How Franchisors Motivate and Inspire Their Owners
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
Prime Business Communications, Inc. (PBC) has been selling franchises only since January. Already, though, franchisee motivation and training lie at the heart of corporate expansion strategies.
The first long-distance-phone-service franchisor, PBC is a division of TELCO Communications Group, which started as a dial-around company. PBC has four franchises open, several pending, and plans for 60 offices by year's end. In reaching that goal, the company knows its entrepreneurs can't have too much inspiration. That's why PBC has designed a system to keep franchise owners at the top of their game. As communications manager Stephanie Zionts puts it, "This is a turnkey operation. Essentially, all the franchisee has to do is sell to the customers. Corporate handles everything else in the back office."
Training keeps franchise owners pumped for sales, says Betsy Eastman, vice president of training. "We provide comprehensive, proven training for franchisees for a period of two weeks. Additionally, we reinforce our programs through the use of video and audio mediums. Our programs are comprehensive-touching sales, sales management, telecommunications law, and general business practices."
A computer system that includes a customized database and electronic ordering makes daily operations simple. Customer retention, billing, and collections are handled automatically. After initial training, encouragement continues with product and industry updates, refresher courses, and on-site visits by PBC trainers. Constant communication through the internet and video magazines also keep franchise owners inspired. "We even assist them in how to recruit and hire sales representatives," says Zionts.
Best practices motivate
Sylvan Learning Centers keep franchise owners motivated by identifying and highlighting best practices. "Our conference is probably the high point of every year for motivation and also the catalyst for setting the tone for the following year," says Carole Nicholes, vice president of Sylvan University.
Choosing an upbeat location like a resort in Phoenix or Disney World in Orlando motivates franchisees (900 last year) to attend and bring their families. Motivational speakers set the pace. "We always highlight best practices, by asking two or three franchisees to demonstrate how an idea works. We find the success stories out in the centers, based on our site visits. We make sure that the other franchise owners hear how these people are implementing our new study skills program or working in the community. That's the best motivator of all, because franchisees in the audience are sitting there saying 'I can do this' and at the same time 'Wow, hopefully someday I can be one of the best practices.'"
Playing in organized tennis and golf tournaments and taking a shot at pool games or other fun also motivates Sylvan conference attendees, Nicholes says. Networking continues at the trade show and at the lunch table where scheduled topics draw people together who share common issues and interests. "There is nothing better than people learning from their peers and from one another. They get excited by the caliber of people they meet. Our franchisees learn they own their own business, but they are not alone in business."
Rewards challenge
Prizes and awards punctuate the conference and up the ante. "We're sprinkling awards into every general session where we have everyone together," says Nicholes. "One of our multiple-center franchisees-who had close to ten staff members there last year-was given a top award. They arrived, dressed to the nines, so excited-and they recognized every single one of their staff members in attendance. Of course we brought them all up on stage, took their picture. We wrote press releases for each one and sent them the photographs."
Sylvan awards special recognition to franchise owners for revenue totals and also for community service. Center staff nominated by franchisees get recognized. At the conference, franchisees wear ribbons that recognize levels of achievement. Worn like badges of honor, these ribbons prompt franchisees to drill one another on their strengths.
Publicity is part of the scheme, too. The Golden Token Award winner for customer service is featured in Connections, Sylvan's monthly magazine.
Salesmanship and gamesmanship
Nothing motivates a team player like competition. Nowhere is the competition greater than at Aaron's Rental-Purchase, which has 114 franchised and 186 company stores. "It's the very core of our culture," says Todd Evans, director of franchise development.
Aaron's "Hoops Competition"-an annual scoreboard of individual store performance-is exciting enough to keep even Michael Jordon on his toes. One store is pitted against another store (no matter whether it's company-owned or franchised). Points are awarded for achievement in many areas-revenue growth, customer payment records, audits, appearance, cleanliness, inventory control, customer gain. The results show up on systemwide, computerized reports every morning.
"All the stores get to look at what the competition is doing," Evans says. They call each other on the phone-'Oh, we did ten deliveries today; how many did you do?' It's very, very competitive and at the end of the year, we award the winner of the Hoops Contest a giant trophy with a huge brass basketball."
The point is to built camaraderie and boost effort. "At Aaron's, everything's geared to competition in a positive way-always building team spirit," Evans says. He points to the company's last conference, which featured a "corporate challenge training camp," with live action from 15 "boxing" rings.
To crown the event, Aaron's president Ken Butler rolled out a videotaped interview with heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. With his training ring behind him, Holyfield talked about what it takes to be a champion, to be the best-commitment, sacrifice, and listening to people who are on your team.
"It was all very, very motivational and inspirational and it was great and a testament to Ken, who serves as our division's head coach and cheerleader. People went back home from that meeting on cloud nine-they were so pumped up and excited about where we're going and what we're doing with this company. It really gave everybody chills."
Champions Know the Score
Aaron's Rental-Purchase franchise owner Ruth Raines says she's a type-A personality who probably needs to tone it down to an A-minus. She hasn't succeeded yet, if her presence on the winning team of Aaron's corporate challenge training camp competition is any indication.
The corporate challenge is a little something cooked up by Aaron's to build enthusiasm at the annual convention. This year it featured 15 boxing rings, where teams from across the system competed with one another to answer questions about Aaron's products and service. A huge computer screen listed the teams and scores, so everyone knew just where they stood after each round.
"We had 300 people participating-franchise owners, home office people, store managers. "It was so loud in the conference center none of the referees could talk when it was over," says Todd Evans, director of franchise development.
Raines is president of a family-owned investment group that owns four Aaron's franchise stores in the Little Rock, Arkansas, area. "It's hard to impress me sometimes, but Aaron's did a good job on this annual conference competition," she says.
At the competition, Ruth climbed into the ring with her husband, Don, son, Mitch-who left law school to become their chief operations officer-and all her store managers. "The competition was really intense, but it promoted teamwork as well-and both are necessary for success in any business."
Raines thinks every Aaron's franchise owners should bring managers or key personnel events like the convention. "We even took our in-house accountant with us."
The benefit, she says, is schmoozing with managers outside the constraints of work. "They got to interact with us on a different, more personal level. Besides, they found out that we actually know some of this material!"
Aaron's strategy has been known to ignite friendly competition between franchised and company-owned stores, too. At least that's what happened this year when a store in Austin, Texas, won the 1997 "Hoops" competition.
"A company store finally out-did the franchise owners," says Jarrod Dozier, the soft-spoken manager who has been running the Austin store since 1996.
It's not that Dozier was trying to outdo the franchisees-not necessarily. "I just challenged my associates to compete against all the other stores, mainly around Austin. We try to become the best by just taking care of our customers."
Still, the spirit of competition began to burn, as weekly newsletters from corporate reported everybody's score throughout the company. When it got down to the elimination rounds, Dozier found his team was still in the year-long competition. "Once we were in the finals, we were in it," Dozier recalls. "We were the Cinderella team-the underdogs-you don't have anything to lose when you're in the bottom."
So, Dozier fired his team to win. "It takes a lot of dedication and hard work, but the company program makes it real easy."
Now, the glow of victory is sweet. "I'm kind of proud of myself for winning the trophy away from franchised stores, who've won the Hoops trophy every year since about 1991. I give a lot of thanks to my outstanding crew-we went to a restaurant and had a good time." (Whooping it up-so to speak!)

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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