Franchising: the Beauty and the Beast

I fell in love with franchising back in the mid 80s when I joined a franchisor that had been in business for over 25 years and, at the time, had about 1000 franchisees.  I felt right at home then and that feeling has never changed. Despite finding myself face to face with what I call the Beast of franchising many times throughout my career, my feelings towards this method of doing business just get better as time goes by and as I change roles and affiliations.

Although I initially didn’t see it, I came to understand that when you franchise a business you create a family. Some families are dream families while others are totally dysfunctional; most, however, fall right in the middle, and like most ‘normal’ families they have some good qualities and some pretty bad ones. The principles of love, friendship, interdependence, camaraderie, protectiveness and loyalty present in most families also permeate most franchise relationships. Those principles and how they manifest in franchising keep me hooked and don’t let me go too far. They form what to me is the Beauty of franchising.

The relationships that are formed between franchisor (founder and employees) and franchisees, and among all the franchisees can be very strong. There’s support going both ways. For example, it’s the responsibility of the franchisor to train and support franchisees as their businesses grow and mature. And, for the relationship to flourish, franchisees also have to support franchisors by paying their dues and by being open to accept the franchisor’s decisions with which they may or may not agree. It ‘s all about the give and take… the dance of franchising can be a beautiful one when all parties are giving and all are receiving.

Yet, the Beauty of franchising transforms quickly into a Beast when these win-win principles are not respected. Dysfunction is quickly evidenced when the “Us” versus “Them” attitude appears. Typical comments from franchisors and their staff that define this attitude include:

  • Franchisees never follow the system.
  • They just don’t listen.
  • All they do is complain.

Typical comments from franchisees in an “Us” versus “Them” culture include:

  • They (meaning the franchisor and the staff) don’t know what the real world is like.
  • They never listen to us.
  • All they do is refer us back to the Operations Manual; they never support us.

Unfortunately what starts as miscommunication and rash statements made in a moment of frustration or anger, when repeated over a period of time, can become a habitual way of communication, albeit impaired. This style of relating with each other rapidly becomes part of the culture. Thus, it’s critical that franchisors and franchisees remain vigilant at all times of what they say about each other.

There’s only one truth about all of the sample statements above: THEY ARE ALL UNTRUE. They are broad generalizations, interpretations, and imply a finality that’s very unlikely true.

When we use the words “always” and ” never” or any other words that convey such finality, the statements are usually not true. There may be an instance or even many examples when the statement may apply, but there are not as many truisms as we tend to use. The problem with using these exaggerations is that we use them to prove that we are right. They place us in an inflexible frame of mind where understanding and openness are hard to come by. They move us to a world of right and wrong, where “we” are right and “they” are wrong prevails.  Over time this attitude erodes the relationship until it is too late… the Beauty becomes the Beast.