Forming links with the local community and getting their brand out there is vital for any franchisee looking to go the distance
When running your own business, there’s no question that marketing can be the difference between success and failure. And this holds just as true in the world of franchising. “Franchisees are seen as independent business owners,” says Caroline O’Connor, sales and marketing consultant at ads advertising & design, which handles the franchise marketing for Dream Doors. “Marketing is as vital [in a franchise] as if you’re opening up your own business.” Franchisees that want to secure significant returns need to get their brand out in the local area and begin to engage with the community if they want to keep the money coming in.
It can be tempting to think that when you’re buying into an established brand that it comes with a ready-made user base; after all everybody’s heard of Subway right? But a recognisable brand will only carry you so far. “There can be that perception when somebody buys a franchise but they learn very quickly that the hard graft is the important part,” O’Connor says. As with any area of franchising, with marketing you get out what you put in; O’Connor feels that, by the three to five year mark, the difference between those franchises that really commit to marketing and those that don’t is truly remarkable.
So how can new franchisees begin to get the word out? Whilst the sheer breadth of traditional marketing mediums available can seem overwhelming, O’Connor emphasises that a blend is key. “There’s a million and one mediums you can buy, so it’s about identifying the way in which you can layer your marketing to get your message out there,” she says. Standard spots in local directories can form a good base, as can ads in the town paper or on local radio.
But one thing it is worth emphasising is that there are no instant returns on this kind of marketing. “What we often see with people is they book four to six weeks, then they say, ‘that hasn’t worked’ and they pull it,” O’Connor says. “They don’t understand that it takes time to build your engagement through media.” This means, rather than splurging loads of money on a high-visibility blanket campaign for one month, it is better to invest one’s spend over a longer and more sustainable period.
Traditional marketing is only the beginning however; franchisees really wanting to make a splash need to get out and represent themselves in the community. Forming connections with other independent retailers, getting involved with local charities and community groups and joining the local chamber of commerce can all help a franchise come to be seen as an integral part of the community. “Word of mouth is as strong as any marketing or media buying,” she says. “The ones that have put a face out there effectively are the ones that are more successful.”
But it is important to recognise that the local community isn’t confined just to the physical world. “Depending on your brand and how you engage with it, social media is another community,” says O’Connor. “We advise our franchise owners to share strong imagery and post interesting stuff to engage people.” Whilst a franchisee’s customer base won’t necessarily always be looking to make purchases, maintaining a relationship and keeping the conversation going through social media keeps its brand fresh in their minds. “You are constantly reaffirming that you are there and that you are passionate about your business,” continues O’Connor.
These techniques can all help a franchisee get its first customers through the door but how can they maintain these relationships in the long term? O’Connor refers to a franchisee she has worked with that does cookery demonstrations in the showroom at certain points throughout the year. “They invite existing customers back, they get them to invite new customers and they just keep re-engaging with their customers,” says O’Connor. This helps nourish existing relationships as well as cultivate new ones.
Ultimately reaching out to the community is going to be key to any franchisee looking for success. “People want to buy local, they want to buy from business owners they recognise,” O’Connor concludes. “So engagement with your local community is fundamental.”
Vaughan Schofield, owner of Belvoir Lettings Wrexham, knows how important it is to engage with customers in the local area. “It’s imperative for any business to be seen as part of the community,” he says. When starting his franchise, he knew it would be vital to form connections in the local community, not just to engage customers but because he had no existing business contacts in the town. “I wanted to be seen to be making a contribution back to the community that was supporting my business,” he says. “But, equally, I had to do it from a practical point of view as I was starting from scratch.”
Networking and relationship building certainly played a significant part in boosting the franchise’s fortunes. Not only did Schofield join various business clubs and landlord associations but he built up a network of contacts in the construction and maintenance field. “They are very often aware of properties that were currently being refurbished,” he explains. He also formed connections with big organisations like the University of Wrexham, the hospitals and the town’s technology park. “We would furnish them with a monthly email to say, ‘these are the properties that we currently have’, in case they had employees that wanted accommodation,” he says.
But it didn’t stop there. Another thread that has proven to be utterly invaluable is press coverage. “The local newspaper, the Wrexham Reader, phoned me up to ask, ‘would you like to write some articles for us on residential letting?’,” Schofield recalls. This helped cement the brand as the expert in its field. “It’s very effective because when property owners read these articles, it enhances your reputation as being someone who is knowledgeable,” he says.
Schofield has put a lot of effort into building his franchise but he is definitely now harvesting the fruits of his labour. “It’s surprising how easy it becomes once you get that momentum,” Schofield says. He compares it to getting a heavy weight spinning; it takes a lot of effort to get it moving but once you have built up the momentum, keeping things moving takes far less. “The trick is to never believe that it will always be self-generating,” he concludes. “You always have to keep on doing it.”