Shining Bright: STAR Awards Recognize Franchising's Recruitment Elite
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Shining Bright: STAR Awards Recognize Franchising's Recruitment Elite

Shining Bright: STAR Awards Recognize Franchising's Recruitment Elite

Franchise leaders from all sectors are driven to grow with high-quality franchisees. This year’s STAR Awards recognized brands that achieved excellence in lead generation and recruitment on the way to expanding their reach.

Awards were announced in October during Franchise Update Media’s Franchise Leadership & Development Conference in Atlanta. There were winners and runners-up in five categories: Best Overall Performance, Best Online Sales Follow-up, Best Telephone Mystery Shopping, Social Media Best Practices, and Website Best Practices.

A top performer in recent years, Wild Birds Unlimited claimed first place for Best Overall Performance in 2023. The franchise, which has capitalized on $5 billion in consumer spending on bird seed and wildlife food, also took the gold for the Best Telephone Mystery Shopping and earned runner-up honors for Best Online Sales Follow-up and Website Best Practices.

So, how did the winners do it? What can your brand learn from their successes? Read on as this year’s STAR Award winners and runners-up share their winning strategies for 2023 and beyond.

Best Overall Performance Winner: Wild Birds Unlimited

Director of Franchise Development Seth Holan credits Wild Birds Unlimited’s win to the company’s staff members, who improved their processes and focused on supporting potential franchisees.

“We have a how-did-we-do-culture,” Holan says. “We take feedback from not only our peers, but from our franchisees through our franchise satisfaction surveys. We also ask potential franchise store owners through every step of the process: ‘How did we do?’” Learning from the feedback continues to strengthen the development process from initial contact to final signature, he says.

Because most potential franchisees do research on the brand before they reach out, it’s important for the company website to be easy to access and navigate, Holan says.

In addition, Audrey Kleine, lead qualifier, has helped with outreach by making initial contacts with potential franchisees. She also goes through all marketing content, posting new blogs and sharing content on LinkedIn. “Having an extra body in the department to focus on some of these things has been a game changer,” Holan says.

Best Overall Performance Runner-up: We Sell Restaurants

Robin Gagnon, CEO and co-founder of We Sell Restaurants, says the company took a major step toward improving its operations by shifting strategies.

Success depends on “being incredibly responsive, not just letting calls roll to voicemail or having any lag,” she says. “The minute you can reduce friction between yourself and the customer and speak to them immediately—that’s the hallmark of success. That’s what we attempted to do this year: We brought our sales development in-house.”

Best Online Sales Follow-up Winner: We Sell Restaurants

Having the sales team leader be a part of the company’s executive team 100 percent of the time is making a big difference, Gagnon says.

“They understand exactly what our priorities are as a brand and are living our core values,” she says. “Bringing that focus to franchise development pushed our performance into a unique space.”

Best Online Sales Follow-up Runner-up: Wild Birds Unlimited

“Our process hasn’t really changed,” says Holan, adding that the team makes it a priority to respond quickly to a prospect’s inquiry. “You get on the phone and meet them where they are.”

If that can’t happen immediately, a member of the team reaches out before the end of the day, he says.

Best Telephone Mystery Shopping Winner: Wild Birds Unlimited

Holan says the first phone call is crucial because it’s a chance to get to know why the caller is interested in the company. It provides the first chance to explain what differentiates Wild Birds Unlimited from other franchisors.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” he says. “Our culture is: We are a franchise support center. In development, we are the very first people any of our franchisees come into contact with, so we have to be sure that we are very welcoming, receptive, and providing the support they need to go through a discovery process. And it all starts with that very first call.”

Best Telephone Mystery Shopping Runner-up: We Sell Restaurants

Since brands are always seeking more leads, the challenge is to find the best qualified candidates. “Our primary challenge is getting those leads in the door,” Gagnon says, “and that’s going to be what we will be focusing on.”

