Think About Your Franchise

Saturday afternoon, my girlfriend and I spent much of the day painting my daughter Margaret’s bedroom. (Apparently the bright green she picked when she was 10 years old was a little “robust” for her 16-year-old taste.) At one point, I ran out for another set of rollers and some more painters tape. My girlfriend asked me to pick up a Chick-fil-A sandwich for her on my way back. I said “sure,” and headed off to Target for supplies.

After I picked up the supplies, I pulled into the Chick-fil-A, and my heart sank. There was a long line of cars waiting at the drive-through. I knew that a line that long at the McDonalds down the street signaled a long wait, and I would be better off parking and going in to the store.

But then I saw a couple of staffers approaching the cars at the end of the line with iPads in hand, and I decided to give the drive-through a try. Sure enough, taking orders like that really did speed things up, and I was back on the street with Liza’s sandwich in a jiffy.

That experience got me to thinking, as I often do, what lessons it might hold for us. And I started musing on the nature of franchises like Chick-fil-A in general.

What do you really get when you invest your start-up money ($280 – $815K, in the case of Chick-fil-a) and ongoing fees in a franchise? Mainly, two things: 1) branding and advertising, to help jump-start your sales, and 2) systems, to jump-start your operations.

I’ve always enjoyed Chick-fil-A’s advertising, with desperate cows begging us to “eat mor chikin.” (Who doesn’t like cows painting billboards?) But seeing those kids with iPads running outside to take orders and speed up the car line, now that’s a system.

Successful systems are the heart of any franchised business. They’re the key to ensuring customers are treated uniformly from store to store. When they work, customers zip through drive-throughs with smiles on their faces. And when they break down (as seems to be the case with that McDonalds I was talking about earlier and its bloated menu), customers gripe, grumble, and give up.

What do your systems look like?

Let’s say you thought about franchising yourself, just to take a good hard look at your business from an outside perspective. What sort of systems do you have in place for your franchisees? Are they written, or just verbal? Do your staff all understand them identically, or does one employee understand things one way and the other understand them a different way? (And if that’s so, does either employee get it right?) Are your systems effective enough that you could use them to attract franchisees and justify ongoing fees? Are you adapting them to keep up with technology and client demand?

If not, why not? Are you just “winging it”? If so, how’s that working out for you? Is a lack of clearly delineated systems slowing things down, making life harder, and keeping you from delivering your services or growing your business the way you’d like?

Take a few minutes to think about how you would organize your systems to franchise your business. You’ll find it makes life easier and more profitable even without taking that step!