched by an aggressive growth plan. Bach to Rock anticipates adding as many as 500 units in the next decade, and ultimately expanding the music and community-centric franchise internationally.
"As a new franchisee we want to build the system, but it has to be done in the most productive and healthy way--for both sides," says Gross.
Home Care Assistance
For Home Care Assistance, the savvy use of online marketing and social media comes naturally. The Palo Alto-based company has grown up alongside the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Uber, and its Silicon Valley roots have given the provider of in-home senior care a competitive edge in sales development.
"We are constantly testing social media marketing strategies to see what works best, and then we share these effective strategies with our franchise owners," says Jack Johnson, vice president of franchising for the company, which began franchising in 2005.
Home Care Assistance takes advantage of a wide array of social media tools to communicate its message--and both franchisees and clients are listening. An estimated 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and Baby Boomers, the company's largest client segment, is the fastest-growing demographic on sites such as Facebook, notes Johnson. The company implements a comprehensive social media strategy for each social platform--Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Youtube--and shares best practices with franchisees through manuals and webinars to keep them up to speed on the latest strategies and tactics as social media marketing evolves, he says.
"If you want to win in today's connected world, your brand needs to be 'always on' and ready to provide relevant information quickly and in ways that appeal to different personality types," says Jackson.
The use of social media dovetails with Home Care Assistance's "game-changing" online tools, which include HCA University, which provides caregiving programs and training; and an online personality test designed to enhance the match between caregiver and client. Jackson says its online efforts have allowed the franchisor to handle some "heavy lifting" for the franchisees.
Social media provides franchises with a way to instantly connect, but what comes next is critical to development success. "We follow up through every medium we can--email, phone, even text if they prefer," says Jackson. "The key is to follow up quickly and multiple times. More and more, we are seeing electronic communication becoming the preferred method of contact."
Great Clips and Sport Clips
Interestingly, these two haircutting brands, at the top of the class in overall responsiveness to prospect inquiries, also tied for a first-place STAR Award last year, in the category of Social Media Implementation.
"We are extremely excited about being honored with the award," says Beth Caron, franchise development director for Great Clips. "It is validation that we are doing the right things and executing. Consistency is key to make sure we aren't missing anything."
At Great Clips, a winning sales development program begins and ends with the basics. With 3,800 stores in the U.S. and Canada, Great Clips counts on a lead qualifier--no matter the source inquiry--to make sure a candidate is qualified, a good fit, and that no promising prospects fall through the cracks.
Automated responses to inquiries are followed up quickly by a personal connection. "It's the first impression of the brand," says Caron. "Communication by email or maintaining that electronic communication is not who we are as a company. We want to get a feel for who that person is and understand them better. I think you are never going to be able to replace that person-to-person conversation to really understand people."
For Great Clips, consistency is king throughout its franchise sales process. "You can have a great social media strategy, but if you are directing everyone to your website and no one is following up with them, you have wasted your time," says Caron. "If you have good programs and good marketing and a solid prospect follow-up system, that is going to be the recipe for success."
Checkers Drive-In Restaurants
The executives at Checkers & Rally's take franchisee satisfaction to heart. Since participating in their first Franchise Business Review franchisee satisfaction survey three years ago, the Tampa-based chain of 815 restaurants has set its sites on annually increasing overall franchisee satisfaction. The effort to dig deep into the response data is paying off. The brand's STAR Award this year is the latest example.
"What gets measured gets done. But you have to do something with the data," says Jennifer Durham, vice president of franchise development. "We aren't just preaching," says Durham. "We own 40 percent of the system and it means our decisions are grounded in profit and not necessarily in top-line sales."
Along with the general survey, the company uses supplemental data to give franchisees a candid chance to assess operations across the board. Responses to open-ended questions specific to the brand and the various marketing, training, construction, and real estate support teams are where you find the "gems" that help the franchisor truly understand the job it is doing, says Durham, who also has found a little interdepartmental rivalry to be the best is good for business.
"We are a pretty competitive group," she says. "So any time I can create competition, over and above, it is good for the franchisees because we are all striving to be better at our respective functions."
Early survey findings provided the company with opportunities to increase franchisee feedback and improve communication to ensure they felt they were being heard, says Durham. The brand also provides a weekly system-wide communication and hosts a quarterly conference call between the leadership team and franchisees that doesn't end until the last question is answered.
At MaidPro, life is an adventure. For the past five years, franchisees have joined the MaidPro staff on an annual trip for some off-the-beaten-path fun. The group has rafted down the Grand Canyon, played on a remote island off the coast of Belize, and will sail around the British Virgin Islands flotilla-style in 2016. While some companies opt for vacations to reward top performers, MaidPro includes any and all franchisees who want to come.
The memorable excursions work wonders to create deep system-wide connections, says Mark Kushinsky, founder and CEO of the Boston-based maid service brand. "It's all about community," he says.
The unconventional is MaidPro's approach to business success. The company opts for internal employees who know the business, rather than hiring hard-core sales people, to recruit franchisees and filter the proper people into the organization, says Kushinsky.
"It starts with franchise development where franchisees' expectations are clear from the get-go," he says. "Once you have crossed that hurdle you are obviously much more likely to have a happy franchisee because they made a good decision for themselves."
With 175 units in the U.S. and Canada, MaidPro's expansion has pushed Kushinsky to become more creative in his efforts to retain the company's strong personal connections. An idea forum, for example, allows for an open exchange of information to comment on and implement, including a recently launched strategy to help units obtain five-star reviews. MaidPro tested the plan with "amazing" results, he says, giving the franchisees credit where credit was due.
Franchise Update's annual STAR Awards are a big deal. There are many players but only a select few claim the winning trophies. Based on this year's research, we present the winners and top runners-up by category.
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