The company has a good conversion rate, so increasing the lead count is a priority for next year. “We’ve been very fortunate in that our business has been incredibly resilient and has continued to grow every year despite how the pandemic affected restaurants,” she says. “The business itself of buying and selling restaurants has had phenomenal growth every year.”

Social Media Best Practices Winner: Right at Home

Jen Chaney, Right at Home’s vice president of franchise development, says the credit for the company’s Social Media Best Practices award should go to “the sheer talents” of two people: Micah Loseman, senior manager of franchise development marketing, and Mary Pat Contreras, franchise development marketing coordinator.

“They’ve worked so hard,” Chaney says. “I was just overjoyed for the two of them.” The pair reach out to potential leads on LinkedIn and Facebook, and this year, they added TikTok. That addition generated “quite a few leads,” Chaney says.

She says Loseman and Contreras create and post content to all three social media sites on a regular basis and include a mix of articles and videos. All content includes CTAs that bring potential buyers to a specific lead form.

According to Loseman, more than 44% of Right at Home’s website leads come through paid or organic social media efforts.

Social Media Best Practices Runner-up: Pirtek USA

Pirtek USA is reaping the benefits of its long-term social media strategy, says Director of Franchise Development Nick Ridgway.

“We made some conscious efforts really starting a few years back to improve our SEO and our social presence,” Ridgway says. The company, which provides maintenance and replacement services for hydraulic and industrial hoses, has developed a structure and strategy for posting on social media a minimum of three times a week.

“It’s had a good impact on our business, both from the consumer side and in our franchise development,” Ridgway says. “It’s been successful all around, and the social media strategy has gone through our entire network.”

Franchise owners have also taken this on as a mission and are posting in their local markets.

The company is always looking for ways to improve its social media content and to educate the market on what it does. “We want it to go along with our national strategy and be fresh and grab people’s attention,” Ridgway says.

Website Best Practices Winner: Chicken Salad Chick

Larissa Palatiere, director of franchise development at Chicken Salad Chick, says enhancing the company’s website has been a paramount focus.

“Our primary objectives were to create an engaging platform and educate prospective franchise partners about the exceptional benefits of joining our franchise family all while highlighting the uniqueness of our culture,” she says. “We saw a 200% increase in our lead generation.”

Looking ahead to 2024, Chicken Salad Chick has some additional projects that will further enhance the company’s website. This includes providing additional content through compelling videos, thought-provoking blogs, and media highlights.

“Furthermore, we will home in on newly opened territories and regional efforts in target markets,” Palatiere says.

Website Best Practices Runner-up: Wild Birds Unlimited

Wild Birds Unlimited’s website was revamped in 2022 to give its messaging a boost and raise its visibility in the franchise market. This year, the company continued to work with strategic partners to build the website to attract more potential franchisees, Holan says.

“We’re working to stay up to date on posting weekly, update all of our blogs, and do a weekly technology check,” he says. “We go through our systems and our website to make sure they are functioning properly because if our customers or guests to our website are having issues with accessing any of the content, that could be a precursor to what the development process is.”

2023 STAR Award Winners

Best Overall Performance

1st place - Wild Birds Unlimited 

2nd place - We Sell Restaurants 

Best Online Sales Follow-Up

1st place - We Sell Restaurants

2nd Place - Wild Birds Unlimited

Best Telephone Mystery Shopping 

1st place - Wild Birds Unlimited

2nd Place - We Sell Restaurants

Social Media Best Practices

1st place - Right at Home  

2nd Place - Pirtek USA

Website Best Practices

1st place - Chicken Salad Chick 

2nd Place - Wild Birds Unlimited


Published: February 4th, 2024

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Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 4, 2023
Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 4, 2023

The Joint Corp.
InterContinental, Atlanta
JUN 18-20TH, 2024

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MSA provides domestic and international franchise advisory services to franchisors and companies seeking to establish franchise and licensing systems.

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