Ask an ExpertSeptember/October 2021

Q: How important is branding when I’m figuring out which franchise to buy?

A: This may surprise you to hear, but branding is almost irrelevant!

When most prospective franchisees are thinking about which franchise to buy, far too many people fall in love with a strong brand, in part because it’s popular and in part because they see a steady flow of customers, and they equate this to automatic success. But this isn’t the best approach to adopt.

Having a reputable franchise brand behind you is a powerful catalyst for bringing customers in, and for bringing them back, provided that the franchise owner is able to deliver on the brand promise. This is what most prospective franchisees fail to figure out—they rush in without having taken the time to assess to what degree they’ll be able to deliver the brand promise.  

You see, running a successful business only happens when the function of the business and its owner are strongly aligned.

The function of the business is to deliver a quality product or service that meets and/or exceeds customers’ expectations.

Meanwhile, the function of the business owner is to manage all of the moving parts of the business efficiently and cost-effectively, in order to put the product or service into customers’ hands.

Let’s look at two different types of businesses as an example:

1. Food

  • The function of the business is providing a good quality, tasty meal at a fair price point.
  • The function of the business owner is not doing the cooking or food prep! It’s managing a light manufacturing business (ordering raw materials in, manipulating materials through proven processes, and serving a finished product) with perishable products, finicky customers, and some unreliable staff. In other words, you’re operating a business where managing adversity is part of the job!

There are many great food franchises, and successful franchisees are those people who’ve had previous management experience, especially in environments where there’s been a lot of adversity. They have the previous skills and intellectual muscle memory to be able to perform the critical roles of the function of the business owner, and this is independent of the brand.

2. Home improvement:

  • The function of the business is upgrading some aspect of customers’ living space (kitchens, bathrooms, flooring, painting, etc.)
  • The function of the business owner is not doing the installation work! The owner performs marketing and sales functions, orders inventory and manages projects, and manages a small team of technicians who perform the actual installation work at customer’s homes.

So, how do you figure out the functions of the owner that you’re best suited to?

Instead of allowing yourself to be “pulled towards” a popular brand or category because of the perceived strength of the opportunity, start your search by first doing an in-depth skills and experience inventory. Look backwards in your career and identify the following (getting as granular as you can in your answers):

  • What skills have you developed, that you’re really good at and want to keep on doing in your new business?
  • What types of work are you not good at, or don’t like to do?
  • What types of work have you done a lot of, but have outgrown or need a change from?
  • What types of work and team environments have you previously flourished in?
  • What types of work and team environments have you previously struggled in?

What about the criteria that the business needs to satisfy for you? Of the 12 to 14 criteria that you should be considering, the “brand” is only a factor in a few of them. As mentioned, the brand is almost irrelevant in the early stage of your search for the right business.

Develop your “must have” criteria as well as your “must not have” criteria:

  • How many hours do you want to work per week? What is the structure of those hours?  
  • How far are you prepared to commute?
  • What type of customers do you want, and how will you get them?
  • How big a team of people are you comfortable leading?
  • How much money do you need to earn?

Once you’ve identified your core skills and desires that you want to leverage, then you’ll be able to start looking at every brand differently—you’ll quickly be able to assess to what degree you’ll be able to perform the functions of the business owner in order to deliver the brand promise. If it’s a great brand, but you’re not suited to it, then move on to other potential options!

A final word on the importance of a brand: it isn’t unusual for a brand to take 10 to 12 years before it’s readily recognized, so the strength of a franchisor’s business systems, processes, training, and support is far more important than their brand. After all, it’s through the steady application and refinement of processes that great brands are built, so look for franchisors with strong systems and support that are aligned to your core skills and criteria, because that’s what drives true success in franchise ownership!

Gary Prenevost is a 30-year veteran of the franchise industry and is one of Canada’s leading franchisee search coaches; he is also the president of FranNet of Southern Ontario and Eastern Canada.

Gary Prenevost
FranNet of Southern Ontario and Eastern Canada