Consultant's Advice: Encouraging Communication - Creating A Franchisee Forum

If a franchise network can be viewed as a family of businesses, the opportunity to bring it together should be welcomed, advises Roy Seaman. Here, he explores the value of the franchisee forum

There comes a time with any franchise, normally by year two, when the network will benefit greatly by encouraging its franchisees to talk to one another. It is at this time that the franchisor should encourage the establishment of a Franchisee Forum.

Ideally meeting twice a year, Franchisee Forums should proactively gather new ideas relating to all activities of the business. These could cover systems and procedures, sales and marketing, new products and services, and the company agenda for the year ahead.

The franchisor may also use forums to identify the top performing franchisees, creating tiered groups in order to encourage a competitive element to the network. For instance, by creating groups of between 10 and 15 franchisees with the most successful in group one, the next most successful in group two and so on, provides something for franchisees to aspire to. Some franchisors now publish weekly or monthly top performers, highlighting particular achievements including personal bests. In sport a personal best is known as a 'PB', and a table of PBs could be published in a franchisee newsletter as a permanent record.

Forum-member franchisees should be willing to experiment with products and services, basically serving as pilots for new initiatives. When the new products or services are brought to the attention of the network, there will be less objection if the forum-member franchisees can speak about the reality and obvious benefits that they have obtained. Those ideas that do not bring forth the expected returns can then be terminated with less hassle. It is also a good idea for minutes from the forum to be circulated to all franchisees with appropriate content that is relevant to them.

In more established franchise operations, the franchisor should pre-determine the mix of franchisees invited to the forum. A good mix could include franchisees covering different genders, ethnic backgrounds and age groups. As the franchise business matures the nature of the forums changes from concern, to assistance, to a real valuable group of people driving the business forward.

It is important that franchisees feel part of a family and come together at least once a year, which can be achieved through a national conference or convention. Where appropriate, the franchisor can invite suppliers to become sponsors for various activities that will be taking place during the event. The policy in relation to costs varies quite a lot with some franchisors actually charging for attendance and others funding the whole event, including accommodation, but not travelling to the event. Such events are the perfect platform for making annual awards to the franchise network.