This article was first published online by Franchise Times on May 21, 2020 and subsequently published in the June-July 2020 print edition.

Andrae Marrocco

At the time of writing, we were about a month and half deep into COVID-19 protocols, which created unprecedented business disruption for many franchises across the globe. As the famous quote from Plato suggests, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and many franchise systems have taken brave steps to enhance, innovate and pivot so that their businesses could survive the tumultuous pandemic conditions.

In this column we explore some of the creative enhancements, innovations and adjustments that franchisors, together with their franchisees, have developed and implemented in response to the COVID-19 environment.

Spray-Net, a Canadian customized exterior painting solution brand, placed major emphasis on ensuring franchisees maintained customer engagement. Given that Spray-Net’s business is very much seasonal, and typically begins ramping up in spring, a key strategy for franchisees has been to communicate the precautions that will be taken, and the modified processes to be adopted, to operate in the COVID-19 environment.

Carmelo Marsala, founder and president, has supported franchisees by speaking up and explaining that Spray-Net’s franchise business is unique, necessary and can be operated in a safe manner and in accordance with social distancing and other governmental restrictions. The home improvement industry is experiencing an uptick in light of stay-at-home measures as consumers look to make repairs or simply refresh their residences.

“Our franchisees can work at customer homes without direct contact, and Spray-Net’s franchisees already wear masks and are typically separated from each other while they work,” said Marsala. Enhancing health and safety policies and protocols, and communicating those enhancements to customers, will be key to maintaining the Spray-Net businesses.

Gloria Jean’s Coffee, an Australian coffee concept with an international footprint, made a number of shifts in its business format to assist franchisees, including by expanding product offerings in various markets. One of Gloria Jean’s Coffee’s innovative pivots included pairing and packaging a collection of popular selling items into grab-and-go promotional offerings. This provided consumers with a convenient way of ordering and picking up their café favorites while complying with social distancing measures.

As we all know, the foodservice industry has experienced a devastating blow as a result of social distancing and closure orders. Many QSR concepts have introduced takeout, delivery, self-serve and grab-and-go service formats and become more creative with their offerings. Some QSRs have switched to offer meal kits for customers to make their own meals at home, including three-course dinner and drink packages for date nights.

Expense Reduction Analysts, a United Kingdom and international business consulting franchise, took the opportunity to create a huge amount of online training and learning (mainly utilizing Microsoft Teams and Zoom) to better equip its franchisees in their business consulting roles with clients. Franchisees pivoted quickly to provide their services in an online format. The franchisor also instituted a marketing initiative, directed to clients of their franchised businesses, offering certain business consulting services during a no-fee trial period.

Even for a system that already prided itself on strong collaboration amongst its franchisees, another key pivot for Expense Reduction Analysts has been more frequent Teams meetings with owners throughout its system, from region leaders to single-unit operators. These meetings focus on sharing “good news” stories, solutions and initiatives, and also serve as social sessions to reduce the sense of isolation.

Enviro-Master Services, a U.S. commercial health and safety franchise system, initially lost 60 percent of its customer base following the ordered closure of retail stores, schools, bars and restaurants. Enviro-Master’s franchisees pivoted and began offering their services to a host of clients with whom they had never worked with before, but who were now in need of their services.

“Our teams of hygiene heroes have been working alongside local emergency service centers such as fire stations, police stations, and 911 call centers to keep their vehicles and equipment virus-free and staff safe. We are applying treatments to tractor-trailers and delivery trucks to keep drivers and their much-needed supplies (in many cases part of a critical supply chain) safely on the move to restock our nation’s shelves,” explained Pat Swisher, founder and CEO of Enviro-Master Services.“We are also responding to COVID-19 emergencies, too, suiting up and sanitizing businesses and facilities where people with known cases of the virus had visited, worked or lived. As a result, year-over-year our business is up over 890 percent. During the first two weeks of April, our franchisees have added over 5,000 essential service-type businesses to our overall customer roster.”

Detail Garage, a U.S. automotive detailing franchise, moved quickly to make changes internally with its franchisees as well as its business format. The franchisor suspended/forgave all royalty and marketing funds to ease the burden for its operators. It developed and assisted franchisees with establishing individual online platforms to service customers and enable delivery or pickup.

Looking beyond its own business, Detail Garage is lending its support to franchisees looking to positively impact their communities. One of the system’s franchisees facilitated a large-scale donation of automotive detailing supplies for emergency services vehicles across various jurisdictions, which was subsidized by the franchisor. A notable pivot was the introduction of two new products, OnHand Antibacterial Hand Sanitizing Soap and EightyAid Alcohol Antiseptic Hand Sanitizer, by utilizing global product development and manufacturing capabilities to produce and donate products.

Many systems are emerging stronger as franchisors support and collaborate with their franchisees. The silver lining is the sense of community and collegiality exhibited not only within franchise systems, but also with the support extended to the communities around them.