How a Founder Can be a Great “First Coach” to Early Franchisees

Angela Cote Franchise Coach LogoIn the early days of franchising, the owner often becomes the first coach. How do you drive results with early franchisees when you are an emerging franchisor?

There is a lot to learn from Angela Coté, who grew up with M&M Food Market, an iconic Canadian frozen food retail chain that grew to almost 500 stores across the country. We sat down with former franchisor, current multi-unit franchisee and Franchise Growth Catalyst, Angela Coté, to hear her thoughts.

Tell us about how you got into franchising?

Angela: My father founded M&M and having grown up with it, I have done everything from dressing up as our mascot, “Kelly Kabob” in the mid-80’s for grand openings, to running around Western Canada helping develop the chain in the late ‘90’s. This included opening stores, training franchisees, and getting them up and running.  Eventually this informal role changed into a field consultant one and I worked with franchisees on engagement and profitability.

Angela Cote Meeting

What stands out for you most about the early days of M&M?

Angela: I was a 20-year-old female field consultant and the franchisee was often a 60-year-old male who had just spent his life savings to be a part of the brand. I am certain that some of them were asking themselves “She is the boss’s daughter –  what does she know about taking a risk? What does she know about investing all this money in a business?  How could she possibly help me?” But I worked hard to help them understand the importance of following the operational system, which drove their results and eventually earned their respect.

In that role, I had to learn a lot by trial and error.  As their support person, I started to understand what they were going through, as they experienced a lot of ups and downs emotionally. They were tired and had invested a significant amount of money, making it a really big deal for them. I came out on the other end with some hands-on direct experience – in franchisee relations!

In 2000, I became a multi-unit franchisee which, reflecting back, helps me really understand the franchisees and their concerns – now it is my life-savings at stake!  As a result, I’ve got both sides of the ‘franchise coin’. I understand what it’s like to be an early-stage and established franchisor, and to actually live life as a franchisee as well.

Today, I help businesses with franchise strategy and I coach their franchise business coaches; profitability is the number driver of growth in a franchise, and it is something I am extremely passionate about.  I am super-excited to have had the ability to create the angela COTE Inc. brand, which enables me to tap into what drives me and what I’m truly passionate about.

Spray Squad TeamWhen a franchise first starts, the founders are often the first coaches. Based on your experience, what tips would you give to a founder or coach with these early franchisees?

Angela: Showing early franchisees that you appreciate them is critical. I think that people take them for granted. In the early days, acknowledging that, “Hey, thanks for believing in this when no one else does.  Thanks for understanding that we’re not a well-oiled machine yet”. Here are four tips for franchisors regarding their early adopter franchisees:

  1. Get clear on expectations: When an emerging franchisor first starts, there is frequently a lack of clear expectations on both parties. When I say expectations, I mean, for example, what support the franchisees are going to get because it hasn’t even been built yet. Franchisees are expecting support because they bought into a system and they have pre-conceived thoughts based on popular perceptions of more established franchisors. Setting clear expectations up-front is a great first step.
  2. Recognize early adopters: Recognize that these first franchisees are early adopters according to the Rogers diffusion of innovation bell curve, and ensure that they know the systems are not set up yet. Clarifying that is huge in the early days. Often the early adopters are clients.  For example, maybe it’s a fitness studio and they love being a member, love the culture and think “I want one of these for myself.”

rogers diffusion curveIn response, a great way to put it is: “We would love to have you but know that we are still working towards building out our systems and processes for optimal efficiencies and profitability.  and you’re going to be part of creating that with us. Don’t expect it to be built. On the flip-side, you get to help us build it by telling us what you need and getting a lot of say in what is created.”

The early franchisees get the opportunity to scratch their “entrepreneurial itch” more, but still have to understand and balance the fact that it’s still a system.

  1. Set up systems through trial and error: Regarding setting up the systems, I think people feel as though to coach their franchisees, they need to have very formal systems established. I think it works best to do it as trial and error. I’m a big believer in the “lean start-up”, or the “minimum viable product”.

At the beginning of being an emerging franchisor, you don’t know what the franchisees want so don’t go out and create this massive “support system” that you use to coach your franchisees without asking them. Instead, work with them, try it. If it didn’t work, don’t “freak out”. That’s fine. We’re going to adjust this. We’re going to tweak that.

You really want to wow them, so that they talk highly about you, so you can grow the brand.

  1. Under-promise and over-deliver. It may sound cliché, but it needs to be said – under-promise and over-deliver to your first franchisees when you are an emerging franchisor. You really want to wow them, so that they talk highly about you, so you can grow the brand. So that when other people come and say, “What’s it like here?” they reply with, “it’s awesome!”

What are common pitfalls for coaches and founders?

Angela: The other pitfalls that a first early coach and founder is losing touch with your corporate location. This isn’t good for profitability and business growth. Additionally, from a perspective of a franchise coach, franchisees will think that you can’t relate anymore because you’re not working in the business.

The way to avoid that pitfall is to have a general manager at your corporate location who really understands how to grow the business. Be in touch with that person, communicate regularly with what’s going on in that corporate location so that when you’re talking to franchisees, you can say things like, “Yeah, we’re going through that same problem at our corporate location.”


With everyone we interview, we ask a series of fun questions! Here is Angela’s Q&A!

What new beliefs, behaviors, or habits adopted in the last five years have most positively impacted your life?

Angela: Getting a coach!  I hired a career coach three years ago to help me tap into my passion and figure out how to make that into a career. That was the best decision I made in my entire life. Later, I got an amazing performance coach. No matter what your income level is, it is super valuable to have someone with experience help you stay on track.

Purchase of less than $100 that’s improved your life.

Angela: My monthly membership to my local floating franchise, The Float House. You float in a tank with high level of salt. Sensory deprivation is a dark, warm and relaxing experience and is great for those stressful days.

What would you want to put on a billboard?

Angela: “Contrary to popular belief, franchising is NOT turnkey. Franchising a business requires someone with expertise who understand the complexity of the model. Buying into a franchise as a franchisee requires hard work, leadership skills and true grit.”

What books have you most gifted to other people?

Angela: It is a bit embarrassing, but it is a business book: Traction by Gino Wickman. This helps clients with vision, short-term and long-term plans.

More Info:

  • To learn more about Angela, you can go to her website at angela COTE Inc.
  • To learn more about FranchiseBlast field audit and scorecard software, go to our website.
  • Would you like a PDF of this article? Download PDF here.

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