Q&A With Catherine Monson
Incoming IFA Chair talks about the future of franchising.
FASTSIGNS International, Inc. CEO, Catherine Monson, will become the new IFA Chair at the end of IFA’s 2020 Annual Convention in Orlando. Monson will be carrying on the role recently served by IFA’s 2019 Chair, David Barr of PMTD Restaurants. With an astounding résumé that spans from multiple levels of leadership within the franchise industry, all the way to mentorship and involvement within the Executive Board positions at the IFA and beyond, Monson is determined to better the International Franchise Association and the great membership base it has. She is excited to have a special focus on advocacy, in hopes of motivating other franchisor CEOs to get active and engage their franchisees to be advocates for the franchise business model.
Monson spoke with Franchising World to discuss the new role and great future she sees for the IFA, but how it will take effort, engagement and advocacy efforts from C-Suite professionals and franchisees alike.
What would you say are the most important issues for franchising in 2020?
As has been the case for the past several years, the most critical issues facing franchising are regulatory and legislative in nature. On the federal level, the expanded definition of joint employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), as established by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the August 2015 Browning Ferris decision and the Labor Department in 2016, posed a significant threat to franchising by making it much more likely a court would find a franchisor as a joint employer with its franchisees. Being deemed a joint employer would be harmful to both the franchisor and its franchisees. As noted in Robert’s letter earlier in the magazine, we are very appreciative of the Department of Labor’s recent Final Rule to update FLSA’s joint employer regulations. The return is a clear and thoughtful joint employer standard, providing much needed clarity to franchise professionals.
On the state level, there are bills in various state legislatures that could challenge the franchise business model. We were successful in fighting such a bill in Alabama last year, which would have inserted the state into private contracts between brands and franchisees. However, despite efforts, Assembly Bill 5 became law in the state of California. While AB-5 had an admirable goal — to ensure workers who are treated as employees are classified as such — it is currently in a state which would cause a detrimentally negative impact to franchising, as franchise owners become employees of the franchisor and are no longer seen as franchisees. Unfortunately, other states may follow California’s lead on this law, with legislatures in New York, Illinois and New Jersey having expressed an interest in doing so.
The IFA is working to get an amendment to AB-5 passed in the 2020 legislative session. We will need to mobilize franchisees in California, as well as all franchisors with locations in California, in the effort to get this amendment passed. We need your help! For more information, go to clarifyab5.org. If we can get such an amendment in California, it will help us in other states that take up similar legislation.
What are your top priorities for the association in 2020?
My top priority is to protect and enhance the franchise business model.
I believe we can be most successful achieving that goal when we, concurrently, focus on a couple things. The first is teaching and promoting franchising best practices to franchisors. Great franchisors provide service and support to their franchisees, focus on franchisee profitability and develop and maintain positive relationships with their franchisees. Not only are they more successful, but they lessen the likelihood of unhappy franchisees pushing for corrective legislation, which would likely have unintended negative consequences for hardworking franchise professionals. Second, we need to continue with our strong government relations outreach. The Government Relations team here at the IFA is constantly working on your behalf, but in order to be truly effective, the team needs an active and involved membership base willing to engage with their elected officials at local, state and federal levels. We need both franchisors and franchisees communicating with their elected representatives. While franchisors can advocate for their franchisees, it is the franchisee that brings the local story to their elected officials and discusses the impact on the area they represent. Franchisees need to be more actively engaged in advocacy on franchising issues to be most successful in protecting the franchise business model. Accomplishing this will require franchisors that actively understand the issues and work to inform and activate their franchisees.
I also want to increase the membership of the IFA. There are over 3,000 franchise brands in the U.S. and a little less than half are members of the IFA. As we increase the number of franchisor members, we increase our opportunity to grow franchisee and supplier members.
How did you become active in advocating to protect the franchise business model?
I attended the IFA’s second annual fall “fly-in” event in Washington, D.C. in 2000. It was originally called Franchise Appreciation Day and is now called the Franchise Action Network (FAN) Annual Meeting. I’ve only missed one ever since. In my opinion, this is the most valuable IFA meeting for franchisees, along with their franchisors, to attend each year. At this meeting, the IFA educates attendees on critical issues that could affect the franchise business model and how to effectively speak with House members and senators. There are state delegations for Senate visits, making it a great — and easy — experience for all. The IFA coordinates meetings on Capitol Hill and makes advocacy simple and effective. Plus, it is a lot of fun.
This event showed me the immense value of getting involved. I learned the reality that “politics is a contact sport,” and that people with opposite agendas are on Capitol Hill, talking with our elected representatives. This is why we need to do the same. Most members of
Congress — similar to most members of the public — do not understand what franchising is. We (that means all of us) need to educate them!
What got you started in franchising?
I had grown up in my family’s small business. What started as one preschool grew to five locations and kept on growing. Starting at nine years old, I would work at the schools with my dad on weekends, mowing lawns, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. After a full day of work, he and I would have dinner together and talk business. As I got older, office work was added to my duties. I learned a lot about business and taking care of customers because of all that. The small business experience helps me to understand the challenges of small business ownership and that, as the owner, you get paid last. That foundation has served me well in my franchising career.
While getting into franchising was unplanned, I have grown to love it. I get to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Franchising is a way for people to achieve the dream of business ownership, control their own destinies, create jobs and economic output and build wealth for their families. It allows them to be in business for themselves, but not by themselves, with the power of a brand, marketing, training and support. It’s allowed me to develop relationships with thousands of franchisees. Some of my best friends are former franchisees of brands I’ve worked for. My involvement in the IFA has also brought me many meaningful relationships with others in franchising.
Why is mentorship such an important part of the franchising journey?
I have had several outstanding mentors during my career. My most significant mentor, from a franchising perspective, is Don Lowe, CEO of Franchise Services, Inc. I worked for him for 27 years during my tenure at Sir Speedy, MultiCopy, PIP Printing and Franchise Services, Inc. He taught me franchising best practices, including focusing on strong franchisee-franchisor relationships, open communication with franchisees, spending significant time in the field face-to-face with franchisees and more.
I attended IFA Conventions early on. Then I became more active in the IFA, first by serving on the Women’s Franchise Committee and then the Franchise Relations Committee. As I became more involved and my knowledge in franchising’s best practices was recognized, I was asked by many people to mentor them. It has been my pleasure to do so. I have several people involved in franchising that I am mentoring today.
What is one fun fact about you?
I love going to rock concerts and, yes, I will admit — my favorite band is Nickelback!