"When the pandemic first hit and the March lockdown was announced, we had to close the whole of our network, some 60 franchisees and 250+ employees across the country, as we weren’t classed as an essential service."
Experienced franchisor, Mark Llewellyn, founder and joint MD of automotive paint repair franchise, Revive! Auto Innovations said, “When the pandemic first hit and the March lockdown was announced, we had to close the whole of our network, some 60 franchisees and 250+ employees across the country, as we weren’t classed as an essential service.”
“However, we decided that we would use the time productively and hope that we would soon be back.”
Here are Mark’s top lessons learned from the initial lockdown.
Focus on mindset
A national lockdown was a new experience for the UK public and so there were some initial concerns that franchisees would switch off and lose focus.
There are not many opportunities to sit down and plan in our normal business lives. So this was an opportunity: to clarify how we would get back to business; to work without any distractions on the things we needed to do; and to get a clear plan of action so that we would be ready to return to work at the right time.
Once we were back to business as usual, it was noticeable that the franchisees who had the right mindset, who were clear about their plan and objectives and who used lockdown effectively were the ones who got back to business strongly.
Get the plan right
Planning began in earnest, focusing strongly on how the business would bounce back. At the same time, we discussed various risk scenarios:
- what if the car dealership trade returned with fewer sales – how would that impact us?
- what could we do to mitigate a loss of sales in a certain area?
We spent a significant amount of time planning our sales, bringing in external trainers to help our franchisees review new opportunities. We did not leave things to chance. With our help, the franchisees created their plans, so that we knew exactly what the key activities and targets were on the return to work.
No substitute for hard work
There are no shortcuts in business, hard work underpins everything. During the first lockdown it was a very different type of work: planning, developing sales and marketing strategies and communicating clearly with colleagues and the teams around the country.
We knew that we would need to be ready once we were able to get back to work. That included encouraging and supporting our franchisees to stay in touch with their teams of technicians who were on furlough while they were unable to go out to work.
Efficient work practices
Linked to all the work during lockdown, was a keen focus on how we could do things more effectively. Whilst the government’s furlough scheme allowed us to keep people safe at home, we also realised that, as we began to get back to work, we needed to bring people back gradually to meet the growing demand.
We took the time to review each role and ensure we were as efficient as we possibly could be. We made changes to a number of processes, working closely with our in-house IT team. Ultimately, this led to a highly efficient and motivated workforce who delivered outstanding results as soon as we were able to get back to work.
In difficult times, the power of a positive collective cannot be underestimated. Of course, it is essential that there is leadership and direction but groups of positive franchisees discussing the best way forward together is a hugely beneficial force. Right at the outset of the lockdown, we implemented weekly video-chat meetings which proved extremely productive. Franchisees came out of these meetings in a positive frame of mind with a clear strategy for their businesses, knowing that they were not alone.
Outstanding customer service
Consistently delivering outstanding customer service is vital to any business, never more so than in the present uncertainty as we live with the pandemic. We needed to understand how to keep staff and customers safe, as well as delivering our core services in the right way. Again, regular communications were key, as well as being open and honest with both franchisees and our head office staff about the impact on our business.
Our business re-opened with pilot operations at the end of May to test and document revised Covid-safe processes. Sales grew rapidly over the next few months. By the beginning of July, all the franchisees were back trading and we saw extraordinary sales performances across the network. Record sales were achieved in July, only to be surpassed in September and October.
During this second lockdown, we are able to keep our technicians working, with social distancing and revised processes. However, the key messages of communication, planning and focusing on outstanding customer service remain as important as we navigate our network through uncertain times.
Mark said “This unprecedented time meant that we became even closer to our network of franchisees and employees. There is always uncertainty in business but as franchisors, if we focus on the aspects we can control and keep planning and communicating, we can help our network weather any storms and build successful businesses of their own.”