Franchise systems play up their technology as a differentiator, but Oxi Fresh delivers--in a big way. In fact, other service brands have approached them about using a customized version of their home-built software. "Brands reach out to us all the time," says company founder Jonathan Barnett. So far, Oxi has partnered with one brand, Midtown Chimney Sweeps, which relocated from Southern California to Denver to work more closely with the company.
Before partnering with Oxi Fresh, says Byron Schramm, founder and president of Midtown Chimney Sweeps, "We were a small owner-operated company with branches in several states. We needed a quality scheduling center and researched a lot of brands for solutions." After partnering with Oxi Fresh, sales more than doubled in the first 12 months. "Jonathan's systems takes technology to a whole different level. For route optimization and zone scheduling, there's nothing like this."
"It's a great partnership because Byron keeps challenging us, and Oxi Fresh benefits too," says Barnett. And more partnerships are in the offing.
Why? The technical reason, explains Lead Software Engineer Andy Hoffner, who designed the system, is that the core application uses a single, unified code base that underlies everything else he and his IT team build for the company. "It ensures that new features automatically benefit all brands, while allowing us the ability to customize along the way to fit each brand's individual needs."
In other words, every improvement, addition, or tweak the company makes is potentially available to any other brand. "The way we design things is looking forward to change because our own internal needs are constantly evolving. It's important for us not to take shortcuts," says Hoffner.
"When we started Oxi Fresh, we had an Excel spreadsheet for every single franchise," says Barnett, who founded the brand in 2006 when he was just 26. They had to manually build out a calendar every month for each franchisee and key in all the required information for every job. This was time-consuming and difficult enough when there were only a handful of franchisees, but as the company grew it became increasingly unmanageable.
"It was a very hard time for us. I think we got up to 70 different Excel spreadsheets for 70 different franchises," says Barnett. They put all the spreadsheets on a computer that acted like a server, and gave each franchisee a link to download their spreadsheet every night for the next day's jobs. "I thought that was a huge win, since we'd been emailing them until we figured out how to do that," he says.
Still the system had a long way to go. One big problem was that the spreadsheets were read-only, so franchisees couldn't make any changes to the schedule, and both they and customers had to call the home office--a lot. This was not all that long ago.
Once they realized the impossibility of the situation, they began looking outside for a software solution. However, they not only didn't have a lot to spend in those early days, they couldn't find what they wanted in existing products, so they hired a company to build it for them. This is how they met Hoffner, who was on the team that built the original custom software for them, which took more than a year to launch.
Soon after, they bought the code and hired Hoffner to work directly for them--and they haven't stopped improving it since. "We've coded more than 2,000 individual features since we started working directly together," says Hoffner. And he has a list for 300 more.
"Speed through systems" is a major theme at Oxi Fresh, an approach that seeks to make a franchisee's online activities as quick, simple, and accessible as possible. Everything in the system is accessible through a single log-in through its FAST (Franchise Advanced Systems and Technologies) website--as long as you remember your user name and password, Barnett jokes.
"We want them to be able to check their job in the field fast, for our customers to book online, and for royalty fees to get charged automatically," he says. "Also, the system tracks sales from each marketing code so they can put in the source cost and get an ROI for every single marketing dollar they spend--automatically in real time without doing any additional work."
In addition to integrating with more than six external platforms, the system aggregates data across those partners to enhance their usefulness to franchisees. "Most of our third-party integrations have a high degree of automation, requiring very little if anything from the franchisees to perform email and text message marketing, while still providing them with the ability to do their own customizations and one-off campaigns as desired," says Hoffner. "The effect is that many activities can act on 'auto-pilot' most of the time. Marketing is further categorized so brand-level marketing activities can also have visible results to the franchise network," he adds.
"We can also utilize this data to help drive workflow, to time scheduling emails with follow-up calls, or to follow up with customers that left excellent feedback to thank them," he says. Or leverage survey feedback scores to better target customers with email marketing and increase open rates.
"We've tried to automate as many things as we can with a couple of clicks," says Hoffner. "We're always trying to work at how we can be more efficient for the franchisees, to capture as much data as we can (and accurately) to get franchisees involved and fit their real-world needs."
Finally, there's franchise recruitment. "When we're talking to folks and selling them on the business model, everything funnels back to the software and the call center and the fact that they're able to scale and grow," says Kris Antolak, vice president at Oxi Fresh. "We're getting folks coming to us from other brands, from big franchise systems, who see our technology and can't believe we're so far ahead. When we get people to our discovery day and show it to them, it just slam-dunk closes the deal."
Antolak says 95 percent of their franchisees have never cleaned a carpet before--they're buying the business model. "We close over 90 percent of the people who come out for discovery day," he says. "Having this technology is vital not only for our growth, but also for our franchise sales group. It's definitely part of the reason we've grown so fast--100 units in the past 18 months or so." Today, Oxi Fresh is rapidly approaching the 300-unit mark.
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