Published May 8, 2020

Smart Ideas Project 2020: The Path Forward from COVID-19

COVID-19 quickly escalated from a health crisis to an economic crisis, and franchising, like most other businesses, is being impacted in some way. Some are completely shut down, some are working in some kind of modified/limited capacity, and others are still working hard and seeing normal or increased revenues.

At Franchise Business Review we have been fortunate to work with over 1,100 brands represented by franchise professionals who are willing and eager to share ideas across the franchise community. Several years ago, we launched our first Smart Ideas Project to collect and compile the best of them.

As the pandemic unfolded, we launched our second Smart Ideas Project, with the goal of gathering the smart ideas franchisors are putting in place in this unprecedented situation. No matter how big or small the idea, as long as it has a positive impact, it’s a smart one! 


What Smart Franchisors Are Doing

Like other businesses across the country and the world, franchises have had to get creative in how they deliver their products and services – from implementing curbside pick-up to going entirely digital to completely changing priorities – basically overnight. And although many of the ideas we collected were generated out of the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, they can also be implemented as we begin recovering and returning to the “new normal.” Here’s what smart franchisors have shared: 

1. Appreciate/celebrate your corporate support team
Staff are adjusting to working from home, juggling home and work stress, and in most cases working LONG hours. Find ways to recognize them. Huntington Learning Centers leadership told staff to take a day off of their choice in the next two months, on them!

2. Rethinking work from home policies, beyond the stay-at-home restrictions
Corporate teams are discussing how they can offer work from home options some days on a long-term basis. Some franchisors discussed creating specific days staff are required to be in the office (for group meetings, planning, etc…) or days that COULD be from home if the employee chooses.

3. Anticipating changes consumers want in their interactions/in-store experience
Coronavirus may forever change the customers’ views on health and safety. Franchisors are anticipating things like training frontline staff on new safety measures, removing everyday items that are typically touched by staff or customers that are not really necessary, wearing masks, etc.

4. Offering free resources to franchisees
One franchisor created virtual trainings on timely topics, such as managing stress, leading in uncertain times, etc., and also made them available to their franchisee network to share with clients and the general public as a free service. Another franchisor will pay the employee portion of benefits premiums if the employee has coverage under the company’s sponsored benefits plans.  

5. Constant communication
Communication is a common theme running through many of the responses, with franchisors are looking at new and different ways to connect with franchisees now and in the future. Franchise leaders are doing daily blogs and/or daily/weekly videos, and seeing franchisees are showing up and engaging. (Also read Two-Way Communication: Making Sure Franchisees and Employees Are Heard During the COVID-19 Crisis.)

6. Virtual town halls
Creating opportunities for communication regionally to give smaller groups face time with the executives, and being transparent and accessible- especially at a time when franchisees are nervous or being asked to quickly pivot their services, e.g., switching to curbside pick-up or delivering services online. 

7. Peer engagement
Chicken Salad Chick’s franchisees naturally started talking to each other about what was working in their communities to work through the pandemic and the corporate team leveraged that to ramp up communications with best practices to owners across the system. Other franchisors are seeing similar trends and looking to implement more formalized peer groups. (FBR offers a free workbook with a step-by-step plan for implementing peer groups that you can download here.) 

8. Panel of pros
As we mentioned above, franchisees can be one of the greatest sources for ideas. Use your franchisees to talk about best practices and challenges, or answer questions from the whole community about what they are doing in their locations. One franchisor we spoke with was doing this on Zoom calls. 

9. One-to-one outreach
Franchisors are stepping up one-to-one communication with franchisees more than ever, even if just to lend an ear. They are finding that franchisees are scared in many instances, and people are hungry to connect. One brand divided up the list of franchise partners among their management and support teams to do one-to-one contact calls to check in with them.

10. Pulse surveys
Franchisors are also checking in with both franchisees and employees to see how they’re coping and show support using pulse surveys. The surveys ask a handful of questions to identify immediate needs and concerns, as well as collect data to evaluate performance post-crisis. Franchise Business Review is offering free franchisee pulse surveys to our clients and over 12 have already launched them in their systems, and we’re now offering free employee pulse surveys (email us if you’re interested). 

Do you have other Smart Ideas to share? We’d love to hear them!

About the Author: Michelle Rowan

Michelle is the president of FBR, the former Chair of the International Franchise Association’s Women’s Franchise Committee. and a Certified Franchise Executive. She is the recipient of the 2022 Crystal Compass Award, has facilitated CEO Performance Groups and Executive Networking Groups and is also a mentor of UNH college students. When she is not at work she is usually reading, playing outside, or hanging out with her husband and daughter.
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