"Franchisees are the very clear focus of our business, whereas many of our competitors often [consider] the franchising side of their business secondary to their operational side," says Russ Moserowitz, vice president of franchise services for Cendant Corp., franchisor of nine hotel chains including Howard Johnson and Ramada. "We're strictly a franchise company and, therefore, focused on what's in the franchisee's best interest."

Underscoring this focus is SOAR, an internal initiative Cendant unveiled in the fall of 2000 to make sure everything being done on the corporate level is beneficial to franchisees. "With any issues we address, we're always thinking about the franchisees' profitability and return on their investment, and making sure whatever we do [is] ultimately in their best interest," Moserowitz says.

The SOAR ideology is adopted by the company's five franchise-services departments: franchise support, preferred client group, field services, revenue enhancement and training. SOAR stands for Selling franchises, Opening properties, Adding value and Retaining customers (the company refers to franchisees as "customers").

Since acquiring its first hotel brands in 1990, Cendant has increased the size of its system as well as the number of its employees. Not wanting to see service slide as expansion continued, Cendant instituted SOAR to keep all employees focused on franchisees. "We hope to accomplish an unsurpassed level of world-class service that hotel franchisees hadn't seen before, even from us," Moserowitz says. "Once you're the best, that's great, but staying there and improving on that has really been our challenge and our mission."

Though SOAR has been top of mind for Cendant employees, the program has never been officially presented to franchisees. "SOAR is an internally focused program. It was never intended to have a [systemwide] rollout," Moserowitz says.

Because this is a more service-oriented concept, the results of the SOAR program are difficult to measure. "Time will tell in the long run how successful we are with retention and renewal rates," Moserowitz says.

But in the case of SOAR, tangible results aren't the goal. "Our objective was to make a long-term commitment," says Moserowitz. "If this truly is going to be successful, if we're truly going to make the investment necessary to do things better, we understand this isn't a quick shot."