At 26 years old, I was the VP of Client Services for a technology start-up and thought I was learning all there was to know about managing people and customers. Then I started in the franchising industry in my 40’s as Chief Operating Officer at Any Lab Test Now and realized I had more to learn about managing relationships, specifically about managing relationships with franchisees. Keeping connected to franchise owners in the field has been one of my greatest joys as CEO. Our owners, with their entrepreneurial spirits, offer me a new perspective on our business – their business. Their perspective as small business owners provides an opportunity to collaborate in ways that benefit the entire company.
If there is one word that describes my relationship with our franchisees it is collaboration. And for collaboration to work, there must be listening. I have learned how critical it is to listen to our business owners on the front line if we are going to meet our customer’s and franchisees’ needs.
Case in point. Jim and Kristi Adams opened store #56 in the Indianapolis area back in 2009. Early on, our emphasis was strictly a push to consumers on direct access lab testing. However, that was a big challenge for a lot of franchisees because their communities weren’t aware or educated about direct access testing. They were wed to the idea that only a doctor could give an order for a lab test. Jim and Kristi’s lab location was behind a doctor’s office and they developed a good relationship with him and started getting physician referrals from him. That led to more relationships with more physicians and more referrals. They had discovered a new customer stream. The Adams’ helped craft a physician referral initiative for the company and the home office worked to fine tune the program. It is now a strategic part of our business model and all the other franchisees benefit from it.
The Adams were also founding members on our Franchise Advisory Council. Every year we choose eight franchisees from around the country — some new, some old, some single unit owners, some multi-unit owners— so we get a broad spectrum of views. The group meets quarterly and in addition to bringing new product and marketing ideas to the table, our Franchise Advisory Council gives critical feedback on branding, our new website, and in the case of would-be competitor Theranos, many frank discussions about the future of blood testing and the viability of what is now alleged to be a fraudulent lab testing technology. Our collaboration has made us more cohesive and supportive of one another.
Multiple Touch Points
It’s one thing to claim an open-door policy 24/7 for franchisees, and I do, but I don’t wait for them to knock on my door. To have truly open lines of communications there must be multiple touch points. We start with a monthly company-wide phone call on the first Monday of every month to keep everyone up-to-date on any tactical changes like new lab partners we’ve negotiated or changes to a process. I follow up a few weeks later with a monthly internal newsletter called C-Notes, where I am able to address higher level industry trends and growth issues. In-person meetings also happen on a regional level and every 18 months we hold our Annual Franchisee Conference on a rotating coast. That is probably the event I look forward to most. Nothing beats the face-to-face interaction we enjoy over that three-day period. Whether it is at our key note event or numerous smaller breakout sessions or team-building activities, great exchanges happen as franchisees learn as much from each other as they do from corporate. It always serves as a great reminder to me that listening is a much more effective way to make progress than assuming you know someone else’s perspective. Everyone, including corporate executives, leave the annual conference recharged and ready to grow the business.
Every challenge is more manageable, and every success is sweeter when you share a personal connection. I do my best to start every franchisee relationship by showing up to their Grand Opening. If entrepreneurs have chosen Any Lab Test Now to invest their time and money, I want to be there to support and celebrate with them and let them know we are here to help. But it’s not all about business. I like to connect with franchisees on their personal social media pages. I want to know about weddings and funerals and fun family vacations, and I want them to get to know me and my family, too. When I saw on Facebook that a franchisee had lost their dog, an important part of their family, we sent the owner a memory plaque with an etching of the dog to show our support during their time of grief. Those things matter. And when a franchisee took a fabulous South Asian vacation and brought me back souvenirs, I felt honored to be thought of. Collectively, we are the brand and connecting in those small, yet personal ways builds a relationship outside of work and in turn, builds our brand.
Collaborate. Listen. Connect. It’s what you experience when you become part of the Any Lab Test Now family.