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6 Franchisors Found New Ways To Build During the Covid-19 Crisis Their stories prove that if you look hard enough, opportunity is everywhere.

By Stephanie Schomer

This story appears in the July 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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Rob Price, CEO, School of Rock

Creating support through community

"Our business could not be better designed to not withstand a pandemic," says Rob Price, the CEO of School of Rock. The music-education franchise teaches 40,000 students at 267 locations around the globe; its performance-based curriculum creates ensembles of kids who rehearse together for months before putting on one rocking show. "It requires that camaraderie," Price says.

So as the pandemic spread, Price sprang into action. He activated his team to create a digital offering that maintained the community aspect of School of Rock's lessons, and within a week, they had a remote solution in place. It quickly became clear that the company would be able to retain most of its clients through the crisis — and Price started thinking about other ways they could support their community.

"I tell our franchisees, "We were in the pandemic business well before COVID,' " Price says. "We've long been dealing with the pandemic of anxiety and depression and teenage suicide, which will take far more victims than COVID. How can we create awareness and space, at this time, for emotional and psychological well-being?"

Related: 4 Ways to Ensure Your Business Survives the Reopening of the Economy

With the help of their philanthropic partner, the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, School of Rock reached out to top-notch musicians — who found themselves with an unusual amount of free time — and asked them to participate in free digital Artist Sessions, where students would be able to directly engage with seasoned musicians. So far, band members from acts like Slipknot, Sum 41, and Pink have participated, chatting freely with hundreds to thousands of School of Rock students about music, overcoming challenges, handling stress, and achieving their best.

"The objective here is awareness," Price says. "Our driving force right now can't be our business needs. It has to be the student needs."

Muhssin and Bary El-Yacoubi, cofounders, Send Me a Trainer

Building a new network

Launching a franchise in the midst of the pandemic might sound like a bad idea, but for Muhssin and Bary El-Yacoubi (pictured, from left), now is the perfect time to build a strong foundation.

The brothers are the founders of Send Me a Trainer, an on-demand fitness and technology company that pairs qualified trainers with customers who want someone to guide them through a workout in their own home. The pair spent the past decade perfecting the platform, signed their first two franchisees just ahead of the crisis, and once it hit…they signed their third.

"Awarding that franchise at the height of all this was a really good indication that our business is going to be a part of the future of fitness," says Muhssin, who notes that other than shifting to digital sessions, Send Me a Trainer's model didn't have to change at all. "Right now, consumers are getting educated that they can work out from home, and they're looking for those workouts that are convenient and flexible. Consumer behavior will continue to evolve and adapt."

Related: 5 Lessons That Will Help Your Business Get Through a Crisis

And customers aren't the only ones looking for a solution. "There are a lot of qualified trainers who used to work at gyms and are now sitting at home wondering how they can get clients," says Bary. "They're reaching out to us to learn about the platform. Increased consumer demand and an increased supply of talent means we can take this business to a whole new level."

That, of course, will depend largely on whether or not the brothers can continue to grow their network of franchisees, though they're already fielding incoming interest from potential franchisees and multi-unit developers stateside and abroad.
"We're just naturally suited for this environment," Muhssin says. "Our startup investment starts at $50,000. That's going to accommodate a lot of people who want to own a business."

Salomon Mishaan, founder and CEO, OXXO Care Cleaners

Keeping a safe distance

OXXO Care Cleaners may as well have been designed with a pandemic in mind. The dry cleaner, which has nearly
60 locations in the United States and Indonesia, lets customers drop off and pick up their clothes, any time of day or night, via an ATM-style system.

"Walk up, scan your app, the door opens, and your clothes are there," says founder and CEO Salomon Mishaan. "It's zero contact. As an essential business, this allowed us to never shut down, because there was no system to rework."

Still, business has taken a hit as most of OXXO's customers have settled into their sweatpants. In March, sales dropped 20 percent; by April, they had been cut in half. Mishaan has been listening closely to franchisees' concerns, deferring royalty fees, and even reaching out to their individual landlords asking for help, support, and leeway.

But he's optimistic about the future; he anticipates the dry cleaning business bouncing back much quicker than other services might once the pandemic comes to an end — something that he's betting will be good for franchisees and for the growth of the business.

"There are, unfortunately, a lot of unemployed people right now, and they're going to want a way to get back to work quickly," he says. "I always look at buying a franchise as buying a job. And I think our business in particular will be an appealing space."

In the meantime, Mishaan is doing whatever he can to keep customers coming in. "We told them we'd clean their pants for free," he says, laughing, "because they're all on the computer at their desk at home all day, and we know they're not wearing pants."

Adam Contos, CEO, RE/MAX

Putting communication first

Managing a global organization of 130,000 real estate agents across 110 countries and territories requires extreme communication in good times. In a pandemic, those conversations become even more necessary.

Which is why Adam Contos, CEO of real estate company RE/MAX, has prioritized communication between his leader­ship team and the company's 8,300 franchisees as the business works its way through the COVID-19 crisis.

Related: Now What? How to Lead to the Other Side of COVID-19.

"We've been through six recessions, and we've built our business model to be very resilient as a result," says Contos. "Part of that is a very strong communication infrastructure."

Even before the crisis, the company broadcast weekly Facebook Live sessions to share news and business tips with its network of franchisees, and in the beginning of the year, Contos launched a weekly "Mind, Body, and Business" chat. That series has since become a vital way for the leader to help keep his community grounded, motivated, and empowered.

"This week, for example, I talked about perseverance," Contos says. "We all have to understand that your mind typically stops before your body does. Think about running or bike riding or doing a plank — you choose to stop before your capabilities actually end. And it's the same thing in business: We have to remember that our capabilities and strengths are far greater than what we give ourselves credit for."

Laura Spaulding, founder and CEO, Spaulding Decon

Keeping clean and cleaning up

Laura Spaulding is used to dirty jobs. The former cop and Army vet started Spaulding Decon in 2005 after spotting an opportunity in crime-scene cleanup, and she has turned the company into a growing franchise specializing in everything from meth-lab cleanup to mold remediation. And she knew, upon first hearing of coronavirus, that her business was about to boom.

"We got $30 million worth of requests in estimates the first two weeks when it hit here," Spaulding says. "In a normal week, that figure would be $100,000."

Spaulding's team and franchisees are regularly hired for cleanup jobs related to such viruses as MRSA and C. diff, and they had all the personal protective equipment they needed. Staffing, however, was another story.

"We had to hire more administrators, and we had five or six new people just answering phones and firing off estimates," she says. "We were fielding inquiries from New York and Chicago, places where we don't even have locations, so we had to mobilize from corporate and work with our franchisees to help them meet and handle these more far-flung jobs."

Related: 10 Low-Cost Franchises You Can Start From Home Right Now

While COVID-19 is just another virus for the Spaulding Decon team, the founder has seen a dramatic shift in customer sentiment. "We're seeing a paranoia that we haven't seen with other viruses," she says. "I think it will lead to a new kind of disinfection standard for all businesses, and that's what we're trying to prepare for now."

That could mean an additional boost for the business — ­and would-be franchisees think so, too. "Our incoming inquiries from prospective franchisees have probably increased tenfold," she says. "Our service is need-based, not want-based. And that's recession-proof."

Image Credit: Photos Courtesy of School of Rock; Send Me a Trainer; OXXO Cleaners; RE/MAX; Laura Spaulding
Stephanie Schomer

Entrepreneur Staff

Deputy Editor

Stephanie Schomer is Entrepreneur magazine's deputy editor. She previously worked at Entertainment WeeklyArchitectural Digest and Fast Company. Follow her on Twitter @stephschomer.

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