Chris Hammond, VP of Operations for Clean Juice recently sent us this amazing success story about their experience with the FranchiseBlast team for integrations with new systems to enhance operations as a whole. Thanks for the kudos Chris! We are so happy to work with a forward-thinking brand like you!
Port City Java, founded in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1995 is known for their strong coffee, and now they’ve made a strong comeback as well. In the 90s, they started expanding throughout the Wilmington market with just corporate locations and started franchising in 2003 with 100 agreements signed at the peak.
According to Sarah Meriam, Director of Franchise Operations, in their initial execution of franchising, they made a few common mistakes which halted their growth temporarily. Using these mistakes as learning opportunities, the brand was able to recognize the crucial gaps in their system and made the decision to take a step back and restructure. Around 2007, they put a pause on traditional franchising so that they could refocus and reboot the system.
Port City Java franchising officially relaunched in summer of 2018 and the company started getting back into traditional franchise growth. With 12 corporate and 15 franchise stores they are choosing the right franchisees and being more data-driven than they were before. We sat down with Sarah to learn what changed and how she sees the future.
What would you say is the biggest thing that you’re doing differently as you’ve reemerged?
Sarah: “We’re really focusing on the type of operator that we want in our system and being able to support our brand partners effectively. To do this, we are not reemerging with the goal of becoming a national brand but instead committing to controlled, regional growth for now.
“From my point of view, as an operations person, that’s one of the biggest mistakes that we made initially. We had no way of supporting a store in California from here. Making sure that we’re not growing beyond our means and truly supporting the franchises is key.”
What sets Port City Java apart from the competition?
Sarah: “Competition for us is many different forms from the big-name brands to local coffee shops to convenience stores. To stand out, we focus on product quality and guest experience. During our initial onboarding and training of employees at any level in the company, we make the distinction between ‘service’ and ‘hospitality’ a primary message. Service, as we say, can be transactional but hospitality is going above and beyond and truly creating an experience for the guest. Ideally, this keeps them coming back.
“On the product side of things, we have an in-house roasting operation at our corporate headquarters in Wilmington and with our team’s hands-on approach, we take a lot of pride in delivering the highest quality coffee to our guests and café operators. At the café level, we are constantly evaluating our operations and training so that all staff members uphold the same level of quality throughout.”
When did you implement FranchiseBlast, and what was the reason?
Sarah: “We started in 2017 and our primary reason was for the auditing software. Before then, we were on the pen-and-paper audits that were ineffective. We had no efficient way of collating and assessing results for one unit, let alone our entire system.
“When we were first introduced to the FranchiseBlast tool, the timing was perfect because we were behind on the technology aspect of things. Getting upgraded to this kind of software was a primary focus of mine to make significant improvements to our auditing process. With the technology in hand, we can be vastly more efficient with our units before, during and after completing café audits.
“The auto-generated report is sent to operators and management staff immediately upon approval, but we also include a follow-up email, based on a template our Franchise Business Consultants (FBCs) have created, to highlight key areas of opportunity as well as positives. We build in as much redundancy as possible. FBCs are trained to take as many notes and pictures as possible during the audit, which is another big advantage.
“Even if the operator is not in the store during the audit, they know exactly what we’re talking about without needing a full explanation or time-consuming follow-up about what needs to be corrected or improved.”
What would you say the biggest strength is of FranchiseBlast?
Sarah: “Definitely the software’s ease of use and support team behind the scenes. Everything is straightforward, simple and effective for our use of it. If there are ever any questions that arise or anything that we might need further coaching or explanation on, we go to the support team. Everyone is incredibly responsive and helpful, and the team is always willing to take feedback.”
In your day-to-day, what feature helps you the most as you manage your FBCs?
Sarah: “Being able to look at the audit reports from multiple viewpoints has definitely been the most beneficial aspect. We organize our system into various categories within the software so that we can isolate reports in the most effective way. I can view reports from the system as a whole, franchise versus corporate, drive thru versus non-drive thru, or even broken down by FBC territory, just to name a few.
“Having the ability to see audit results from all of these angles helps to assess issues that may be happening across the board versus metrics in specific locations. It gives our team perspective when adjusting action plans or coaching the FBC and helping them come up with a plan to correct that behavior or issue. It also gives us the ability to look at and use historical data from previous audits reports to better document ongoing or repeat issues that may require escalation.
