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9R President's Blog Published by The International Franchise and Dealers Association

Tom Sagehorn, president of 9Round Franchising, LLC, published a blog entry on his personal blog March 7, 2011 that caught the eye of the publisher and executive director of the International Franchise and Dealers Association, so much so the executive director wanted too republish it on their website.  With permission quickly granted by Shannon and Heather Hudson, you can now read the article below.

In the blog entry, Tom focuses on the need for franchisors to maintain good lines of communication between the franchisor and franchisee to create a stronger system. As Tom points out (and Shannon often does as well) -- the Big Mac and Egg McMuffin was invented by a franchisee. At 9Round we are all ears when a franchisee has a new great idea. At the same time, as Tom points out, a franchisor has an important responsibility to review and approve ideas before implementation. Great franchisors step into their role of monitoring and controlling the concept but also are always listening to their franchisees to improve the system even more

Regarding the blog entry, Shannon Hudson "Heather and I were proud to see Tom get this media attention. It was an easy decision to publish an article that went out to 8,000 primarily franchisee subscribers. We work hard to maintain great support and lines of communication in our system. When our franchisees have an idea -- we listen. When they call we are "on it".  As long as we are confident that a new idea is proven, is consistent with our concept, and meets our quality standards we will approve it.  The 9Round Workout Circuit (c) will always remains at the core of our concept but we are always on the hunt for best practices that our franchisees show us as well".

Here is the blog entry:

International Franchisee and Dealers Association

Franchises: Balancing Control and Variation

By Tom Sagehorn, President of 9Round Franchising, LLC
Here we are going to have a conversation about franchisor-franchisee communications. Prior to a franchisee buying a franchise, the lines of communication are flowing and positive. High integrity franchisors encourage questions and address them thoughtfully and timely. Here we will not go into the questions to ask, as there are many great sources for you to determine what questions to ask to address the needs of your business and concept.
What we are concerned about is the frequency of broken lines of communication after the franchise is purchased.
Some franchisors mistake control for empowerment. There are many areas of operating and managing a franchisor where the franchisor must take a strong stand for compliance with their concept. Some “crack down” on variations of the slightest amount. At times they take too long to address requests of franchisees to vary or adapt the concept to local or entrepreneurial desires.
Yet all the franchisee is experiencing after the purchase of the franchise is a continuing interest in the franchise that stems from greater and greater depths of understanding their role. Inevitably there are some gaps between what was taught at training and realities in the field. The wise franchisor should be glad to address in a non-defensive way.
Regrettably some do not and this keeps them from realizing the ultimate positive expression or fulfillment of their otherwise original Franchise DNA (the conceptual essence and value of the franchise, cite earlier blog on subject of Franchise DNA).
Let’s draw some analogies and metaphors to make it clear why it is so important to maintain open and positive lines of communication even with the seemingly most recalcitrant of franchisees. Here we will assume that the franchisee remains committed to the concept and has not engaged legal counsel for the purpose of rescinding the franchise.
Differences of opinion are inevitable. Often seen as a “problem” in reality dynamic tension or friction is a precondition to greatness, not necessarily a sign of a problem. Instead, differences of opinion or perspective should be embraced and seen as healthy and useful for the betterment of the chain.
Think of the Chicago Bulls’ 6 world championships. Were they a bunch of happy campers all the time? Far from it. The stories told of the animosities, jealousies and battles in the locker-room at halftime would shock those unaware of their problems.
But they won 6 world championships through it all under the guidance and leadership of people like Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan and so many more. Even the voice of Dennis Rodman was heard and incorporated into the fabric of the team that to this day is one of the, perhaps the, greatest reigns of a team in all time.
Championships forged from dynamic tensions, venting, arguing and coming together again and again for the legendary “Six-Peat”.
Why should a chain of multiple franchisees be any different than another manifestation of the American Family living the American Dream. Great franchisors realize this and build recognition of it into the communications networks of their chains, the better off they will be, and the wiser for it. Dynamic tension is to be embraced.
Look what good can come out of communications. Take for example the franchisee that invented the Egg McMuffin. There are so many stories to tell of break-throughs from the “field”.
Even the nomenclature of franchised chains is misguided and creates unnecessary lines of separation. Why is the franchisor in the “Home Office”? Why is the franchisee in the “Field”. Where is home? The home is the chain and if anyone is anywhere at all, they are all in the field. And if properly directed in the field, everyone serves a unique and beneficial role that makes the system stronger and better.
Some franchisors think their role is to establish “control”. But when they do this by stifling communications they delude themselves into thinking that they are in control. By not communicating opening and listening more than talking, in fact they lose control. Oppression leads to revolutions. It is as true in world history as it is the history of franchising.
Think of teams as families. Do you suppose Michael Jordan valued Steve Kerr’s opinions? You can count on it.
Diplomacy and dynamic tension should be embraced at all times. Embrace it by not even being a part of it sometimes. Let the franchisees talk. Encourage them. Let them meet on their own at Conventions and in social media. Let them speak as a group. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.
Embrace differences of opinion. Your chain will only be better for it, particularly when you incorporate great new ideas (invented in the field cultivated by franchisees) into your system.
Question the franchisor that does not have a have open communications, across lines, up and down. Great franchisors employ franchisee focus groups, surveys and weekly or monthly telephone conferences, and feedback/innovation systems. They gravitate toward them, seeing and wanting the benefits they bring to the health of the chain.
If they don’t have this? It’s a sure sign they are not listening and, as such, in this bloggers opinion, the system is not performing to its peak.
This has been guest post by Tom Sagehorn,was  worked for or represented franchised and multi-outlet companies throughout his entire career, whether in the title insurance, hotel, restaurant or services industries.  His primary activities focus is on 9Round Franchising, LLC (www.9round.com) where he serves as President. Tom is also of Counsel role for The Adler Law Firm, a Chicago based entertainment and intellectual property law firm.