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15 Ways Franchises Became Stronger in 2020

No matter what service or product they provide, franchisees and franchisors were rocked by 2020. But many made adjustments that improved their businesses, not just for now but for long into the future. Here's what 15 of them learned.

This story appears in the December 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
Was 2020 a tough year? Absolutely. But for savvy business leaders, all those challenges also created a world of new opportunities to uncover. Here are 15 franchisees and franchisors who found ways to build strength in difficult times. 

1. Open new concepts with lower costs.

“As the world grappled with a sudden pandemic, at Daily Jam, a brunch and lunch concept, we swung for the fences and opened two ghost kitchen concepts. Mindful Bowls and CinnaSwirl operated out of Daily Jam’s spaces and used many of the same ingredients, saving time and money when we needed it most. While other food brands limited their hours of operation, we increased ours and saw an increase in demand and — thanks to the ghost kitchens —­ were able to tackle the competition on third-party-delivery apps. Without our ghost kitchens, we’d be looking at a very different state of business today. As we look forward to 2021, we’ll continue to focus on that innovation.” — Berekk Blackwell, president, Daily Jam

2. Identify vulnerabilities and fix them.

“As we observed the innovations (or pivots) in the fitness space, it seemed to me that the vast majority were one-sided, short-term, quarter-over-­quarter decisions that left business relationships to deal with potentially irreparable damage. It’s obvious now that having brick-and-mortar fitness brands with no digital component is a large vulnerability. But I don’t think it’s obvious to digital companies that not having any brick-and-mortar offerings makes them just as vulnerable to an extraordinary circumstance. The most successful fitness companies of the future will build and offer a complete health ecosystem that transcends traditional gym/digital memberships. Companies that fall in love with their clients’ needs — not their own brand or short-term financials —­ will have a much easier time mapping out innovation and creating a disproportionate advantage in the new marketplace.” — Devan Kline, cofounder and CEO, Burn Boot Camp

3. Diversify revenue streams.

“We can’t keep all our eggs in one basket or market segment. I go into 2021 with a strengthened belief that Dippin’ Dots needs to continue to grow its diversified side of business with its cryogenic intellectual property and use its patents in cryogenics. Maintaining diverse revenue streams will minimize risk exposure and the impact of unforeseen circumstances. I always valued the ice cream business because it had very known factors that made it easy to accurately forecast, but no matter how shiny we keep the crystal ball, there are always things you can’t predict — like a global pandemic named after a non-domestic beer.” — Scott Fischer, CEO, Dippin’ Dots

Related: 8 Steps to Finding the Right Franchise

4. Renew relationships with franchisees.

“As a company that enjoyed robust unit growth for the better part of four years, the complications of COVID-19 intermingled with fast growth strained our relationships with our most valuable partners: our own franchisees. Many were feeling marginalized and undervalued, and many were not confident that our leadership team would find a path forward with new opportunities for revenue and improvements in our current offerings. After receiving tough but passionate feedback from more than 100 franchisees, we embarked on a series of initiatives: listening tours, late-night conference calls, and many, many strategic planning calls. My team and I knew that we had a franchise ownership that possessed a deep well of experience and talent, and we made it a point to leverage their unique gifts — which so many of them had been imploring us to do for months. Through these actions, we are finding our way with much needed improvements across the franchise system in communication, programming, customer retention, and short- and long-term economic viability.” — Justin Nihiser, CEO, Code Ninjas

5. React to customers’ changing needs.

“This year confirmed the importance of empathy. As members of the communities they serve, our Edible franchisees could empathize better than anyone with their customers, and early on, they opened our eyes to the fact that our signature celebratory gifts and arrangements weren’t top of mind for customers in light of the circumstances of 2020. What was top of mind was the need for fresh, nutritious food delivered safely to their homes. Edible had the supplier relationships, e-commerce platform, and delivery capabilities to support that need, so we quickly pivoted from our standard offerings to introduce fresh produce boxes for delivery, which became a top-selling product in a matter of weeks. Prioritizing the customer above all else can positively impact your bottom line.” — Cheikh Mboup, COO and president, Edible Brands

6. Find opportunity where others couldn’t.

“Unfortunately, as some restaurants have closed as a result of the pandemic, it has created an opportunity for us and our franchise partners to find valid locations that can be easily flipped into our concept. There is no reason to build a brand-new restaurant when we can get into great spaces and locations at more affordable prices.” — Robert Maynard, CEO,
Famous Toastery

Related: 3 Reasons Buying a Franchise Might Be Better Than Starting Your Own Business

7. Accept what you can’t change.

“At this moment, two of my three Amazing Lash studios remain closed for the sixth month. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to focus only on things that are within my control. This mindset shift has allowed me to solve problems that come my way, has helped me reduce stress, and has helped me focus on growth. Not being able to operate indoors because of a pandemic is out of my control — ­­so instead I focus on ways to make outdoor services work to my benefit. Some guests are afraid to receive services, but I know there are ways to alleviate those fears. If I focus on the things I can control and change, my business will flourish moving forward.” — Raquel Hernandez, franchisee, Amazing Lash 