“Being able to categorize and review all of audit reports helps us isolate the root cause of the issues. We can assess ‘Is this a specific café problem? Is this a problem for all drive thru or University cafes? Is this a system-wide issue?’ Answering these questions with concrete data determines the necessary action that we, as the franchisor, might need to take whether it be coaching one operator or a broader change to training/educational resources. Being able to have some flexibility with the different types of reports that we can pull and assessing that data from a lot of different angles is invaluable.”
What’s the overall impact of FranchiseBlast on Port City Java?
Sarah: “One of the obvious impacts has definitely been improving our unit compliance. For example, we’ve seen almond milk utensil and pitcher handling jump from 38% compliance in 2017 to 98% compliance in 2019. We fortunately never had any allergy reports, but without FranchiseBlast in place, we would not have had the data to show the gaps in training to ensure everyone staff were always following proper protocol .
“That said, I also feel like we’ve been able to show our operators the value of audits as a coaching tool to help them, and ourselves, make improvements instead of just focusing on a compliance score. We’re very transparent about how we use these results to score ourselves as the franchisor. This is not only in the audits that are completed in our corporate stores but around system-wide weaknesses which reflect gaps and opportunities for improvement in our training initiatives.
“Aside from raising compliance scores with the almond milk procedures we first noticed, we can look at two additional metrics from our system as great examples of how we have used the collected data to improve our training initiatives: espresso quality and suggestive selling. Within the first few months of adopting the FranchiseBlast software, we noticed that the majority of our cafes were consistently scoring very low in espresso quality.
“With our coffee quality being of the utmost importance to us as a brand, we used the information gathered from the audits to assess where we had gaps in our training materials that would result in quality issues. We were able to add to and improve those materials to ensure cafes had the best tools and resources to maintain the standards we want to achieve. Since then, we have seen consistent improvements in scores and, even more importantly, the quality of products being produced.
“These areas of opportunity tied nicely into our overall goals for 2017. In preparation for relaunching the franchise, we wanted to ensure our brand was differentiated in terms of hospitality and product quality, but more specifically we wanted to improve the unit-level economics of our cafés. FranchiseBlast highlighted that we had an area of opportunity around increase average check sizes via suggestive selling. We decided to address this opportunity first, as it appeared like lower hanging fruit than increasing customer counts.
“As a result, in the second quarter of 2017, our FBCs focused on the topic of suggestive selling during their conversations with franchisees and store managers while our training department built supporting materials. Around the third quarter of 2017, we started making these training materials widely available for consumption. We promoted them even further in 2018 and still today in 2019.
“We are always looking for opportunities to make improvements but by including assessments of suggestive selling in our two primary audits and providing cafes with further training and feedback, we had a nice impact on our average check size.
“That first quarter, when we ramped up with the software, we saw the average check size increase by an average of 2.3%. The second quarter showed an average increase of 3.52% over 2016 while third and fourth quarters accelerated the upwards trend with 5.16% and 5.96% increases respectively. Although not shown here, we saw continued increases throughout 2018 until the unfortunate events of Hurricane Florence impacted our area cafes. We’ve now recovered and are growing strongly once again.
“Obviously, there are numerous factors at play and while we’re not claiming FranchiseBlast is solely responsible for our continued improvements with these metrics, the timing lines up with our brand’s desire to make more data-driven decisions and conscientiously work towards advancing our system overall.
“From my perspective as a coach, it’s great that our efforts are reflected in the results, but I don’t want to be stuck looking at numbers on a spreadsheet all day! The data helps us make more informed decisions about our processes and priorities, but it is still up to our frontline staff to get it done. Having these tools available improves the level of support we are able to offer to build their confidence as operators and show them how what they do on a daily basis adds up!”
What advice would you give to someone trying to do your job?
Sarah: “I always advise people that the two biggest lessons I learned after getting into franchising were: always celebrate the small victories and recognize the value of answering the question, ‘why?’ before it even gets asked. Having grown up with the PCJ brand in Corporate Operations, I came to our Franchise Department with an unrealistic ideal of what it was going to be like working with franchisees.
