WHAT DO FIELD MANAGERS REALLY DO?
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One of the biggest benefits of buying a franchise is the on-the-spot support you get to build your business. Simon Lord talks to some of New Zealand’s top franchise field managers to find out how they help franchisees to achieve their goals.
Natalie Newton is used to impressing some tough judges. Before she moved to New Zealand, Natalie was head of personal shopping for Harvey Nichols in Manchester, where her clients included the notoriously difficult X Factor judge Simon Cowell and model and singer Victoria Beckham. But it was in her current role of field manager for the Harrison Carpet One franchise that she entered the Westpac New Zealand Franchise Awards – and won. ‘They might be very different judges but they’re equally as demanding,’ she laughs.
Natalie was one of three field managers recognised in the Franchise Awards this year. We thought franchise buyers should know more about what field managers actually do, so we sat down with them to find out more about how they help franchisees build better businesses.
There’s an old saying that when you buy a franchise, you’re ‘in business for yourself, but not by yourself.’ It sums up what franchising should be about, and the field manager is at the heart of it. A field manager is someone employed by the franchisor to visit franchisees, help them maximise their profitability and local market share, and ensure they’re maintaining the standards of the franchise and the brand.
That’s the technical definition, but one of Damion Kaukau’s franchisees sees it differently. ‘He calls me a free business consultant,’ says Damion of NZ Post KiwiBank, who was another winner in this year’s awards. Of course, that’s not strictly correct because franchisees do pay for field support through their franchise fees but as our third field manager, Andrew Kidd of Poolwerx, points out. ‘Most small businesses can’t afford to pay for a business coach or mentor, although some do. The difference with a franchise is that field managers know a lot more about your specific business than any outside coach, and they have a lot of expert resources to draw on, too.’
Ivy Joe appreciates that better than most. Having won the Supreme Franchisee of the Year title for a record three times running, Ivy has always been quick to credit the support she receives from The Coffee Club and, particularly, from her field manager, Bhwana Magan. ‘Bhwana helps me set up my business goals quarterly and then helps me to achieve those goals. Let’s say one of the goals is to increase sales after 5pm. We’ll discuss ideas, and Bhwana will be able to tell me what other franchisees have been doing in that area, or what is available in terms of marketing or promotions.’
At the same time, Bhwana’s monthly visits have another purpose – making sure that Ivy and her staff are meeting the standards set down by the franchisor, including reports from regular mystery shoppers. Some franchisees might feel threatened by that, but Ivy doesn’t agree. ‘Your support team are there to help you run your business better, so there’s no point in being offended – listen to them and try what they suggest.’
Natalie Newton explains how the process works at Harrisons Carpet One. ‘At the start of every financial year, I sit down with each of the franchisees I work with to discuss what they want to achieve in the coming year and what the opportunities are. We discuss budgets, and Phil Harrison (the franchisor) talks to them over the phone as well. We then break everything down into monthly targets in all sorts of different areas and it’s my job to work with the franchisees to help them achieve their targets.
‘I’ve been a retail manager since I was 22, and at Harvey Nichols I managed a large ladieswear department as well as the personal shopping team, so I’ve learned how to get the best out of people. I look after 25 franchisees and every one has their own experiences and their own ideas. Franchising is incredibly empowering. If you suggest changing something to a manager who’s on wages, you’ll come back later and they haven’t done a thing! But say to a franchisee, “Hey, how about trying this?” and they try it and they make a new sale – well, they want to listen.’
Of course, it’s not always like that. ‘People can get stuck in their comfort zone sometimes and it’s my job to help them move beyond that,’ Natalie explains. ‘I have to be firm, say, “Respect the processes, they work and I want to see them used,” and I complete an audit report after each visit showing what’s going well and what they might need to work on. But that doesn’t mean I have to do it all myself. This year, for example, we’ve introduced mentoring for anyone who might be struggling and for new franchisees coming in. We pair them up with an experienced franchisee they can learn from or just call rather than speaking to me all the time.’
