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Stepping out of franchisors’ shadows

Ways to convince employees that franchises are local businesses.
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When a potential employee goes hunting for online job posts for Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, they might be met with a few things atypical of other chains’ career pages. Individualized culture sites rolled out this spring give franchisees the opportunity to share employee shoutouts or operator bios, and even plug events like car shows. The goal is to help amplify the voices of local stakeholders and guests, says CEO Laura Rea Dickey. “It’s a place where owner-operators can tell their story and truly communicate the local aspect of their business,” she says. As “local” continues to be a pervasive buzzword, franchises like Dickey’s are working to shine a light on the small-business owners. But the message needs to reach employees.

During shift meetings, Dickey’s corporate team works with franchisees to underline that each unit is operator-owned. The chain puts together videos reminding workers how to cut a biscuit or sell an LTO. But at the end of the short clips, Dickey’s shouts out local teams and operators for recent successes, then hands off the discussion to franchisees to explain what the videos mean to their store.

Part of acting like a local business for Sonic Drive-In franchisee Ted Kergan is communicating with employees and tapping into the needs of the community. During orientation, employees are taught not only the history of the brand, but of the franchise group as well. The orientation helps staff see examples of how the brand’s core values of “entrepreneurial spirit” and “power of the individual” can be executed at the store level. So when Kergan’s crew members noticed that some small kids visiting the restaurant did not have car seats, they decided to do something about it. His team met with the University Medical Center of New Orleans and found out many children in the state were suffering injuries in car accidents, because parents did not have the money to buy car seats. They developed a local fundraiser and will be donating 1,000 car seats this year.

Communicating that locally owned and operated message has long been a part of McDonald’s selling point to prospective franchisees; it tries to convey that it’s a collection of small- and mid-sized businesses rather than one giant corporation.

Papa John’s takes a similar approach. For Joe Smith, SVP of global sales and development, it comes down to being clear with prospective franchisees that the chain isn’t looking for an owner who just wants to make a capital investment. “If the team members see that owner in the store on a busy Friday or Saturday night, it displays that that owner cares about the business,” Smith says. “And if owners show that they care about the business, team members will care.” 

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