“I took for granted the fact that I was now working with business owners, not just other managers, and I had to justify every decision that was being made and answer as many questions as I could think of before they were asked. As a department, our mantra is, “front load everything.” While it was frustrating at first, I quickly learned there is tremendous value in doing this. By answering the ‘why,’ and offering that level of transparency, we continue to build trust with our franchisees. “
Sport Clips, started in Austin, Texas by former U.S. Airforce Aircraft Commander, Gordon Logan, is a hair salon specializing in hair cuts for boys and men. Franchising since 1993, this dynamic system has over 1,800 locations in North America. Sport Clips has been in Canada since 2012. Sara, who is going into her fifth year with the company, works with franchisees from sea to shining sea.
What does it take to extend a successful franchise brand to a new country without spending too many resources? Sara Belanger, Director of Operations for Sport Clips Canada works with franchisees from coast to coast to set them up for success using franchise coaching and processes adapted to their needs.
We sat down with Sara and she shared how she uses smart processes and tools.
A Day in the Life at Sport Clips
What is your role?
Sara: “I am the Director of Operations for Canada. Our focus here is to put the processes that are already established in the United States into Canada. My responsibilities include system-wide software launches and roll-outs such as POS or core operational software shared with franchisees. I also take care of national recruitment strategies, campaigns and platforms. I wear many hats, but I would be bored if I had the same tasks day after day. The diversity in the role keeps it interesting.
“Management of all new store build-outs is also key to my role here at Sport Clips. That means taking the new franchisees through ‘day one’ in the field in terms of starting their new business after they have been on-boarded through their initial training. I navigate them through the entire build-out process task-by-task and we have regular calls to get that done. Once they are up and running, I do the ongoing coaching on operational strategies to grow their businesses. A big part of our franchise coaching is strategies to manage store teams in terms of development and engagement.”
What interested you in the franchising community?
Sara: “It was a great opportunity to work along-side entrepreneurs – I have always had a huge respect for them. A lot of our franchisees have interesting backgrounds and are real “go-getters”. We are a manager-run store with a team leader, so most of the owners of Sport Clips have day-jobs. At the same time, I get to work with the hairstylists who are creative, passionate and fun.”
What do you like about working at Sport Clips?
Sara: “The culture is very positive and respectful. Our team works closely together, and we are all working towards the same goal. We are all helping our stores become successful; it is nice to be part of a team that is willing to go above and beyond.”
Building on the Success of an Iconic Brand
What strategy do you employ to set your franchisees up for success
Sara: “Sport Clips started franchising in the early-90s, so they have over 25 years of experience building systems and processes. To make sure that our store owners are successful, we take them through every element of each process. We want to make sure that they are armed with the tools and information that they need.”
What tools keep you on track?
Sara: “In terms of staying organized, FranchiseBlast is a great help. It is an opportunity to get back into the system and have task-oriented items there that you can check off. We have processes in place for every development point including:
- Onboarding training
- Grand opening
- Store build-out
- Ongoing plans
“This is something we can build into a process, and we use FranchiseBlast to ensure that we are hitting every point on the checklist. After that, communication is key. We make sure that we are reaching out to franchisees on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, depending on where they are at in the lifecycle. We have a call with an agenda and create follow-up items to ensure that we are getting traction on our shared goals.”
How do you use tasks specifically?
Sara: “We do ‘Success Checks’ which is what we call our Store Audits. Using FranchiseBlast, we can store and track relevant follow-up tasks. We also use the Action Plans function when we are doing a store transfer or grand opening – all the associated tasks are there. We have it broken down by department and we are able to follow-up on that. If I see a task that hasn’t been marked as complete, it is easy for me to see who needs a follow-up communication. It ensures that nothing gets missed.
“There is also a function to edit plans for ongoing enhancements. If we go through a process and find that there is something missing, we can build a stronger process for the next time. We don’t need to rebuild the same tool over and over – it is a huge bonus for us.”
Managing Unique Challenges
What was the biggest challenge?
Sara: “Across Canada, I would say that recruitment is an ongoing challenge. We want to make sure that each store manager is not taking his or her foot off the gas in terms of finding those awesome new stylists. Having great stylists is the best way to ensure that our brand is the premium one that we all work towards as an organization.