8. Embrace new ways of working.

“Historically, support for both Checkers and Rally’s has come out of our Restaurant Support Center (RSC) in Tampa. But when the pandemic hit, we closed it and put in place a working-from-home structure. Our intention had been to reopen the RSC as quickly as possible, but we found that our employees at home were productive, efficient, and responsive. So we opened our minds to the idea of working remotely for the longer term, and it was very well-received by our employees —­ who, six months in, remain incredibly dedicated to their work.” — Frances Allen, CEO, Checkers & Rally’s

9. Go after a new pool of talent.

“The pandemic left many talented people unemployed. In times of uncertainty, people tend to rethink their career paths and if they're willing to let outside forces determine their destiny. It’s likely some of these people will seek out franchising as a viable path to entrepreneurship. For us at Pinch A Penny, it’s vital—in 2021 and the years that follow—­­to target and identify the most qualified franchisee candidates and showcase how resilient and profitable our opportunity is.” — Michael Arrowsmith, chief development officer, Pinch A Penny Pool Patio Spa

Related: Stop Running Your Franchise Like a Circus!

10. Open new lines of communication.

“It sounds simple, but we’ve learned the importance of more robust and frequent communications with our local business owners. As a 43-year-old carpet cleaning brand, Chem-Dry has moved gradually over the years toward increased digital messaging to our franchisees. But 2020 taught us that we really needed to ramp up the frequency to demonstrate that we were all working through these struggles together. This started as a daily update, evolved to every other day, then twice a week, and now, it continues weekly. While it sometimes felt like overkill, our franchisees told us it was one of the few things they could count on that provided them with connection and hope. It’s helped us build stronger trust and introduce initiatives in a fraction of the time it would have taken us in normal conditions.” — Ed Quinlan, president, Chem-Dry

11. Bring your community together.

“We learned that people crave connection and camaraderie. In the midst of the pandemic, Office Evolution launched a social media campaign with the goal of virtually wrapping our arms around our customers. We consider each franchisee and member of our coworking spaces to be a part of our ohana, which is Hawaiian for ‘family.’ Every member and franchisee received a T-shirt and was encouraged to join in our social media movement as we acknowledged, ‘We’re all in this together.’ As we head into an uncertain 2021, we need to continue to anticipate what our customers and franchisees need in terms of new locations, services, and support.” — Andrea Pirrotti-Dranchak, chief marketing and development officer, Office Evolution

12. Restart your entrepreneurial thinking.

“At any given time, our ATC Healthcare location was staffing up to 50 school systems. When the nation made the switch to remote learning, there was no longer a need for healthcare professionals in schools, and we experienced a revenue loss overnight. We realized that our viewpoint had to change. Even though we were an established business, it was now best to see ourselves as a startup. We are in a new world; by seeing ourselves as ‘new’ entrepreneurs, we could start again in this new normal. This shift in perspective allowed us to retool, reinvent, and get creative. We elevated everything — new website, marketing partners, revamped staffing and recruiting systems — and started reengaging clients. We’re motivated and hopeful, and we’re moving into 2021 with flexibility on our tool belt.” — Kayla Briggs, franchisee, ATC Healthcare Services

Related: 4 Ways to Turn Uncertainty into Strength for Your Business

13. Trust your experience.

“As an entrepreneur, I’ve navigated through some major crises the world has faced over the past couple of decades: Y2K, 9/11, the 2008 recession, and now COVID. Time has proven again and again that we learn to overcome, to adapt, and to move on. For example, after 9/11, we thought no one would fly again. That didn’t happen. Yes, the social paradigm shifts — removing shoes at airport security is now standard — but life continues. We rebuild. We gain resiliency. This won’t be the last crisis we face. It’s not always easy to find that silver lining, but it is critical.” — Abid Abedi, founder and CEO, iCode

14. Prioritize your team’s well-being.

“The first rule in maintaining a growth mindset is to put your people first in order to have a strong team that can help you actualize your growth goals. Amid the chaos, it was as simple as prioritizing the physical and financial health of our team, which resulted in collaboration, ownership, empowerment, and innovative thinking. In our stores, general managers are not just GMs; they are operational partners who can earn 10 percent ownership in the business — making ‘We’re all in this together’ take on a whole new meaning.” — Travis Davis, franchisee, Marco’s Pizza

15. Stop reacting, and start proactively building.

“Three years ago, I pitched a virtual platform for Bodybar Pilates classes. The team was all for it, but we weren’t in a place to tackle such a big initiative. Fast-forward to March 2020, and we had no choice but to launch a virtual platform — but without an existing foundation, the process was reactionary. Now we have to step back and think about what purpose we want Bodybar Live! to serve in 2021. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily to-dos that feel more important than brainstorming and planning, but we’ve learned that they’re vital to survival.” — Brittney Watson, director of marketing, Bodybar Pilates

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