Events of 2020 forced many in the franchising industry to change the way they did business. In some cases, that meant franchises having to develop new avenues to generate revenue while others introduced new products that customers could utilize.
The one issue that almost every franchisor had to address was how to host discovery days for potential franchisees. Unable to meet face-to-face for the majority of 2020 and 2021, franchises were forced to tackle this very important event virtually. With many COVID restrictions being lifted, franchises are beginning to return to in-person discovery days while some are still reliant on virtual meetings.
Here to talk about offering virtual, in-person or a mix of discovery days is Bill McPherson, vice president of franchise development at AlphaGraphics, a leading franchisor of printing and marketing solutions.
Franchise Chatter (FC): With COVID restrictions lifted in some areas, why should franchisors be encouraged to revert to in-person discovery days?
Bill McPherson (BM): The virtual format has worked out very well for many franchises, but they still don’t take the place of in-person discovery days. Buying a franchise is a huge decision and investment for potential owners, and I think it is important for them to get to know the senior management team and the franchisor. It is also pertinent for the buyer to gain an understanding of the franchise culture, and it’s hard to get a real feel of the culture in a virtual environment.
For example, many franchisors will have lunch or dinner with a potential franchisee to gauge their body language, personality, etc. Typically, when we do an in-person event, we will make time to go visit a local franchisee so they can see the center in operation as well. You can’t get that level of detail from a virtual event.
FC: Are there any disadvantages to holding an in-person discovery day?
BM: Having done in-person discovery days for 30 years and virtual for several years now, there isn’t much of a disadvantage in utilizing an in-person event. The only disadvantage of going back to full-time in-person is logistics. The virtual format makes it easier for people to attend because you can be at a discovery day with the click of a button. With in-person meetings, potential franchisees must worry about a plane ticket, hotels, taking time off from work, etc.
FC: What are some advantages of offering a mixture of virtual and in-person discovery days?
BM: At AlphaGraphics, we have considered offering a mix as we roll into the fourth quarter and pay close attention to the new Delta variant and what regulations states begin to roll out. But those decisions depend on your franchise and your company policy.
For example, if a state or a particular company has more stringent requirements pertaining to masks or vaccines, I would offer potential franchisees a virtual meeting because I don’t want the discovery day experience to be tainted by the pandemic. Many potential franchisees may be dissuaded to attend the event if they must worry about very strict COVID protocols, so a virtual event would be the best option in that situation.
The discovery day should still be focused on sharing of information, “fit” between franchisor and franchisee, cultural alignment, etc.
FC: What are some innovative strategies a franchisor could use when hosting a virtual discovery day to make the experience closer to an in-person meeting?
BM: The most pivotal advice that I could give a franchise that is offering a virtual discovery day is to make sure that it is collaborative. The event should never be just the leadership team presenting content. You want it to be collaborative so that the franchisee can receive information and have their questions answered, all while having a memorable experience that displays the culture of the franchise. You also want to include breaks so the participants can get away from their computer screen.
For virtual events, it is important to make sure all aspects of the discovery day are planned and orchestrated accordingly. Members of the executive team need to be on time and ready to present their necessary materials and answer the franchisee’s questions. Since the event is virtual, it can be easy for participants to become less engaged if the only thing they are receiving is information. Keeping them engaged and finding ways to present the culture is key to maintaining their attention while presenting yourself as the optimum choice as a franchise.
There are plenty of great franchises out there, and there are some that aren’t so great. If you are providing a discovery day virtually, franchisors need to ensure they have all their Ts crossed and Is dotted.
FC: If you were advising a franchisor who is debating between offering in-person or virtual discovery days, what information would you give to them?
BM: As we previously discussed, much of that determination will depend on where the franchise is located and the concept itself. You also want to look at your corporate policy to determine how strict regulations are within the company. Discovery days are meant to help the franchisee learn about the franchise and its culture. You don’t want that lost due to concerns and constant discussion about COVID.
So, you want to make those decisions based on how the guidelines will affect the discovery day. As much as the franchise can take COVID out of the equation, the better the atmosphere of the discovery day will be.
FC: What makes a discovery day successful regardless of the avenue in which it is being presented?
BM: The ability to thoroughly and accurately present information and the culture of the brand so that both parties can make an educated decision. That is what discovery days are all about. Of course, it is important to give the potential buyer all the necessary information about the company, training programs, franchisor support and the operation, all while creating an atmosphere that is enjoyable, fun and collaborative.
This event helps build a lasting relationship and sends a strong message to the potential franchisee.