How Franchise Owners Network to Success
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
"Is anyone else getting requests for Beanie Babies?" Inquiring franchisees want to know. And they're getting answers at the speed of light from fellow franchisees. "They love it," says Steven Greenbaum, PostNet International's president and CEO. He's describing the "members' only section of PostNet's fully integrated Web site that links franchisees with each other and corporate headquarters at the click of a mouse.
Put a bunch of franchise owners together and the buzz may surprise you. But one thing is certain: Everybody will be leaning off their computer chairs to listen to the information being traded. The queries being put to PostNet International's sexy new Message Board prove that anything goes.
Does anyone allow their employees to wear shorts in the summer? Anybody have a good source for the laminator sheets? What's the best glue to use when making tablets and notepads for your customers? Anyone feel like helping brainstorm how to sell more to cruise ship passengers? Who's "RIP" connected to the color copier?
We mortals may not know the answer, but surely some PostNet franchise owner-somewhere-does.
The Message Board and other forms of franchise owner networking aren't only about questions and answers, either. There's real community caring and sharing here, among colleagues who could be competitors but-instead-are cohorts .
Take the post from Bloomfield, MI, about the phone scam that is "costing victims BIG BUCKS!!" Or the piqued post that first says, "Express Mail is a sham," and then tells fellow PostNet franchise owners how to circumvent the post office system.
The bottomline is-given the opportunity-franchise owners will trade information they simply couldn't find anywhere else. As one PostNet owner enthused, "I love this Message Board. I just gained access two days ago and I venture through it a few times a day. Looking forward to a long and prosperous relationship with everybody out there."
Feeling Connected
The ability to pick up the phone or connect electronically with another business owner makes a big difference in not only problem solving, but emotional support. When Deirdre Wolff was training as a new CruiseOne franchise owner, she became friends with another new franchisee who, as it turned out, belongs to her college sorority. The two have stayed in touch via e-mail since finishing training. Wolff believes that contacts like these are critical to her success.
Likewise, the PostNet connection zooms franchisees into pages of online support like downloads of UPS software. Home-page options enable franchise owners to preview PostNet's national television commercials or listen to the new corporate audio jingle. Or, franchisees can plug into a ready-made list of approved vendors and the company's national database, as well as a variety of networks like PostNet's Franchisee Advisory Council, its chat area, and the International Franchise Association's Web site.
Franchisors Encourage Networking
Those who view franchisors and franchisees as adversaries are out of touch with the best practices of a solid franchise system. Not only do prospective franchise owners receive names of all other owners in the system as part of routine disclosure practices, legitimate franchisors encourage interviews with as many as possible. Once the new owners are signed on, more networking is facilitated.
At Remedy Intelligent Staffing, for instance, new franchise owners are linked with experienced owners through the company's mentor program for rookies. Over 90 percent of Remedy franchise owners also attend the company's annual conference in October, where camaraderie is a natural part of the package. Owners also can participate in the company's Franchise Advisory Council, made up of owners-a body that meets twice a year and serves as an official communication link with the franchisor. Shortly, Remedy's new Web site will link franchise owners via an intranet.
Gerry Rhydderch, vice president of franchise development, believes this level of networking benefits everyone. "This is a very clean company. We've had no litigation. In fact, some of my best friends are franchisees," he quips.
Start from the Beginning
Smart franchisors have learned the value in getting franchisees to hook up with one another early on. Todd Evans, director of franchise development at Aaron's, puts it this way. "If we can get a prospect to talk to one of our franchisees, the deal is done." Before buying his first Aaron's in 1994, franchise owner Jim Conyers took that advice. "They gave me the names of the stores and I drove the entire state of Georgia, and looked at all the stores. We determined the company had an excellent program-one we could be successful at."
Likewise, Norrell, the staffing services company, involves a franchise candidate with other franchisees from the beginning. "We get a candidate talking to and actually spending time with several franchisees before they make the decision to become one themselves," says Dan Lieblich, Norrell's vice president of new market development. "Our franchisees work with them on setting realistic expectations as they enter the business. This step also gets our franchisees involved in the process of assisting someone who could be a future peer in the system."
Everybody Benefits
"Franchise owners have been instrumental in assisting with the growth and development of Norrell as the industry has changed," says Lieblich. "That's the strength of the franchise system-the trading of ideas between the corporate side and the franchise side. Some of our best ideas come from people on the franchise side of the house."
For example, Lieblich acknowledges the contributions of Joe Nicolosi, Norrell's Franchisee Of The Year, as well as other franchise owners, whom he credits with guiding Norrell toward the company's awards for quality. "Joe was very instrumental in putting together the program that enabled our franchisees to blend outsourcing services with our franchise offering."
What franchise owners share among themselves is just as important to corporate success. At quarterly cluster meetings, franchisees from different regions meet to discuss topics like recruiting and assessing skill sets and exchange what's working for them. "It's important for an Arizona franchisee to know what's going on in PennsylvaniaMaybe franchisees in New York have a lot of success filling a particular niche in a particular industry that hasn't hit New Mexico yet. It gives our people a heads up and the ability to suggest something new to the client that he hasn't even thought about. The client sees that Norrell is adding value-coming in with ideas, solving problems before they happen." This kind of networking also enables Norrell to deliver consistent levels of service nationwide-a critical element in serving a national company.
Networking within their own company probably helps franchise owners most of all, but Calvin Haskell, president of Franchise Solutions, doesn't think networking needs to stop at corporate boundaries. "Business is business," he says, "and all franchisees can benefit from talking with each other."
His newly launched Web as an Internet brain trust for the entire franchise community. "Now a retailer from Arizona can get a solution to an employee problem from a fast food operator in New York," he says. is a net site, but people also are dropping by to find out how to franchise their service business, sell an existing franchise, or get advice on purchasing a franchise.
Networking At the Top
When your thinking evolves from tactical to strategic, you know you're ready to step into the leadership circle at Norrell, the staffing services franchise. The only criterion is success. "Once you've rung up over a million in gross margin dollars, you're in the Leaders' Forum" says Joe Nicolosi.
The Forum brings together senior franchise owners and senior company executives to share ideas and issues that have strategic impact to the business. This also gives the large franchisees the opportunity to share problems and solutions that are unique to businesses of their size. This information format is a win for all parties involved.
The Leaders Forum is a planned networking meeting that promotes open discussion in a relaxed atmosphere.Members provide strategic input to headquarters in terms of how the company is going to posture itself in the marketplace three to five years down the road. "It just makes sense that the company would want to talk about strategic issues with its largest and most successful franchisees and we wanted to be more of a conduit of ideas back and forth," Nicolosi says.
Despite the exclusivity of Norrell's Leaders' Forum, these franchise owners are still happy to share what they know with newcomers. For example, Nicolosi, who is based in Melbourne, Florida, says he is mentoring a new franchisee in Birmingham, Alabama. Norrell pays for the novice and master to work together in each other's markets. "I can help him because I've been through a lot of things he's going through," Nicolosi says.
That's not the only help a new franchisee gets either. Friendships blossom as franchise owners meet face-to-face at Norrell's regional cluster meetings and national conventions. Best of all, the conversations don't stop when the meetings end. All 127 of Norrell's franchisees can talk to each other through Norrell's new intranet system, proving there is more than one way for franchise owners to network their way to success. And, if all goes well, they will make their way into the Leader's Forum.

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
Do not reprint without permission