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When it comes to developing and nurturing an emerging franchise there are more than a few hurdles and obstacles to clear — from the financial and legal requirements to hiring and choosing franchisees for spurring the brand's growth.
Simply put, it takes a whole lot of work, perseverance, talent and strategy to launch and expand a franchise brand. But the journey can be less arduous and less painful when a franchisor avoids common missteps and learns from franchises which have succeeded.
Such insight was the focal point of a panel discussion at the International Franchise Expo held at the Javits Center in New York City this past June. Participating, and sharing their unique journey into franchising, were Keith Levenson, owner of ClimbZone, Rocco Fiorentino, CEO of PrimoHoagies and David Mesa, chief development officer at PJ's Coffee.
ClimbZone founder Levenson didn't know the definition of franchising when customers and business colleagues began asking him about potentially becoming a franchisee.
"I had to Google it as I didn't know what it meant," he acknowledged as the panel discussion kicked off, and then "It [franchising] sucked me in."
ClimbZone, a family focused climbing center developed by Nico Buik in New Zealand in 2008, opened its first U.S. location in 2014 in Maryland and was franchising within three years.
Success, Levenson said, is tied to making a good franchisee choice. ClimbZone hasn't had to spend much in marketing to find franchisees as a good number were longtime customers.
"We are picky about who we bring in," he said.
PrimoHoagies' CEO Fiorentino has had a very similar franchisee experience as a majority of his franchise operators are friends, family and customers.
He said a franchisor should view franchisees as investors in the brand and not just a business partner.
"All franchisees are like siblings and are very, very different," he shared, adding that a big misstep early on by a franchisor and a new franchisee is not having necessary funding at the very start.
"Don't go into franchising undercapitalized," he warned.
Rocco, the most experienced franchisor on the panel, noted that his longtime experience "means I've made the most mistakes." It also means he's gained a lot of knowledge.
"Once you begin to stop learning you limit what you can share. Learn from the mistakes. You're in for a great ride and there are a lot of signs so pay attention," he said.
One compelling aspect of franchising, he added, is that franchising is an industry that is emerging, and franchisors and franchisees must evolve.
"Where we are today is not where we want to be tomorrow," he said, adding that older franchisors should be interested in what new brands are doing.
When it comes to a franchisor or franchisee's staffing PJ's Coffee Mesa recommends hiring for what's needed.
"Find out where your talents are and then hire those who have the skills you don't," he recommended. He said he likes hiring entrepreneurial people as starting a franchise requires entrepreneurial skills.
Brand success, he added, is not only knowing the brand but defining how the brand differentiates from the competition.
"You have to drill down to what makes you different, embody ‘what's special' into the brand," he said.
For PJ's Coffee that means everything from using the top beans to high quality and great customer experience.
"Don't mix up service and experience [in terms of ensuring a good customer experience]. How does the customer feel? You need to build loyalty and customer experience is key."
That's very similar to PrimoHoagies' philosophy, said Rocco.
"We focus on customer experience to match our quality of food. The customer experience is as important and as good as the product."
That viewpoint is shared by ClimbZone's Levenson as well.
"We call customers ‘guests,' as we want it to be a family experience."
Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She serves as editor of Retail Customer Experience and Food Truck Operator.www