THE NEW FACE OF MANAGEMENT

Franchise Development

Key takeaways from management lessons learned by leading a brand through a pandemic.

By JJ Sorrenti, Best Life Brands

When I accepted the position as the new CEO of Best Life Brands in early 2020, I was prepared to learn a new line of business, connect with my new colleagues face-to-face and oversee the company’s strategic growth plan. What I wasn’t prepared for was a global pandemic a few weeks into my new role that would hurt the economy and fundamentally change the way we work overnight.

Even when we all return to comfortably gathering in-person, this pandemic has taught us the value of frequent communication in multiple channels.”

When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early March of last year, my first challenge as CEO of Best Life Brands, along with all the CEOs around the world, was to react and pivot quickly to keep our business moving forward in the midst of unprecedented challenges. And I had to do it with everyone working from home and finding ways to virtually connect with three franchise networks.

It was a challenging year, but like so many others, our company adapted to not only survive, but thrive. And in many instances, we are stronger franchise organizations as we head into 2021. Here are some key takeaways on what our leadership team has learned weathering the 2020 pandemic.

Communication is king.

Pandemic or not, there will always be a hurdle connecting with your whole franchise system in person, especially as a franchise network grows. Last year, with the stay-at-home restrictions, we strengthened our outreach to franchisees utilizing more frequent email communication, one-on-one dialogue via Zoom and hosting our annual conference virtually, for the first time ever. We also quickly transitioned to hosting virtual discovery days for prospective franchisees and online training for new owners. These not only allowed franchisees to open more quickly, but also gave us a more cost-effective and nimble way to expand our client reach in a much quicker fashion. The surprising part is how seamless it has been, allowing us to have discovery days more often because we’re not accommodating travel schedules. Even when we all return to comfortably gathering in-person, this pandemic has taught us the value of frequent communication in multiple channels. 

Prioritize health and safety above all else.

The pandemic has brought a heightened awareness to making so-called “life and death” decisions in business. The single most important goal for business owners and operators should be to prioritize the safety of employees and customers. Best Life Brands has always worked with that in mind as our brands care for our most vulnerable population — seniors in their later years. Other businesses that didn’t have these end-of-life comforts and/or decisions before 2020 have suddenly come to embrace them as well, implementing the proper precautions even when it impacted the bottom line. We are a better society as a whole with this kind of empathy for our people and our customers. And this focus on safety should never go away.

There is little doubt to the benefits of the franchise business model, but 2020 and the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic have shown the lasting value of having a support network.”

Franchising is a lifeline in a crisis.

There is little doubt to the benefits of the franchise business model, but 2020 and the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic have shown the lasting value of having a support network. The economic recovery will come from a combination of big picture strategy from franchisors as well as boots-on-the-ground franchisees on Main Street all working together to improve the brand. Our corporate team worked to ensure franchisees took advantage of all the stimulus and federal and state programs. This is where being part of a franchise network was invaluable, because there was a lot to learn in a very short time. As a franchisor, we helped distill the information and lighten the load for our franchisees. Partnering this way in the future will only strengthen our businesses from the bottom up. And I predict that the bond that was forged in this pandemic will provide important lessons and stronger franchisor-franchisee relations when the next challenge arises.

As with many franchise networks, the last year forced us to embrace changes, some of those changes will remain, and we will all be better for it.”

Respond to problems with solutions that become strengths.

Daily lives have changed, and businesses have had to step up and change as well; not just for the present moment, but for the long-term vision of the business. In response to COVID-19, our fastest growing brand, Blue Moon Estate Sales, launched a reservationonly system for estate sale shoppers to limit foot traffi c and adhere to social distancing guidelines. Interestingly, the response to this new way of doing things was overwhelmingly positive, with customers enjoying a more personal shopping experience and less time waiting to enter a sale. Th e reservation system is now a permanent part of the Blue Moon Estate Sales business model. As with many franchise networks, the last year forced us to embrace changes, some of those changes will remain, and we will all be better for it.

While we’re still in the midst of this crisis, I am confi dent that last year helped us all grow as franchisors. For Best Life Brands, this pandemic has taught us the value of frequent communication, always prioritizing the safety of employees and clients, leaning in to the support from a network and embracing change instead of resisting it. Th e challenges we faced and have overcome in 2020 will no doubt make us stronger business leaders in 2021 and beyond.

JJ Sorrenti is CEO of Best Life Brands, LLC, a holding company that includes ComForCare and At Your Side, premier franchised providers of home care; CarePatrol, the nation’s largest franchised senior placement organization; and Blue Moon Estate Sales, the leading estate sale franchise in the U.S., which together include more than 400 franchise locations across the U.S. and Canada.