2021 STAR Awards: Honoring the best in franchise recruitment
This year’s annual STAR Award winners and runners-up represent 2021’s best practices in franchise recruitment, as well as the resilience and strength of the franchise model. Tested not only by Franchise Update’s mystery shoppers, but also by the ongoing stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, these franchise brands show how well business can be sustained during challenging times. Each winner faced unique circumstances, yet all shared certain qualities of determination, stamina, and ingenuity.
Best Overall Performance: Payroll Vault
Payroll Vault’s win for best overall performance put the franchise “on cloud nine,” said Marilyn Manning, director of franchise development. “Last year we were in constant reaction mode. It wasn’t day to day or week to week, it was hour by hour.”
Payroll is an essential element in every kind of business, and as the economy struggled with the impact of the pandemic the brand’s business took off. One of its advantages was built-in, says Manning. As many companies struggled to adjust to going remote, Payroll Vault was already there. “Everything we do is fully remote,” she says. That advantage was just one of Payroll Vault’s strengths that elevated the brand to the top of the heap in this year’s STAR Awards competition.
When it comes to evaluating candidates, Manning prides herself on being a quick and keen reader of people, adjusting her approach to the individual circumstances of each potential franchisee, and being realistic about what the business requires—even if it means a candidate might not go forward with a contract.
“Recently, we had an excellent candidate just getting ready for a discovery day. His wife was expecting their first child. I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He called me back to say they were going to delay.”
As Payroll Vault approaches its 10th anniversary with 67 locations in 33 states, this past year was one of its biggest ever.
Runner-Up: Propelled Brands
Best Telephone Prospect Follow-Up: Teriyaki Madness
It’s easy to see one big reason Teriyaki Madness won this award: the franchise sets a standard of a to inquiries. To make this happen, the brand has multiple, redundant layers of communication, says Tyler DeMuth, director of franchise growth. “We also have a handful of people, one of whom is the CEO, on board to react when inquiries come in.”
The brand asks prospects about their preferred form of communication and double-checks those preferences by tracking who responds best, at what time, and to what type of communication. The team also tracks which forms of communication produce the most productive leads, allowing them to increase the odds they can repeat successful lead conversions. DeMuth says this sort of tracking has raised the brand’s conversion rate.
The pandemic has changed how prospects approach franchisors, making the process “part art and part science,” he says. But Teriyaki Madness already had a profile that made it ripe for survival: a focus on takeout, smaller physical footprints, a menu that offers a break from burgers, fries, and pizza, and a food selection that “travels well.”
The brand is seeing a record-setting number inquiries, DeMuth says, perhaps because of its customizable menu and “a delicious concept that happens to be healthy for a date or a marathon,” he says. Teriyaki Madness has 103 locations open in 28 states with plans to open another 45 to 55 by the end of 2022.
Runner-Up: N-Hance Wood Refinishing
Best Website Practices: Smoothie King
Smoothie King, first-place winner for best website practices, worked with technology and marketing firm Scorpion to launch a website redesign in 2018. That redesign produced a significant increase in traffic and in time spent on the website, says Elise Ganucheau, franchise marketing manager for the fast-growing brand. Those improvements led to more engagement and more qualified candidates, helping the brand grow to more than 1,300 locations globally.
“We make sure to incorporate dynamic content where we can provide the most important information to our candidates on the home page and inform them about Smoothie King in a concise way,” she says. “The website is interactive and features a call to action in multiple locations, making it as easy as possible for a candidate to move forward.”
In addition, she says, Smoothie King constantly optimizes the website to ensure that it communicates key points and remains fresh as candidates revisit the site to learn more. “We are honored to have received this award,” she says, “and want to thank our partner Scorpion for helping us communicate our benefits and what sets us apart.”
Runner-Up: U.S. Lawns
Best Online Sales Follow-Up: First Light Home Care
Jamie Davis, executive director of franchise development, knows that understanding the multiple methods of communication used by prospects is fundamental to connecting quickly with them. That’s why the brand reviewed and remade its messaging and added texting to its array of communication tools. “It’s so important to be responsive, with a sense of urgency,” he says. “That sets you apart and sets the tone for the relationship. It sets up good expectations.”
Since First Light provides its services in people’s homes, the pandemic put a damper on system growth. Despite this, some existing owners, hit all-time highs during the pandemic. The award, he says, “shows you what’s important: talking to people.”
Runner-Up: Payroll Vault
Best Social Media: Ziebart International
“We are very honored to have received this 2021 STAR Award,” says Larisa Walega, vice president of marketing. Her team took a step back this year to reconnect with their best target prospects “to better understand who they are, where they are, and what is important to them,” she says.
They also took a close look at the journey taken by Ziebart’s prospects to better attune the brand’s social media efforts and campaigns to that journey. That examination, says Walega, “helped our team better align our strategy across our social platforms to deliver the right message to the right audience, and to reach prospects in our identified markets that will allow the best opportunity for growth.”
This process also helped set realistic expectations and KPIs for social media results. “Once each of these key areas was reimagined, we delivered a creative brief to our team to ensure the work that was delivered met the strategic goals of franchise development,” she says. “Our entire marketing team works hand in hand with franchise development to monitor and optimize these campaigns to ensure the best support for franchise development’s annual goals.”
Runner-Up: Ultra Pool Care Squad
Best Franchisee Satisfaction: Wild Birds Unlimited
Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) is a familiar face on the STAR Awards winner’s stand. After 32 years with the brand, Chief Development Officer Paul Pickett has gained a long-term perspective on franchisee satisfaction—an important component of the brand’s success and staying power.
“We look at the different points of view, at what franchise owners need, what customers need, and what suppliers need,” he says. “Our foundation is what we call our ‘How did we do?’ nature.”
WBU’s all-inclusive needs assessment, combined with an ongoing “do it better” approach, is evident at the company’s annual three-day meeting, where the full executive team and franchisees examine the brand’s strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward what can be addressed and improved, he says. “We want everyone to win, but we all have to meet each other in the middle.” And always at the top of the agenda are the brand’s core values of communication and transparency.
The pandemic has been horrible, affecting everyone, he says, even as WBU experienced an increase in sales as more people stayed at home. This increase, brought on by Covid, resulted in several changes, including introducing curbside service and rapidly developing a more powerful e-commerce platform to handle the heightened usage by customers. Record-breaking sales caused a dramatic rise in onboarding, putting everyone under pressure, and supply chain issues soon emerged.
“It was a little scary and a little tough,” says Pickett, and franchisees were exhausted. Through it all, he says, was remembering to focus on empathy… and the part of communication that is about just plain listening.
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