“Once they are hired on, one of our first steps is to take them through a tool called “Magic Notebook” which is done at 3 full days of training. “Magic Notebook” is a full checklist of what that new hire must go through to ensure that we are setting them up for success. Do they have the tools that they need to function in our environment? Do they know what to do? We want everyone to be successful and they can only be successful if they have the tools and training.”
Canada is a diverse country – how do you manage that?
Sara: “Challenges are very store-specific. Factors such as:
- Where is the location?
- Is there a brand presence in that region already?
- How mature is the team leader?
- How established is the team?
“Each store has its own unique personality, and a different opportunity. The good thing is that for each challenge that we encounter, we do have the tools. We know what works and we can build those plans for them. They are going to be at different stages of the lifecycle.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take an established system and make it successful in a new market?
Sara: “Take a look at the processes in your system and adapt them where needed. We have taken some and broken them down further, so that they are more digestible chunks that will get quicker results. Look at your overall processes and where they would fit in that store’s development. Every team leader who comes on has a different set of experiences and different specialties. You may not train one team leader the same way that you train another one, for example.
“When you look at them on an individual basis, you may want to simplify the training content to ensure that it is meaningful. Also having your actionable items created as tasks, helps you track and see progress. I would also advise to “never assume anything”. Don’t assume that the franchisee knows something without being sure. Instead, ensure that the touch-points and ongoing communication is there. This helps you get in front of an issue as opposed to reacting to it because an assumption has been made.”
The key takeaway from this story is that you do not need a lot of resources to expand to a new country if you have the right technology and tools.
For every interview, we ask some concluding questions to learn more about our guest. Check out the below to learn more!
What new belief, behaviors or habits, adopted within the last 5 years, have most positively impacted your life?
Sara: “My perception of business, based on the Sport Clips culture, has changed significantly. ‘Do your best; do what is right; treat others the way that you want to be treated,’ are some of the main parts of the culture. It was a nice environment to come into. In this company, there is a lot of focus on what is going in the right direction and celebrating that. The challenges are really seen as opportunities, and everything can be accomplished. It is a great perspective that I have applied professionally day-to-day and it has also had a positive impact on my personal life.”
Purchases of less than $100 that have improved your life?
Sara: “I have a mouse pad that is like an agenda. I was a collector of agendas and different pieces of paper, trying to keep things on track before. Keeping my day on just one piece of paper has been life-changing.”
What books have you gifted the most to other people?
Sara: “I love light reads that I can get at the department store, then I pass those on to other people. I find it helps me re-set and relax and I like to share that positive energy with others.”
How can you increase franchise engagement in today’s world where information is power? One smart and simple way is by making operations more transparent to the franchisees themselves.
Chris Hammond, the Regional Franchise Director at Focus Brands did just this, while making the store auditing system more effective. Moe’s Southwest Grill, affectionately known as Moe’s, offers a variety of Mexican dishes, and was dubbed by the Harris Poll Equitrend Survey as “Fast Casual Restaurant of the Year” in 2016. The name “Moe’s” originated as an acronym for “Musicians, Outlaws and Entertainers” and anyone experiencing a location will witness their music-themed decor. The company was founded in 2000, in Atlanta Georgia, and has over 650 locations.
Moe’s is now owned by Focus Brands based in Sandy Springs, Georgia with over 5,000 stores. We sat down with Chris and talked about how he engaged his franchisees in a unique way using technology.
How has your audit process evolved over time at Moe’s?
Chris: “I’ve been here for 12 years now. We started off with pen and paper – it was literally a yellow notebook and a Bic pen, and we took notes on what was working and what was not for each franchise. Later it evolved into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet where we would print a document off and fill it out with a pen on a clipboard. Afterwards, we would sit in front of our computer and type everything in. In terms of process – it was awful.
“Then we moved to a software tool that was very ‘bare-bones’. We created a report, saved it as a PDF and then we emailed it to the store. That was fine, but we could not get anything else out of it and there was no way to measure analytics or KPIs for the unit or as a system.”
How did that compare to using the FranchiseBlast audit tool?
Chris: “With FranchiseBlast we have the ability to look at analytics to see trends and averages. We can see how we’re doing and what we need to focus on per category. We never had that before and it is a big help. The intuitive report platform takes our data and puts it into a powerful analytical report that shows our progress overall, scores on key indicators in the company, and on areas of focus.”
Do you have certain analytics that are your favorite or things that you look at on a regular basis?
