Building Strong Business and Community Relationships: The Key to Establishing a Presence in the Market
Franchising World, November 2006
Creating a strong brand identity through the power of networking. By Bill McPherson, CFE
The success of a franchise concept often relies on the competency and skill of its system. Many franchisors underestimate the impact of community networking, and fail to recognize how powerful it can be in boosting a company’s bottom line and determining longevity in the marketplace. Not only can networking attract new business prospects on various levels, it can embed a franchise in a community and turn it into a neighborhood landmark.
Since the company’s launch in 1985, Fastsigns International Inc. has focused on the importance of building relationships in local communities and emphasizing this marketing tool to franchisees continuously. From selecting the right franchisee candidates to providing ongoing support from home office, a franchisor organization can assist its network to become leaders in their communities and provide helpful tools to get them started.
Choose the Right Franchisees
It is important to choose franchisees who are able to network in their communities and serve as ambassadors to the brand. Potential franchisees should be carefully evaluated on their character and networking capabilities by filling out personality profiles, conducting in-depth interviews and looking at current affiliations with various organizations. Selecting candidates who have positive references, and a detailed history and knowledge of the community are proven to be able to build solid business relationships. A candidate with a positive and personable character can become a networking machine, especially if provided the right tools. Franchise systems should communicate early on to their franchisees that the majority of their time and effort as a franchise owner will be spent creating and maintaining these relationships, and that this activity is critical to their success.
Training and Motivation Franchisee training is a great opportunity for franchisors to teach new members of the system how to market their business on a grassroots level, and coach on building and maintaining community relationships. New members should be trained to be experts not only in their industry, but to position themselves as experts in the community as well. Encourage new franchisees to join chambers of commerce and participate in other community organizations such as parent-teacher associations, little leagues, rotary groups and business-networking groups.
Franchise systems can also survey their existing franchisees regularly on their return on investments from networking, various business partnerships and philanthropic activities. Surveys provide helpful information on effective marketing activities in current markets, which can be used to educate new franchisees and make recommendations on becoming involved with specific groups in the community. For example, a partnership with a local Girls Scout organization may be more effective and yield a very high return on investment in Omaha than the same type of partnership in Los Angeles.
Lead by Example
Become involved with national non-profit organizations. National partnerships can have a great influence on franchisees and serve as a gateway in getting involved with an organization’s local chapters. A long-term partnership with a national organization will ultimately strengthen a brand on the local level.
Franchise organizations can also encourage franchisees to become active in their communities by creating programs that offer a matching fund for association involvements and sponsorships. This is a great way to motivate members of the franchise system and help them realize the benefits of community involvement in increasing business and good will in the community. Such programs often guide franchisees in launching their own philanthropic initiatives.
Set Requirements, Benchmarks and Goals
Franchise companies can further emphasize the importance of community involvement by making it mandatory. This is especially helpful for new franchisees who many not have previous networking experience. Requiring one charity partnership annually can get the ball rolling for franchisees, allowing them to see the benefits of such activity and motivating them to explore other partnerships on their own. As franchisees grow and become successful in their own markets, franchise systems can help them maintain their community relationships and create new ones by setting annual benchmarks and goals. Regular franchisee communication on the results of partnerships and reporting success from various campaigns is another way the home office can gain knowledge on what is most effective for their brand.
A Domino Effect
It takes one great relationship to start a chain of community-networking opportunities. As a myriad of companies compete for market share, decision- makers are always more likely to give their business to well-known companies in the community. As business gets referred to other organizations, a franchisee can quickly become a “mover and shaker” and a leader in the community.
For example, Shane Beard is a Fastsigns franchisee in Naperville, Ill. whose business thrives from his community involvement. He started small and donated a few banners to a local Boy Scout troop. Shortly after, Boy Scout troops from all over the region were bringing him new business. Realizing the impact of this small philanthropic gesture, Beard started attending charity events and was asked to sit on the board of a few organizations where he met several high-powered business executives and decision-makers of large business institutions who later became customers. The more involved he became in the community, the more business and sponsorship opportunities were presented. Today, Beard attributes 60 percent of new business from such community involvement.
Think Beyond Your Niche
Franchisees should go beyond their immediate audience and build relationships with individuals and groups not directly related to their industry or products. Business referrals are often considered the best form of advertising. Networking in this way creates another domino effect of new customers and business prospects.
Franchise companies should encourage franchisees to partner with vendors and suppliers, as many marketing opportunities can arise from such relationships. Vendors often rely on the customer feedback of their larger accounts. In this case, a franchise system can offer valuable information from its organization in exchange for inclusion in various advertising campaigns, client testimonials, direct mailings and other marketing activities. In turn, franchisees can become a part of the vendor’s marketing campaign, and greatly increase their brand visibility among audiences they were not able to reach before.
As the number of competitors increase in the marketplace, franchise concepts can differentiate themselves and create a flourishing brand by continuously encouraging their franchisees to create a strong brand identity within their communities, through the power of networking.
Bill McPherson, CFE, is vice president of domestic franchise sales for Fastsigns International Inc. He can be reached at 800-827-7446, ext. 5616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.