And another technique Natalie uses is organising small refresher groups, getting 5 or 10 franchisees (including both partners, if it’s a husband and wife team) together to share their performance information, pull it apart and make suggestions. ‘It’s amazing what happens around that table,’ she says. ‘People are going, “How do you manage that?” “Why is yours so high?” “Can I use that?” That’s what a franchise is about – learning from people who are doing it – it’s intense.’
At NZ Post KiwiBank, Damion took up his field manager position after running his own PostShop branch. He also has a lot of retail experience with the AA, which comes in handy given that many of the NZ Post KiwiBank outlets are run by franchisees as companion businesses within other enterprises, such as bookshops and stationers.
‘It’s a symbiotic relationship – if our business grows, so does the franchisee’s other business, and vice versa,’ Damion explains. ‘And the techniques we teach – ways of upselling, for example – can be applied to both sides. We do business planning and goal setting with each of our franchisees, looking at results from the previous year and setting KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for different areas. Then we break it down step-by-step and I coach and train them in how to achieve improvements.
‘Every visit I’ll look at the KPIs, year-on-year figures and see where the growth opportunities are. If there have been any complaints or any compliance issues we’ll go over them to see what went wrong and how to fix it. I’ll also look at numbers for the host business to see what’s working and what’s not. Finally, we’ll set the actions to be taken over the next 30 days until my next visit.
‘People think retailers have to wait for customers to come to them, but it’s not true. I like to look for strategies to engage the community outside the shop. One franchisee had a goal to grow his income from the KiwiBank side of the business by $10,000 that year. We discussed it and agreed he couldn’t do it with his current foot traffic, but there was a refugee centre up the road so we engaged with them. All these new people coming into the country needed banking services and there we were. The franchisee didn’t do $10,000 of new business, he did $30,000! That franchisee wasn’t particularly active outside his store before we tried that, and now he’s everywhere. He’s changed his way of thinking and both sides of his business are benefitting.’
Andrew Kidd says his first job at Poolwerx is, ‘To look and listen. You need to get a good understanding of the issues and opportunities for each franchisee you support, and that takes time to learn. A lot of our franchisees are husband and wife teams so that brings all the challenges of working together, as well as the benefits.
Like Natalie and Damion, Andrew starts with the figures. ‘Each visit we start with the core metrics: average transaction value, number of jobs per day, margin comparison with other franchisees, then move on to things like marketing response rates and conversions. All those metrics are openly shared in our system so there’s a little bit of competition going on all the time, which is healthy. In some ways, my job is to push people to achieve more than they think they can.
‘There’s no one-size-fits-all solution: different people have different motivations, some personal, some financial. But everyone has that sweet spot that helps trigger growth – it’s when they stagnate that they feel the sky is falling.’
Andrew says goal setting is a key motivator. ‘One franchisee wanted to enjoy a white Christmas with their mum, dad and six kids, so that became a target for them and they knew exactly what they needed to achieve each month to get there. Others want to pay off the mortgage, or buy an investment property, or set a specific time for exiting the business with a certain profit. All these things are achievable, given a realistic time frame and the right help.’
And people skills are paramount. ‘We record every phone call to our 0800 number for training purposes and I’ll listen to a couple at random and identify any issues. When you mention that to a franchisee you normally get a pretty frosty response at first, to be honest, but if someone is ringing us it’s because they have a problem with their pool and they’re looking for help. So if something’s not handled right, you want to help your franchisee to learn from it so they can move forward and build their business. That’s what it’s about.’
Of course, field managers can’t be experts in every area, and one of their key functions is to act as the middle man between the franchisor and franchisees, communicating information back and forth.
‘As a field manager, you have to have good knowledge of all the tools that exist within the franchise system – for example, at Poolwerx we have 21 years of local marketing ideas stored up,’ says Andrew. ‘So we have to be able to help franchisees access the right resources when they need them, and make the call on when to bring in specialists to help on, say, technical training.’
Natalie does the same at Harrisons Carpet One. ‘We’re often the first point of contact for our franchisees, so if they have something they need help with I’ll pick up the phone and talk direct to the department concerned. If it’s something serious, talking to me helps remove any emotion so that we can immediately focus on the issue itself.
‘We share reports on each franchisee with the CEO and the department managers before each monthly meeting. If someone’s doing exceptionally well in something we highlight that, or if lead numbers are down in an area we’ll get marketing involved so it’s addressed before it becomes a problem for the franchisee. My role is protecting their business.’