Chris: “The year-to-date score averages; we like to compare the first half of the year year-to-date score averages by Franchise Business Consultant (FBC) and by region. Secondly, the top deficiencies which shows what are they getting marked the most for; it tells us what we need to be focused on. We also like to give credit for what are they doing the best.”
How do you use the tool in terms of store openings?
Chris: “We do a scoring on a location before it opens to see if it is ready for the trainers. We’ll do a walk-through of that stores and do a digital checklist. They’ll send it over to the corporate office and we will get back to the franchise and ask for updates based on the deficiencies that we found. That is a scorecard that is very valuable as well.”
How do you communicate scores to franchisees?
Chris: “We do a ‘rack and stack’. My FBC team sends rankings on a weekly or monthly basis, where they will rank how a store performs on a report. They communicate both the top-ranking franchisees and the ones that are at the bottom. We use a snapshot of that dashboard report. We’ll share these scores openly so there is no secret there.”
Okay so that’s good so then they see where they are and that is some transparency then.
Chris: “There is a lot of competition in the franchise world; you have to be careful with what you share but we communicate this information pretty openly. It is a very powerful tool. It doesn’t matter what concept you’re in, there are always going to be franchisees who are critical of the corporate office, while their operations are below par. With the transparency, I can respond to a franchisee who is performing poorly in a direct manner, because everyone knows the numbers.”
When your coaches are using it what do you think is the biggest benefit is?
Chris: “The efficiency of how the reporting flows on the platform; it’s a very intuitive program and it’s easy for them to understand. It helps them to document and keep tabs on the scoring as well as they walk through and evaluation with a restaurant or an operator. “The coaches also like the other reports that we have made available such as a general food safety evaluation integrated with Steritech. We also use one for site surveys; if a franchisee is looking at going into a new area, we can do a site survey to assess if it will be a good area to build a new store or not.”
How have your franchisees and multi-unit operators benefited?
Chris: “We recently made FranchiseBlast available for franchisees to use as well so their multi-unit managers can do self-evaluations. That’s something that we’ve always wanted to do since the beginning to time. We wanted something that can be monitored from our end that the franchisees are using. We’re finally able to do that and we are really pleased with what the future has in store.”
Are you ready to try FranchiseBlast’s audit tool? You can see more here.
“My name is Daun Costa. I’m the IT Program Manager for Pita Pit and I look after all of our franchisee and consumer-facing applications.
Life before FranchiseBlast was all paper-based and email communications, nothing dynamic. There were challenges when it came to collaborating on projects or initiatives or managing locations. There was no information continuity. FranchiseBlast’s software is very streamlined. The interface is so user-friendly and very easy to learn.
The field audits app was the feature that sold us on the service the most as well as the action plans. We used the action plans very heavily with store opening procedures so it’s a huge component for the development team.
The process when we were onboarding with FranchiseBlast was very supported and very quick to implement. We had a lot of paper-based information, a lot of Excel forms and a lot of stagnant data even that we were pulling from a very very old intranet. We took all of that information gave it to the FranchiseBlast team and they imported it in very short order to get us up and running into the CRM.
What exceeded and continues to exceed our expectations with FranchiseBlast is the level of support and service and innovation. Anytime that we have a support requirement, the FranchiseBlast team is immediately responsive. Anytime we are looking at new ways to use the system or we have business objectives or challenges that we are looking to meet, we can always discuss it with the FranchiseBlast team and they help us find solutions.
FranchiseBlast is our central core system. It is the central repository for all of our information pertaining to our franchisees.”
ABOUT PITA PIT®:
Founded in 1995 in Kingston, Ontario near Queen’s University, Pita Pit® is an innovative fast casual restaurant with a unique mindset that challenges consumers to Refuse to Settle™ for anything less than quality, healthy, freshly grilled food. After rapidly earning a loyal following in its home market, franchising began across Canada in 1997 and, in 1999, the brand expanded to the United States. Now boasting more than 650 stores across North America and internationally across 13 countries, Pita Pit offers its customers millions of ridiculously delicious, customizable flavour combinations of grilled meats, fresh vegetables, and zesty sauces all rolled into a unique and convenient pita package. For more information about Pita Pit, visit www.pitapit.ca or www.facebook.com/pitapitcanada.