How Streamline Brands Improved the Quality (and Quantity) of Franchisee Feedback
Find out how they use FBR’s survey to build trust, drive strategic planning, and attract investors: Q&A with Streamline co-founder Paul Gerrard
Michelle Rowan, president & COO of Franchise Business Review, recently sat down with Paul Gerrard, co-founder and COO of Streamline Brands, which is the parent company of SafeSplash Swim School, SwimLabs Swim School, and Swimtastic Swim School. Paul shared why they went from an internal survey to using Franchise Business Review’s third-party franchisee satisfaction survey, how they use franchisee feedback to guide their strategic planning with the input of their Franchise Advisory Council, and how they used satisfaction data to demonstrate value to private equity investors.
Watch the video below for the full conversation.
Michelle Rowan: We started working with you back in 2018. I remember when I first reached out, you were doing an internal survey with your franchisees at that time. We’d love to hear why you decided to start with FBR?
Paul Gerrard: As you mentioned, we’d done an internal survey for a number of years. Although that gave us some good information we didn’t think it gave us information that allowed us to benchmark across other folks in our same industry, and the franchise community as a whole.
We wanted to understand how we were doing compared to other franchisors. That was one of the major reasons. The other one is, because we were doing the survey internally, the franchisees didn’t believe it was anonymous.
We didn’t think we were getting the frank and straightforward feedback that we’re looking for in a survey. That was solved by using FBR.
Michelle: That’s a great point. We hear that a lot – that franchisees hold back if they’re not sure how it’s being used. How has it changed when you get the data back?
Do you share the information with your franchisees? How did you approach the survey, because you were trying to build that trust that you wanted that feedback, and you wanted them to participate either anonymously or share their name?
Paul Gerrard, co-founder and COO, Streamline Brands
Paul: First of all, when we rolled out the survey we made a big deal of the fact that we were going to an outside agency, and they would be anonymous. The way we use the survey initially…our business is very cyclical and peaks in July, so the right time to do planning for the next year is in July.
You know what your numbers look like. You know what you’ve done from the perspective of meeting your objectives. You’re getting ready to go into an offseason, and that offseason is a great time to work on new things and accomplish some things that you don’t necessarily have time to do in the spring, during the ramp, as we call it.
We survey both our employees, with an internal survey, and we now survey our franchisees using FBR. We take both of those surveys, and a synopsis of what we’ve accomplished in the previous year, and we use that as the kick off to our annual strategy session in July.
That strategy session is all the senior leaders of the company and our Franchise Advisory Council. We come together, and we work on a joint plan for the entity going forward. We give [the Franchise Advisory Council] a copy of this survey except the candid, ad hoc comments. We give a presentation on it, then we try to pick out the things we think are most important in the survey, and the most important things our employees are telling us. Then, what we want to accomplish from a strategic perspective.
We bring all that together, and that’s the basis we use to develop the new strategic plan for the coming year. Out of that arise tactical plans.
Our annual conference is usually in October. We then present the survey to all the franchisees, and when we do that, we couple the plan with the survey saying, “Hey, this is what you’re telling us. Here is the plan that we created to address that, and so far in a few months, this is the progress we’ve made against that plan.”
Michelle: When you’re working with your FAC and your strategic plan, are you letting them also weigh in on what they feel like is the most important findings that came out, or what the top priorities are?
Paul: Absolutely. At some point in our strategy session, the franchisees are in one room, and the employees and the senior leadership teams in another room. They’re both creating their concept of what’s most important given their conversations with other franchisees, the survey, what they’ve heard from us in regard to what we’ve been able to do from a results perspective, and the resources we have to apply in the coming year. Then, we all come together. If you’ve done a good job, you come together and there’s a lot of synergy in those lists of things to do.
If there isn’t, then you have to work through that. In our last session, literally, the top six items the Franchise Advisory Council had, and top six items the leadership team had were the same. The priorities were a little different, but they were the same six items. It’s good to keep us aligned.
Michelle: I love it. You said you set out to use FBR to get some benchmark information, and hopefully get more people to participate, or to participate more honestly. Were you able to accomplish those goals when you switched to the FBR survey?
Paul: Absolutely. The participation rate went up. Unfortunately, with COVID, on our most recent survey the participation rate went down again. We think that’s the nature of the environment we’re currently in. But yes, our participation went up almost 80 percent. That’s phenomenal.
A big part of that was FBR staff calling the franchisees and encouraging them to respond to the survey, and being on top of reminding them to make sure they did it. We got a much more insightful survey, and a lot more context across a much larger percent of the franchisees. That was good. The benchmarking we use in lots of different ways.
For instance, in the latter part of 2018, we were looking to attract some financing for the company. We used the benchmarking and the survey to demonstrate where we stood to the potential private equity companies we were talking to, and how the organization was thought of by the franchisees. It saved them a lot of time, because they didn’t have to go out and survey the franchisees. We already had that survey done.
Michelle: That’s becoming more common; that’s a great point. I also want to say this was a hard year, especially for your industry. I know there was a decision to be made – whether you would still reach out and ask survey questions of your franchisees based on the financial commitment, and also given how busy your franchisees are.
I commend you for continuing that work. We do say getting that feedback annually from them is important. You demonstrated that you are using their feedback to help you figure out what’s most important. I wanted to take a minute and say I’m glad you continue to do that.
Paul: Thank you for working with us on it.
Michelle: Is there anything else that you want to tell us as we wrap up? I am glad that you’re getting the value that you set out to deliver from the survey, and that it’s well received from FAC and the franchisees, too.
Paul: It’s been an invaluable tool to us. We leverage it as much as we possibly can. I like the fact that you’re able to ask some of your own questions, not just the standard questions that FBR asks all franchisees. As you know, because we have a back office service center, we needed to ask questions around that part of the business specifically.
The fact that you enable us to do that helps us understand a part of the business that most franchisors don’t have. That’s been useful. I can say your staff is wonderful to work with, and I’ve enjoyed the relationship.
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