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Maintain Your Identity, Connect Franchisees With An Online Store

July 2009 Franchising World

The options for a company store are endless. Launching a company store can empower franchisees to take advantage of branded materials while assuring system consistency.
By Greg Muzzillo, CFE 
Image is everything. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that franchisors work smarter to maintain a consistent, effective corporate identity and branding that positions their products or services ahead of the Competition. With franchisees scattered across the country, and in some cases the world, consistency sometimes seems like an impossible challenge. Consider the time, money and effort that has been devoted to growing brand equity and the immense value that lies within the logo itself. To operate an effective franchise system, each individual franchise owner must implement proper brand usage. If one franchisee goes off the beaten path and utilizes the brand inappropriately, the situation could have damaging effects on the entire system.
As important as it is to create a uniform identity within your franchise system, it is just as important that franchisees have access to branded materials on demand. Remember that franchisees have the same goal: to increase profitability for their business. In one form or another, franchisors all have the same goal, as well: to support their franchisees in expanding a profitable business. To make these dreams realities, customized marketing materials including brochures, forms, stationery, and more, must be conveniently available to franchisees when they need them, wherever they need them. From the approval and ordering process to the shipment of the final product, getting approved, logo typed items in the hands of franchisees has traditionally been a tedious process. One method for simplifying these processes is implementing a comprehensive company store. Online stores are a viable option for franchisors who are looking to streamline processes, increase efficiencies and give franchisees access to their brand 24 hours a day, seven days a week. By launching a company store, the branding remains consistent through the controlled use of the logo. Brand standards can be maintained without requiring a strict review and approval process to be completed by a member of the corporate staff. When franchisees log into the store, they are instantly connected to templated materials and are given an array of customization options.  
Wave of the Future 
Franchisors who are looking to give franchisees the ability to launch innovative marketing promotions on demand can add a print-on-demand component to their stores. This gives franchisees the option to create custom, one-to-one marketing campaigns that speak directly to their target audience. Personalized marketing is the wave of the future as it can create a custom piece for each individual recipient of the campaign. 
With company stores, the franchisor is removed from the ordering process. At the same time the franchisor has the option of receiving in-depth reports highlighting inventory levels, purchasing reports, topselling products and more. These reports can be analyzed and incorporated into a system-wide marketing plan that takes into consideration franchisee feedback on the products with high success rates compared to those with lower success rates.
Before launching a store, it is important that franchisors research their options to determine the best e-commerce partner for the company. When choosing a supplier, the franchisor should consider the company’s experience and knowledge of its business goals and objects. It is important that franchisors find a good fit so that they can cultivate a healthy, trusting relationship that lasts well into the future.  
Effective Strategies 
After the store provider is determined, products are selected and the store goes live, franchisors should consider the following strategies to manage and maintain the company store effectively.
Launching an owner store without training the franchise owners who will be using the system is like flipping the switch on a light that does not have a bulb. It is useless. If franchisors want the owners to utilize the system, they must commit to providing training on the store when a new franchise owner enters into the system. As simple as it is, becoming familiar with the system will help to promote best practices for a new member of the organization. Don’t let the training stop here. Franchisors should hold refresher courses highlighting any store updates at all system-wide meetings such as conventions or annual events. Whether it is a demonstration on how to use the store itself or how to best utilize the products, continued education will help franchise owners, seasoned veterans and new owners alike, develop an increased comfort level with the system resulting in increased use.  
Consistent promotion of the products that are available in the owner store keeps franchisees up-to-date about all of the valuable resources that are at their fingertips. Franchisees should be updated when a new product is added, if a product is discontinued or if there is a special on specific products. Keeping the store “topof-mind” with franchisees is vital for creating a buzz around the store. Owners will be encouraged to utilize this prime resource to create targeted materials that highlight the benefits of their individual location.
By taking advantage of the advanced reporting tools, franchisors can make valuable modifications to the product offering. For example, if one product is flying off the shelves, they can consider adding a variety of similar products within the same line. If a product has been sitting around for months, they can evaluate the need for the product and consider further research to determine if the product is ineffective or a problem lies within the use of the product. Franchisors can offer their system-seasonal materials that will meet the changing needs of the individual locations and create eye-catching promotions that drive sales.   
Encourage Feedback 
What good is a company store if franchisees are not using it or if they do not see value in it? None. To run a successful store, owners must be encouraged to give feedback regarding the products that are offered, as well as the order-execution process. If a franchisee stops using the store because it always takes 15 business days for him or her to receive the ordered products, the problem cannot be resolved unless the franchisor is first made aware of the situation. Pop-up surveys after completed purchases or quarterly e-mail surveys to the entire franchise system are viable methods for gathering feedback. This information can be utilized to determine the reasons that franchise owners use the store, the various reasons for not using the store and valuable feedback regarding upgrades to make the experience more valuable to the franchisees.
These basic steps will help the franchisor create a store that accomplishes the goal of getting branding products into the hands of the people who need them most, the franchisees. Franchisors should not underestimate the value of their brand. By launching a company store, they can empower owners to take full advantage of branded materials while eliminating any worry about inconsistency within the system. The options for a company store are endless, from the number of products, number of styles including color and quantity breaks, a customized store can be developed that meets the needs of a franchisor of any size. Increased efficiencies in a franchise operation makes everybody happy—franchisees and franchisors alike.  

Greg Muzzillo, CFE, is founder and co-CEO of Proforma. He can be reached at 1-800-PROFORMA or  .