Transparency and Disclosure: Denny's relies on Communication, Mutual Respect, and Feedback

John DillonJohn Dillon is a straight shooter in describing what he's been doing as vice president of marketing and product development at Denny's. "I've spent the last five years working to drive the overall marketing strategy for the brand and spearhead compelling marketing campaigns that will help drive sales in our restaurants," he says.

Dillon is no newcomer to franchise marketing. Before joining Denny's, he was vice president of marketing for the NBA's Houston Rockets. He also spent 10 years with Yum Brands, where he held various leadership positions in brand marketing, national product launches, menu development, consumer insights and strategy, product innovation, field marketing, and finance.

We asked him about Denny's approach to franchisee relationships and collaboration, and what role strategies like "full disclosure" and "transparency" have had had on sales, customer satisfaction, and system growth.

Describe your role at Denny's.
As vice president of marketing and product development, my role includes developing new products, optimizing the core menu, creating the marketing calendar for the year, and ensuring that our franchise partners have the support they need to succeed. We are very proactive in sharing our marketing plans with our franchise partners and include them in the development process. Our franchisees are our eyes and ears to the field, and their contributions and opinions are invaluable. They are on the front lines every day with the guests and have a very good sense of what will resonate best.

What role do terms like "full disclosure" and "transparency" play in your overall marketing scheme for reaching prospects and for assisting existing franchisees?
Transparency and full disclosure are imperatives for a successful franchise partnership. As far as working with existing franchisees, our goal is always to be collaborative and transparent to ensure that our franchisees have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions that affect their restaurants. The same spirit of full disclosure applies to reaching franchise prospects as well. It is very important to be open and honest from the start of a potential partnership to ensure that expectations are aligned.

Why is a policy of full disclosure important for today's franchise buyers?
There is a lot of information available to franchise buyers today and a lot of growing concepts that are getting into the franchise model. Any brand considering franchising must operate under a policy of full disclosure if they want the relationship to succeed. Franchisees are the operators of our business and need full disclosure to successfully run their business,.

How is Denny's reaching prospects today? What's changed about the "openness" of the processes?
We continue to reach prospects through a variety of channels. We are fortunate that as a nearly 60-year-old brand, we are well known in the franchise community. We are currently placing an emphasis on growing the brand outside of the U.S., so we're focused on finding well-qualified franchisees to help us grow Denny's internationally. Being open with prospective franchise partners continues to be essential to find the right match for the brand.

Doesn't it just make sense to come right out and be as open as possible with prospects?
Absolutely. We have a very collaborative relationship with our franchisees and a very strong franchise group organized under the Denny's Franchise Association (DFA). We work closely with the DFA to ensure that prospects know exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect from the brand. As with any business relationship, open and honest communication is essential.

How have prospects changed in the past 5 to 10 years?
Qualified prospects still remain focused on the brand's financial and growth performance. However, as a legacy brand, the question of relevancy often comes up and continues to be of equal importance.

What marketing strategies are you using to be more open and transparent with prospects?
Franchising is a relationship business, so each year it is important for us to let our target audience group know at Denny's. To help do so, we collaborate with national trade publications such as Franchise Update, Franchise Times, and the Wall Street Journal to keep them informed. Of equal importance, we also exhibit and network at the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference, Restaurant Finance & Development Conference, and attend the Restaurant Leadership and IFA conferences. We also have a very informative franchise recruitment website where we offer interactive webinars four to six times a year. We also welcome potential prospects to contact our franchise team directly by phone or email for any inquiries.

What do you use to transparently provide information to prospects after initial contact and throughout the process?
Our online portal and franchise webinars have been excellent tools for us to communicate with potential prospects. Each webinar lasts about 20 minutes and includes a live chat feature for participants to submit a question anytime during the presentation. After the webinar, we use an email string where we share current and relevant news alerts on Denny's. Our recruitment process has many stages and is generally measured from interest to real intent, and then completion of the franchise application. We provide each of our candidates with a number of resources, including an FDD, sales literature, and franchisee testimonials.

What is changing in terms of how existing franchisees need to communicate?
Over the last several years, the expectation for regular communication has increased from both sides. We live in a much more collaborative time today, where information is passed back and forth quickly and regularly by email and the expectation for prompt response and feedback is expected.

What are the three most important keys to creating open and transparent communication channels with your existing franchisees?

  1. Regular coordination and communication. By that I mean that communication cannot be a one-way street. Franchisees and the brand need to work together to come up with marketing and menu ideas that receive buy-in from both parties.
  2. Mutual respect. A franchise partner chooses to work with a brand because they have a passion for the product and what the brand stands for with consumers. And the brand is selecting the franchise partner because we believe they can succeed in growing the brand through their franchise locations. Maintaining this mutual respect comes from regular communication and collaboration, as outlined above.
  3. Feedback. The feedback from the franchise community is essential to develop successful programs forward. We solicit feedback from our franchisees regularly to understand what is working in their eyes and what we can improve upon. We take that feedback to heart as we develop new programs for the brand.

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