Five essential service franchises share how they’ve adapted to changes and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic
By Jessica Burgess
You may not have heard the term “essential service” until the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. Now, it has become an often-heard phrase that defines whether businesses can stay open during government mandated shutdowns to limit the spread and protect Canadians. Here, five franchises share what the designation has meant for their businesses and what they’ve learned along the way.
“To be deemed an essential service,” shares Brad Bissonnette, vice president of marketing and franchise recruitment for COBS Bread, “means that you have an opportunity to support your community and provide an important service. We looked at this as an opportunity to provide a sense of normalcy and comfort in a complex and uncertain environment.” Bissonnette also notes that franchisees responded with a sense of pride that they were still able to help contribute to the community.
In keeping with that, COBS Bread customers can also take heart knowing that in a time when many people are experiencing economic hardship, unsold products are donated to local charities at the end of the day. “Customers like buying bread they know was baked that day, they like that our recipes are simple and that our bread is made with no preservatives, and customers can feel good about supporting a company that supports their community,” says Bissonnette. That sense of community and support has been crucial in responding to the changes in everyday life brought by COVID-19.
“The level of uncertainty the brand faced was never higher than at the beginning of the pandemic,” shares Bissonnette. The company created a special task force who met daily and oversaw the synthesizing of developing information about the health crisis, as well as ways the company could safely respond. “We learned that communication never goes out of fashion, and chose to err on the side of over-communication, with daily summaries being provided to the franchise network,” he adds. The task force continues to meet a few times a week and continues to communicate with the network.
Bissonnette is proud of how his company has been able to react and adapt while continuing to provide comfort around the country. “Our franchisees and staff rose to the occasion under tremendous uncertainty,” he says, sharing that the network the brand created was able to provide a sense of security in uncertain times that he is sure will have a lasting positive impact on the company.
TWO MEN AND A TRUCK
John Prittie, president of TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Canada, emphasizes the importance of a strong community both inside the franchise network and with customers and clients. “Being deemed an essential service means that the service you are offering is a necessity to support the ongoing well-being of the community in which you do business,” he shares.
“During the pandemic,” Prittie adds, “it was very important that people and businesses could get relocated without creating further emotional and economic hardship.” Not only was it important for the company to serve the people and businesses moving locations, but Prittie notes that it was also important to try to do all they could to serve the country. “We reached out to the Prime Minister of Canada and all Premiers across the country and volunteered to pick up and deliver medical equipment and supplies, including ventilators, to hospitals and nursing homes.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Prittie’s advice for those considering franchising is to find a franchise that aligns with your personal goals and beliefs and has a connection with skills and abilities: “Establishing a new business, of any kind, takes time, effort, energy, and capital. The most important factor is finding an opportunity that’s a good fit.”
The dedication to community service is something that continues to draw both Prittie and franchisees to TWO MEN AND A TRUCK, which has meant that the company has been able to respond and innovate in the face of the pandemic. Part of that innovation has been the increased use of technology, including proprietary software that allows for virtual estimates, tours, scheduling, payment, and ordering boxes and moving supplies online. “Our customers love the fact that we show up on time with the right people and equipment to get the job done as planned,” Prittie adds, which is now as important as ever.
The UPS Store
“The benefits and challenges can sometimes be one and the same,” says David Druker, president of The UPS Store, speaking to the complicated realities of the pandemic. “We have really seen how essential our services are during the pandemic. Business and traffic were up significantly as people moved more and more to online shopping,” he notes, adding that the challenge to this was ensuring that the safety of employees and consumers were top priority.
“The designation of essential service reinforced or validated the role that we knew we played in the lives of Canadians and small businesses specifically,” Druker notes. “We recognized that there was a responsibility to our customers that we had to uphold, and we had to do so in a way that was safe for our customers, franchisees, and their associates.”
Looking toward the future, Druker is optimistic that his company will continue to serve communities across the country. “We have been operating this franchise system for over 30 years in Canada. We have developed a very robust support system, and there’s not much we haven’t seen,” Druker says. “We train our franchisees to be a support system to their customers. On any given day they can be the printer, the shipper, and the packer for any one business. If a franchisee is struggling to provide a solution to their customer, there are literally hundreds of peers they can turn to for ideas.”
For the dedicated UPS Store teams, providing support to customers means providing support to a community. Druker’s advice to potential franchisees is to seek out a franchise that mirrors their values and supports franchisees. “Passion is necessary, as it’s a lot of work. It’s important to ensure that there are systems being put in place that are valid, strong, and can be supported and embraced by both sides of the relationship.”
Creating supportive relationships is certainly key to Dogtopia’s mission. “Happy, healthy pups are the heart of who we are and Dogtopia has a passion for caring for dogs,” shares Kim Hamm, president and CEO of Dogtopia Canada. “We’ve proudly created a dog daycare environment for anyone who thinks of their dog like family, with unparalleled safety standards and exceptional daycare, boarding, grooming, and spa services.”
As an essential service, Dogtopia views their ability to serve their communities as a responsibility. “Dogtopia was listed as an essential service throughout Canada, providing for the health and welfare of animals. We were able to provide daycare to our existing pet parents, but also to the dogs of many essential and frontline workers who were working hard to protect and service Canadians,” shares Hamm.
“We are all in uncharted territory and adjusting to new norms,” says Hamm, “but as ambassadors of our Dogtopia brand, we commit to executing the highest level of safety while proactively providing support, consistent communication, and a unified front to our pet parents during this time of uncertainty.” Not only is cooperation with the community key to a successful franchise, but also effective communication and collaboration with other franchisees and teams.
“At Dogtopia, we approach the franchise relationship with the spirit of partnership and respect. As an industry leader in the pet care sector and an innovator with the support of a strong brand and team in North America, our franchisees receive the utmost support and guidance each day,” Hamm says, referring to the vital ongoing conversations about best practices around the world. “We have continued to grow closer and more unified as a team, as we continue to weather the storm together.”
ServiceMaster Clean / ServiceMaster Restore
Gavin Bajin, Canada’s national director of ServiceMaster Clean, a commercial cleaning service, reflects on the way that the designation of “essential” came with unexpected questions. “Customers were looking at us and thinking that we should have this all figured out. There was suddenly this expectation and we were being met with people saying, ‘We’re not sure exactly what to do and we’re really hoping you do.’”
While all companies were facing the uncertainty, Bajin is happy to say that his team was able to react quickly because they had many necessary systems and procedures already in place. “We talk about cold and flu season every year. We have been talking to our customers for a long time about how to improve the health of office spaces,” Bajin adds, noting that a new cleaning protocol called the Protect-3 Advance System has been introduced to provide their clients with cleaning, disinfection, and fortification services. Fortification includes the application of surface antimicrobials, Bajin says. “It’s basically your ‘leave-behind’ army to help reduce the growth of microbes on the surface.”
As part of the ServiceMaster family, ServiceMaster Restore has also been operating as an essential service since the beginning of the pandemic. Stephan Roy, national director in Canada, says that ServiceMaster Restore has been able to continue to provide clients with core services, from fire and flood damage, environmental cleanup, and mould to helping customers with their needs related to the pandemic. “Our people are used to providing services in PPE, and being in post-contamination environments,” Roy shares.
This has allowed ServiceMaster Restore to respond quickly and effectively to clients who often seek services during an emergency situation, in addition to the current pandemic conditions.
Roy’s team knows how important it is to serve people with care and understanding. “Our business is very different, we go to the customer and we’re very much in the field, responding to emergency needs every single day,” he says.
With the brand’s long history of valuable relationships with communities and families across the country, they are poised to continue supporting Canadians as they all look toward the future.