Damion puts it neatly: ‘My job is bridging the gap between the corporation, which has the resources, and the franchisees, who are the individuals with the skin in the game. I run a monthly group meeting with my franchisees where we discuss sales and operational things. If there are any burning issues I raise them and chase people down to find fixes, then I report back on the outcomes. And if I think they need specific advice on, say, merchandising or store layout, then I can arrange for the specialists to help.’
According to Greg Nathan of the Franchise Relationships Institute, which has conducted a great deal of research into franchise field management over the years and organses the Franchise Operations Network, the biggest challenge of the field manager’s role is that because they do not have direct control over a franchisee’s business, their mission has to be achieved more through influence than control.
‘To be effective, a field manager needs to have credibility in the eyes of the franchisee,’ says Greg. ‘This credibility comes from three sources:
1. Competence. This includes having a breadth of knowledge and skills across several disciplines including coaching, finance, marketing and group facilitation. Field managers need to draw from an eclectic kitbag of tools and have the discrimination to know which tool or approach to apply in particular situations. I sometimes liken their role to that of a General Practitioner.
2. Care. Franchisees have a lot on the line, financially and emotionally, and respond well to field managers who take the time to understand their goals and aspirations. One of the most powerful strategies a field manager can use to build their credibility is to work closely with franchisees to help them achieve success, as defined by them. This is where the right type of coaching techniques are extremely useful.
3. Confidence. Self-confidence means knowing and accepting ourselves, warts and all. Franchisees like to know the person they are working with is honest and straight forward. Self-confidence comes from knowing your values and having the courage to speak openly and directly with people. While this is not easy to teach, it can be developed in time with suitable mentoring and role modelling.
‘Developing competence, care and confidence is a lifelong journey, which is what makes the field management role an exciting and fulfilling one. In fact, our surveys of field managers show their job usually significantly increases their overall life satisfaction.’
Andrew Kidd says that at some point, every franchisee will wonder, ‘What am I paying these fees for? Why the hell should I listen to you? What are you actually doing for me?’ ‘That’s a perfectly normal part of the franchisee journey,’ he smiles, ‘and you have to learn ways to deal with it. I’m a hands-on guy so I might jump in the van, roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty while sharing solutions that have worked for other people. I think if you’ve had your own business it’s easier – you know what it can be like to have no money in the bank and what buttons are being pressed.’
While many field managers have their responsibilities split according to geographical territories, Harrisons Carpet One does it differently. ‘My colleague Rob and I meet new franchisees coming through training and decide which of us will support which franchisee as we get to know them better,’ says Natalie. ‘That way, you match personalities. But we each have our own areas of expertise, so sometimes we might say, “So-and-so is having a problem with x – see if you can get through to them.”’
In Damion’s case, his track record running his own successful branch gives him considerable mana with the franchisees he supports. ‘They listen because they know I’ve done it,’ he says. ‘And because I’ve worked on the ground, it’s given me an insight into the problems involved and encouraged me to develop systematic solutions for things, like creating a field visit agenda and a risk manual that made it simpler for franchisees to find all the answers they needed in one place.
‘I think it’s the franchisor’s responsibility to ensure that they have good field managers in place to help franchisees. That way, franchisees value the brand, they value the franchise and they grow their businesses – and that’s what franchising should be all about.’
Good field support is vital to the long-term success of a franchise business. ‘While many franchisors have well-planned field support programmes with well-trained field managers, not all franchisors are as well organised,’ says Callum Floyd of Franchize Consultants, which organises regular seminars on practical field management in Auckland.
‘Fortunately, there are things to look for and questions to ask of both franchisors and franchisees that will help potential franchisees understand what they can expect in this area. Here are some suggestions:
- How often are visits and when do they occur?
- What is the typical duration of a field visit?
- Where do field visits take place?
- What are the key objectives of the field visit programme?
- What does a typical field visit cover and look like?
- Who will be conducting the field visits?
- What can be expected before, during and after the field visit?
- How valuable do existing franchisees find field visits?
- Do field visits focus on ways to build franchisee profit?
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