How exactly do franchisee associations help franchisees? To sum it up in one word: support. Whether it's provided to new or existing franchisees, and whether it comes from other franchisees or from the corporation, support is the major benefit of almost any franchisee association.

Steve Collo wanted to be actively involved with an organization that provides this kind of support, so after three successful years as a PostalAnnex+franchisee in the San Diego area, he decided to join the PostalAnnex+ National Franchisee Association (PANFAC), an organization that voices franchisee concerns to the corporation. "In the beginning, it was more important for me to concentrate on learning the business," he says. "Once I was comfortable with that, I was able to take a position [with PANFAC]."

Collo served as a representative for the Southern California/Arizona region for a year before being elected PANFAC chair four years ago. "We made a lot of changes as far as how things were being handled," he says.

Some of the issues PANFAC addressed include marketing initiatives, advertising and store sales. Franchisees voice their concerns to their area representative, who, in turn, presents it to PANFAC. The group then passes the issue along to PostalAnnex+.

"We don't necessarily resolve every issue, but we certainly address them and readdress them and work with corporate to come up with solutions that will be satisfactory at the store level," Collo says. One change the organization has already created is the Road Warrior Program, an initiative that supports new franchisees after their stores have opened.

Last year, PostalAnnex+ launched an intranet site that allows its franchisees, PANFAC members and the corporation to communicate via open forums. For example, in one forum, storeowners discuss issues amongst themselves; in others, storeowners communicate directly with their PANFAC representatives or with the corporate office. "It's a great tool that sometimes isn't used nearly as much as it should be, because people are still learning [how it works]," Collo says. "It's fairly new, but it's a tremendous asset to have."

As is a franchisee association. In fact, Collo says he wouldn't join a franchise that didn't have one. The lack of a franchisee association "hurts both the store owner and the corporate office, because you lose touch at the corporate level with what's actually occurring at the counter with the customers," he explains. "And that would definitely retard growth at both the corporate and the store levels."