The following is excerpted from “The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar” by Scott Greenberg, Entrepreneur Press, 2020, XVII-XXIII.
I’d just come offstage from keynoting the opening session of a quick-service restaurant franchise convention in New Orleans. The presentation had gone well and now, on break, a small group had gathered around to chat. But John, one of the franchisees in the audience, patiently waited until I was alone.
“Hi, Scott,” he said. “I really enjoyed your speech. Do you have a minute to talk?”
“Sure. Want to sit?”
The ballroom was now empty, so we grabbed a couple of chairs up front.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
John shared his story of quitting his banking job to buy into this franchise. It wasn’t going as well as he’d hoped. Things started OK, but sales had petered out over the past few years. Managing the restaurant himself had kept labor down, but it had also consumed all his time. He struggled to keep good employees; it didn’t help that he’d been late with payroll a few times. He’d been in survival mode for a while and no longer trusted corporate to help him. (He figured they’d probably just tell him to market more, like he could afford it.) He still had six years on his franchise agreement and his lease. There was no way he could sell the business for enough to pay his debts. He had been limping along by using the equity in his house, which had taken a toll on his marriage.
John blew out his breath in a long exhale once he had finished his story. His despondence was palpable. It was obvious his problems were as personal as they were professional.
I listened with much compassion and little judgment. After 10 years as a franchisee myself, I could certainly relate. I’ve had those moments. I shared them with John. Then I explained how I moved through them and how he could, too.
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That evening, I was invited to a reception for the “President’s Circle” franchisees, the brand’s top performers. I’d noticed many of these folks earlier in the convention. These were the franchisees with ribbons hanging from their name tags, displaying phrases such as “Presenter,” “Multi-Unit Owner,” and “Million Dollar Club.” They were a chummy bunch, perhaps a little tipsy. Their mood was festive.
Diane had just won “Franchisee of the Year” and was getting lots of attention. She fended off the praise with jokes: “The people they really wanted to award just couldn’t make it to the convention!” I asked her if she had time for an interview, and she had to check her schedule. She didn’t want to miss any of the breakout sessions. Meeting after the convention wasn’t an option—she and her husband were leaving directly for the airport for a 10-day vacation in the Bahamas. We agreed to have breakfast together the next morning.
Over breakfast, I learned Diane had been in the system for seven years. She’d built two restaurants before picking up two existing locations in the past 18 months. The recent acquisitions hadn’t yet matched the numbers of her original stores, but sales were definitely on the uptick. She was pleased.
“Seems like you know what you’re doing, Diane,” I said. “What’s your secret?”
“Honestly, your guess is as good as mine!” she said. “I just really love this business, and it seems to be working.”
John and Diane sell the same products in similar territories. They follow the same procedures under the same brand name. They pay the same royalties and buy from the same suppliers. They share the same opportunities and face the same threats. John and Diane are essentially running the same business. But their experiences of the business? Day and night.
Every franchise system I work with has franchisees like John, Diane, and the less extreme majority in between. Lots of people are running identical operations but getting different results. Through decades of professional business speaking and 10 years of running my own Edible Arrangements franchises, I’ve worked to understand this disparity. Why would so many people running the same business vary so much in their success?
There’s no denying that marketing, location and operational skill are critical factors. But when you look at top franchisees across many companies and compare them with their lower-performing counterparts, you start to see some other patterns, as well. It’s not just where they’re located. It’s not just how they work. What really stands out is how they think.
Top performers have mental grit, enabling them to navigate through the complicated, stressful, and often lonely endeavor that is running a franchise. They see opportunities others don’t. They respond well to adversity. They cultivate productive relationships with customers, employees, and their franchisor. Most of all, they control their thoughts.
This mental advantage translates to operational superiority. They engage in the same tasks and face the same problems as their peers. But they do it better because their mind is an asset to their business, not a liability.
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Why top franchisees can’t always help struggling franchisees
It’s common in franchising for someone like John to reach out to someone like Diane. She’s getting wealthy in this business. Why not ask her how she’s doing it?
The problem is that while high performers know what they’re doing, they don’t always know what they’re doing differently. They’re just running their business the only way they know how. They may not be able to articulate the real reasons for their success.
Outdoor Living Brands once brought me in to keynote a convention for their multiple franchise brands and asked me to emcee their awards banquet. I suggested we keep the award winners onstage and interview them as a panel to see if we could squeeze out a few great ideas to share with the company. I asked each to share one thing they’d done in the past year that enabled them to succeed.
The first winner said, “We do a lot of marketing.”
The second said, “We treat our employees really well.”
The third said, “We go out into the community and get involved.”
That’s their big secret? That’s their special sauce? Who isn’t doing that stuff?! The discussion was pretty underwhelming.
But there were some things the top franchisees onstage had in common. All of them seemed positive, confident, and in control of their business. They were curious and committed to learning. They were focused on their customers. They took responsibility for their circumstances. They stuck to the system. They were the kind of people you like to do business with. None of the award winners articulated their mindset, but all of them exuded it.
I always ask franchisees for the cause of their stress. What keeps them up at night? I then try to speak to these issues during my programs.
Most people have plenty to say. They worry about sales and the competition. Their employees aggravate them. Their corporate office neglects them. These complaints are very common among franchisees.
But then I met Abdul Karim. Abdul is a multi-unit franchisee with Precision Tune Auto Care. His two units consistently rank number one and two in Washington state for revenue, operations and customer service. His customers love him. His employees are loyal. His businesses are profitable. This guy is a high performer.
No matter how I asked the question, Abdul refused to complain about anything. He sleeps well. He solves problems. His employees consistently perform. I asked him what other franchisees complain about. In reply, he told me everything franchisees need to do to succeed. His optimism was unbreakable and clearly the foundation for his success.
Twenty-six hundred miles away, Danna Vach runs a Bruster’s Real Ice Cream franchise in Georgia, which she acquired from a previous owner. After she took over the business, annual sales doubled. How’d she do it?
“I don’t know!” she confessed with a laugh. She couldn’t identify any operational or marketing strategy that made a difference. Things just started working, and she had no idea why.
I do. Danna is just like Abdul from Precision Tune Auto Care. She’s like those award-winning franchisees from Outdoor Living Brands. She’s positive. She’s engaged. Danna has the qualities I consistently see among great business owners.
Some businesses won’t succeed. Their location, the competition, or other factors may render wealth-building impossible. The right person doing the right things in the wrong situation will not succeed.
We control more than we realize. Most of our obstacles are excuses. They’re real, but they don’t tell the whole story. Wealthy franchisees turn around low-performing locations all the time. They scoop up these gold mines at rock-bottom prices from desperate franchisees who don’t realize how much potential they’re sitting on.
My money says you’ve got a better business than you think you do. You can lead better than you are. You can serve better than you are. Unless you’re operating like a wealthy franchisee, you’re in no place to judge what you have. Your business performance is as much a reflection of how you think as what you have.
“The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar” is available now wherever books are sold and can be purchased via StartupNation.com.