Q&A with Pallavi Jha, Multi-Unit Franchisee, Dale Carnegie Training India
Name: Pallavi Jha
Title: Multi-unit franchisee
Brand: Dale Carnegie Training India
Units: 7, in India
Years in franchising: 18
Pallavi Jha set out on her own journey as an entrepreneur and multi-unit Dale Carnegie Training owner in 2003 with seven franchise agreements across India. After 18 years with a service brand, Pallavi shares her insights into owning, running, and growing a franchised service business.
Why did you choose to franchise with a service brand?
My career spanned the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), engineering, and financial services sectors before I became an entrepreneur. As I began my entrepreneurial journey at the start of the Millennium, I started a series of dot.com ventures, one of which went on to become the global top-two cricket portal. We considered new opportunities to diversify, given that dot.coms were a high-risk business where any crash could set in quite early. We began to evaluate the franchising route, looking for an exciting brand to work with while allowing our own entrepreneurial spirit to find expression. We were looking for something that was tried and tested with low regulatory risk (the financial services business we had previously operated was very volatile on this front) and that would be a comparatively lower capital investment. Another factor we considered was finding a concept that was not seasonal, but would always have perennial demand. We found that service brands like Dale Carnegie often fulfil these criteria.
How did you choose the sector and brand you did?
One of our dot.com ventures in financial services was struggling under the combined effect of the dot.com crash – in addition to an industry scam that had greatly affected the financial sector at the time. As we looked for ways to reinvent our business model, we began offering investor awareness and financial training services. Once we saw the results of our efforts, our eyes opened up to the huge potential for soft skills training in India.
By the late 1990s, we were beginning to experience the impact of the economic liberalization that opened up India to doing business with the outside world for the first time. Indian companies were reaching out to international partners, suppliers, and customers. While there were many traditional Indians who were good at technical skills like engineering, many people struggled when it came to being influential with their international counterparts. We identified the need for more managerial savvy and confident business people to become proficient with the global standards. Additionally, there was a huge need for soft skills. Through franchising, we saw an opportunity to partner with the best service brands in the world.
Clear about our purpose to help Indian companies become globally competitive, we knew it would be important to partner with a solid global brand like Dale Carnegie. Of all the known players in the learning and development space at the time, Dale Carnegie was unique. First of all, it had a strong reputation, and its book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was well-known among the corporate elite. My grandfather had a personal copy of the book that I have laid eyes on since I learned how to read!
However, it was not just that it was the first or the oldest player – it was a brand that was continuing to thrive long after its founder had passed on. This gave us the confidence that this was a well-organized business. Second, nearly three generations of customers praised and appreciated the value of the brand’s training. Third, it had a presence in 67 countries (this was in 2000; now it is in 85 countries). All of this told us how universal Dale Carnegie’s training is with its cross-cultural, intergenerational appeal, and without language barriers. Last, given the popularity of the book in India, there was prevailing brand recognition, although in a niche segment at the time. Dale Carnegie easily stood out from its competitors. Ultimately, it was an easy choice for us.
What different skill sets are required for service brand franchising?
Service brands are knowledge-intensive and the premium is on the customer experience. Customer experiences are vulnerable to culture, language, and the present context. In manufacturing, once the machinery is set up, you can mass produce and calibrate for consistent quality. In the service industry, every customer and every project needs unique treatment. You are as good as your last delivery and must constantly be cognizant of getting it right every single time. Therefore, it is your employees who are critical for sustainable business success. They must not only have deep domain expertise, but also strong customer service and powerful relational skills. Our employees are constantly evolving and sharpening these skills. This is a very important differentiator for our business, even as we undergo this digital transformation.
Also, in service brand franchising, you are the brand. By “you” I mean every single person on the team The experience others have while interacting with you and the emotions and impressions you create become the brand experience. So the most important thing in service brand franchising is the ability to mirror the brand personality in everything you do and say –from the culture in your office to the interaction with clients and consumers, and even how the community at large perceives you. Service brand franchise owners will do well to remember this.
What are the advantages to choosing a service brand?
The biggest advantage of owning a service brand is that you do not need to invest as much in capital or heavy fixed assets that make the up-front investment and the running overheads expensive. That said, it’s important to know that there are still important investments to be made in both local brand building and recruiting a top-notch team. This helps your business get to breakeven. However, it’s most important to choose a service brand that really aligns with your personal values and purpose. With the right passion, any service business is likely to succeed multifold.
How does having a service brand benefit/complement your other brand(s)?
For any business to thrive, it needs strong and growing client relationships. Since a service brand is experiential, giving that magical value to the customer assures your growth can be exponential. When I started as a Dale Carnegie franchisee, I also ran our own financial service business and a cricket portal. When we first launched Dale Carnegie, we leveraged shared services like finance, HR, and IT from our other businesses, which helped keep our costs lower. Previously, we had launched new brands from the ground up, gaining experience that helped us to build and percolate a high-recall brand in the learning & development sector, well beyond the niche that knew of Dale Carnegie.
On the other hand, even with the universality of the Dale Carnegie business, no matter what business you are in or what profession you belong to, you will always need those soft skills to succeed. It helped us to easily open doors to more of our client relationships. We were able to provide that magical value to these clients. These relationships became important for our other businesses too. As a big global brand, the business had a positive brand rub-off on our other ventures. There were synergies both ways.
What would you recommend to anyone considering a service brand?
First, buy a brand that aligns with your passion. Second, build a team that shares the same pride and commitment as you do for the service your business is providing. Third, decrease “experience volatility” by creating playbooks for every customer interaction, and then relentlessly coach and upskill yourself and the team. Last, be mindful of the fact that in a service brand in particular, with every great human experience you also create a virtuous cycle of appreciation, testimonials, referrals, and goodwill for an unstoppable business.
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