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FRANCHISING AND THE FAME GAME

by Simon Lord,
last updated 01/02/2012

December 2010 - Some of the best-known franchises rely on personal brands created by their founders. Simon Lord talks to Rodney Wayne about creating a marketable image

There’s an old saying in franchising that the name of the game is the fame of the name. When you buy a franchised business, it’s the power of the brand that you put over your door or on your vehicle that brings you business from day one. The more famous the brand, the more value the franchise has. And some of the franchises all have a very public face: who can imagine KFC without Colonel Sanders, or Jim’s Mowing without the familiar logo of the bearded founder?

Few people understand this better than Rodney Wayne. You have to have a certain self-confidence to place a life-size cut-out of yourself in salons all over New Zealand, as Rodney did a few years ago, but confidence is one thing he has never lacked. For over 30 years, New Zealand’s favourite hairdresser has been the very public face of the franchise he created.

‘Back at the beginning I was a good hairdresser and had built a very strong following, but I only had one pair of hands,’ Rodney recalls. ‘To grow, I needed to train other people who could do the same quality of work that I was doing but I still needed to be the front person. That’s how I visualised it even when there was only one salon, then as the chain grew I would spend a day in each salon. That meant I could be very much a part of it and the team members got to know me personally. At the same time I made a conscious decision to put myself out there. I accepted every invitation that came my way, went to women’s groups at least once a week and would talk about hair and fashion and do some makeovers. I personally introduced myself to a lot of people. I did the hair for a lot of fashion shows and got my fair share of publicity, then came a regular spot on the Good Morning programme.’

In the late 1980s Rodney Wayne decided to start franchising, inspired by Jean Louis David who had around 800 salons in Europe. ‘He asked me to join him and I could see the strength of his business, but when we hired a research firm to ask people in Manukau, where we had no salons at the time, which hairdresser first sprang to mind, the overwhelming response was “Rodney Wayne”. I had worked very hard to make that happen and decided there was no point in starting again with another brand.’ So the Rodney Wayne franchise was born and today has 41 salons and 17 Shampoo’n’Things outlets around the country.

The face that launched a thousand trailers

The creation of personal brands happens in other industries, too. You can’t get much further away from hairdressing than lawnmowing, yet when Jim Penman handed a graphic designer an unsmiling photograph of himself and asked him to make up a logo for his fledgling Jim’s Mowing franchise he could hardly have foreseen just how famous it would make him. Today, Jim’s picture appears on almost 3000 trailers and vehicles as the face of everything from carpet cleaning to computers, aerial installation to electrical testing. Although he no longer has the beard, Jim Penman has worked hard to develop his brand in a non-sexy business, self-publishing books and being outspoken on various issues in his native Australia – something that has occasionally made him a target. Has Rodney Wayne ever found his own celebrity a problem?

‘Well, you do have to try to be well-behaved,’ he smiles, ‘and naturally every now and then there is something that is photographed and you think, “Jesus, why did they have to use that and how did it happen?” But it doesn’t bother me too much at all.

‘A few years ago the Rodney Wayne brand wasn’t so cool any more. That more or less coincided with my decision to go and live on a farm and enjoy the country lifestyle. So I appointed regional franchisors, we re-did our branding and our salons and I deliberately stepped back from the business for a while. I kept up a semi-profile but it was very hard for me to do it because when you’re away wearing gumboots all week, to put on a smart suit and talk about fashion doesn’t come naturally – you slip out of the mode. The other aspect was that with regional franchisors you don’t have the same control and the same management style. When I came back in, the franchisees were very, very happy and I think there were two reasons for that. One was that my mode of business is to sit round a table and sort things out rather than just tell people what we are going to be doing, and the other was that Rodney Wayne the person was going to be more visible. It’s a funny thing with age in human beings: if you’re 60 and you still look ok, have good health and a strong brand, you actually start to become cool again!’

Missing Dick

It’s an opportunity that Dick Smith may not have. The grinning face of the founder of Dick Smith Electronics was recently removed from the company’s logo as Woolworths, who have owned the company since 1980, sought to update the brand. At the same time, the word ‘Electronics’ was dropped. The company’s national marketing manager told The Australian newspaper in forthright fashion that ‘The (Dick Smith) head was very old and daggy. I didn’t have any reason to keep it. And “Electronics” meant jugs, kettles and stuff.’ While Dick Smith has remained a public figure in Australia, his lack of connection to the business that bears his name made the removal of his face from the logo an obvious step, but it’s one that many people decried.

Of course, brands do ultimately outlast their founders. Robert Harris, who developed a taste for European-style coffee during his wartime experiences in Italy, is now little more than a footnote in the history of the company that bears his name. But in the 1960s it was he who started experimenting with roasts and blends in an era of ‘instant’, and his Hamilton coffee shop that brought fresh coffee out of the immigrant communities and laid the foundations for the nationwide franchise of today.

Developing a lasting brand

So does Rodney Wayne expect his brand to outlast him in the same way? ‘I could still be doing this when I’m 90. The Rodney Wayne brand is about more than Rodney Wayne himself – it’s about the people who make up the company and the way they are led and trained and managed,’ he says. ‘I invest serious money in all these areas. We keep most of our apprentices for the full three to four years and then many of them go off and do their OE then come back and work for us again. So they build a loyalty to the brand. We keep them involved with meetings and things like our seasonal launches. We put on an evening with drinks and nice food and invite all the franchisees and staff – at the Ackland one recently, we had about 300 people there. I want every young person admiring the brand and feeling proud of it. My role now is to be at the forefront and articulate all the things that the Rodney Wayne brand stands for and keep them excited about it.

