Lonely at the Top?: There's Still Plenty Of Opportunity To Learn From Others

So you're one of the heavyweights in your territory.

You have several units--maybe even several brands--and you do a pretty good job of controlling your area. In fact, other franchisees in the chain often look to you for answers. And when the franchisor introduces a new product or advertising campaign your voice mail and e-mail overflow with peer requests for advice. You're a hot property for the suppliers, the franchisor, and your franchisee association or advisory council. Your franchisor spends more time with other franchisees because they see you don't need their help. You have dozens, even hundreds of employees and your share of G&A expenses. Your banker and the institutional lenders love you (for the time being), and you have more opportunities than you can evaluate.

Lonely at the top sometimes, isn't it? And there are unique challenges.
A multi-unit operator often faces issues smaller franchisees will never see. For instance, you must develop a management structure that motivates, trains, controls, and develops all your units. In these times of rising prices and shrinking consumer budgets, decisions about labor, cost of goods, and pricing are not easy. When a new initiative by the franchisor brings some change, the multi-unit operator often faces a significant investment because of the sheer number of their units. This can cause larger operators to be more cautious about embracing a new program than the operators who have one or two units. It can be challenging to develop a compensation plan for supervisors, managers, and hourly employees. Facilities maintenance, capital expenses, remodeling and new construction costs all need top management decisions. Just visiting all the units can be overwhelming at times!

Yes, multi-unit operators also enjoy many benefits, but this model clearly is not for everyone. I heard someone define an entrepreneur as "someone willing to work 16 hours a day for themselves to avoid working 8 hours a day for someone else."

This issue of Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine profiles multi-unit franchisees who have built successful models that have helped them "dominate" their markets. A common thread for many of these operators is their ability to branch out from their own worlds and learn from others who have encountered similar business challenges in different fields. As a leader in a chain it can be difficult to find peers to learn and grow with, but expanding relationships outside your chain, or even your industry, can be a highly positive experience. Whether through national trade associations or at events like the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference, it's important for growing multi-unit franchisees to meet other people facing similar business problems and opportunities. The franchise world is full of qualified people willing to share their knowledge and experiences, even among the most direct competitors.

Every time I attend a conference or meeting I learn something that benefits my franchise units. Working with and learning from others in the franchising world has helped me in so many ways in my business over the years. In addition, the friendships I've gained have enriched my life.

This is my final column as the chair of the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference. I have enjoyed my term and hope that the new Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine will continue delivering something of value for you and your franchising business. And as always, let us know what you think.

Published: December 8th, 2008

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In Loving Memory Of Timothy Gardner (1987-2014)