‘But in saying that, I’ve still stepped back a bit. For instance, I always used to head the artistic team and did some of the hair myself, but now we have a style director and he’s on stage at the launches so that the brand is bigger than just me. And one of our key support managers is becoming general manager of operations to take over a lot of my role. That will give me even more time to step back and take a fresh look at the brand. Look at the story on Re-inventing McDonald's in the last issue of Franchise New Zealand. If McDonald’s had gone on doing the same old burgers for ever it might not have gone down the gurgler but it certainly wouldn’t have grown with such strength. For us, we have to be up with fashion, up with technique, up with new product. We work very closely with L’Oréal, we depend on them to come up with innovation and then it’s up to us to learn and pass that on. I believe Rodney Wayne the person could move right out of the way and this brand could keep on going if someone nurtures and looks after it.’

A visit from franchise royalty

A prime example of this is Harland David Sanders, a man better known to diners worldwide as Colonel Sanders, the face of KFC. Sanders didn’t start franchising his famous blend of herbs and spices until he was 65 (in 1955) and rapidly found that his recently-adopted moustache and goatee, along with his white suit and honorary Kentucky colonel rank, made him a very marketable figure. Today, almost 30 years after his death, he is still the official face of KFC.

Like Rodney Wayne, Colonel Sanders worked hard at promoting the business all over the planet and twice visited New Zealand in the 1970s – long before franchising was really understood here. One of the area managers who met him then remembers him as a true southern gentleman who insisted that team members bring their families into the store to meet him. By then, he would have been well aware that meeting the Colonel would be something many would remember all their lives.

My face on your business

While no businessman would ever doubt the value of the Colonel’s image these days, what do Rodney Wayne franchisees think about the fact that it’s his face rather than theirs all over the business that they have invested in?

‘Well, as your other examples show there are businesses in all sorts of industries that are built around a personal brand, although it seems to suit the fashion world in particular,’ Rodney says. ‘Most of our franchisees have been with us a very long time and seem to understand and value this. When I started the business I said I wanted this to be a big happy family and that’s pretty much what comes through, I hope. We’ve just got some new franchisees in Christchurch who bought the franchise because their daughter was a hairdresser and was treated badly elsewhere before she came to Rodney Wayne. Her mother said how pleased she was that there is still a company that has the soul and the heart to want to take care of people.’

Rodney says that while he might be the face of the franchise, he’s not a celebrity within it. ‘I always answer my own phone so from the newest franchisee to the newest staff member, if they want to talk to me they are welcome to. I have an open door policy that anyone from the organisation who wants to come in and chat about anything can roll along.

‘You need your staff to be happy and you need your franchisees to be happy with you and with each other. My role is a bit like Graham Henry’s job coaching the All Blacks and holding together the team. Actually, one thing that has developed is that if a franchisee becomes a wee bit of a renegade then I don’t generally have to say anything, they get told pretty well by the rest of the team. I don’t know how they get the message through but they do, and that’s a big help.

‘The one request I get most from franchisees is that they’d like to see me out in the salons more. I had years sitting in a car going from salon to salon and I don’t do that as much now, but I do still do it. I actually think it’s more important t for me to be seen by the staff and management team than it is to be seen by the clients, as it’s the staff who are presenting the service and are responsible for the brand in that way.

World famous – not just in New Zealand

Perhaps the most famous personal brand in New Zealand franchising is one that many people overlook – Les Mills. The former Olympic athlete and later Auckland mayor founded the first Les Mills Gym in 1968. His son Phillip joined the business in the 1980s and started developing group exercise programmes which became the foundation of the company’s growth in Australasia. Les Mills started appointing international agents in 1995 and today there are more than 11,000 Les Mills licensed clubs around the world. The company has been described as ‘doing for group exercise what McDonald’s did for hamburgers.’

But international expansion of a personal brand is not easy. Despite the fact that Rodney is recognised worldwide with a profile that includes being guest of honour at a global hairdressing forum held in Cannes, he is content to be world-famous in New Zealand. ‘We did open four salons in Sydney several years ago but currently have no intention of opening more there,’ he says. ‘Although I lived and worked in Australia for years, it is a very different market there. We might have good systems and good people but it’s hard to develop the profile there to achieve what we have in New Zealand.’

Is tall poppy syndrome an issue here? ‘When I first returned to New Zealand from Australia and set up my first salon here, my mother said, “You can’t live in a house like that and drive a Porsche if you’re starting up a business!” I thought that was ridiculous – surely it’s better if I look successful so people think I must be good, and I’ve stuck to that. I don’t think there’s been much knocking and I hope I can actually inspire people.

‘Recently L’Oréal asked me to speak to 80 foster children and tell them my life story. I got a lovely letter afterwards from one of the foster grandmothers saying, “Rodney, you have excited my grandson to get up and have a shower every morning, to go out and get a job at The Warehouse and to have ambition. He came home and said he’d met this rich dude and Rodney Wayne had told him this and this and this…” She said he was even going to allow her to cut his hair so he’d be ready to go to work. Of course, I wrote straight back and sent her a voucher saying. ‘Don’t you cut his hair – I’d love him to go to Rodney Wayne instead!’

And so the legend develops. It’s because Rodney Wayne not only does these things but shares the stories that he has developed such a strong personal brand. His franchisees and their staff and customers know exactly what the Rodney Wayne organisation stands for and what they should expect. Like Jim Penman, Harland Sanders and Dick Smith, Rodney Wayne’s image is not about celebrity – it’s about marketing. A clear brand identity is something every franchisee can benefit from.

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