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by Mark C. Siebert

Of all the tasks that befall the new franchisor, perhaps none is as important as the role of training. If the brand is the heart of any great franchise, training is the physical conditioning that keeps that heart beating strongly and consistently.

And just like keeping your heart in shape, training is something that many franchisors will push to the back burner during the press of everyday business. But in doing so, franchisors run the risk that some day their heart may seize up on them.

Headquarters Training

One key element of almost all franchise training programs involves training at the franchisor's headquarters. Prior to launching its franchise program, a good franchisor should develop a formal training agenda for its pre-opening training course at its headquarters. While the operations manual should serve as the primary textbook throughout the training program, the agenda should contain the broad list of topics that will go beyond the scope of the manual itself.

Generally speaking, this training starts with a tour of the prototype operation, corporate headquarters, and an introduction of staff. Once the formal training session begins, most franchisors will focus this portion of training on those subjects that are best taught in a "classroom" setting. Among the dozens of topics included in this portion of training, the franchisor should address corporate history and philosophy, pre-opening procedures, daily operations, insurance requirements, vendor relationships, and reporting requirements. This segment of training will often include hands-on training within the franchisor's prototype (or perhaps a special training prototype constructed for that purpose).

As the final training agenda is prepared, care should be taken to keep the training sessions lively and interactive. A mixture of training formats such as video (for example, showing a key supplier's facility), lecture, discussion and hands-on work (such as product preparation) creates an inviting training environment for franchisees. Moreover, various studies have shown that retention is improved when the trainer uses a number of different training methodologies involving a combination of visual, auditory, and tactile learning methodologies.

We also recommend that our clients involve some of its management staff in the headquarter's training session. Exposing multiple staff members to franchisees will energize the process and will help build franchisee relationships throughout the organization.

On-site Training

The next step of the franchisor's training program generally involves several days to a few weeks (depending on the complexity of the operation) assisting franchisees and their staff at the franchisee's location.

Like headquarters training, a detailed training agenda should be developed for this program. Depending on a franchisee's prior experience and sophistication, the on-site portion of the training experience will differ markedly from one franchisee to the next. The franchisor will thus need to be more flexible in terms of both approach and content during the onsite training session.

Given that the onsite session will take place at the franchisee's location, training should focus on topics that will assist the franchisee to become more familiar and comfortable with the day-to-day operation of the business.

Franchisees new to the industry will have different questions and expectations during the onsite portion of training than franchisees having prior experience in related businesses. One of the key objectives of the onsite trainer is to identify and prioritize the franchisee's needs during the first day or two of training. The remaining training schedule should be tailored to best meet the needs of these individuals.

It is important to remember that a franchisee can be an animal that forgets everything he has learned during training the moment the doors open. Like a deer caught in the headlights, the franchisee and its staff can panic and freeze. And thus the importance of the opening team.

Dave Hood, my partner at the iFranchise Group and the former president of Auntie Anne's Soft Pretzels, relates one particular story that illustrates this. The Auntie Anne's opening team was assisting a new franchisee who had just completed training at their grand opening. And what an opening it was! Lines everywhere with people clamoring for pretzels and lemonade. Of course, the team was overjoyed, as they served pretzels as fast as they could make them. Then Dave noticed that the franchisee was nowhere to be found. Now for those of you who have been to an Auntie Anne's shop, you know there is not a lot of room to get lost. Five minutes passed. Finally, Dave walked into the back storage area, only to find the franchisee lying on the floor, curled up in the fetal position. Dave got him to his feet and back on the firing line, and today, that same franchisee is among the most successful in the system.

It is easy to become overwhelmed and to momentarily forget everything we learn. Therefore, it is imperative that the franchisor helps the franchisee get on his feet - in some cases, quite literally. Sending an opening team to help the franchisee during the first critical week of operation is often the best way to accomplish this. An opening team helps the franchisee to break into day-to-day operations slowly, without the risk associated with jumping into the deep end alone, and without assistance from the franchisor.

Within several days following the completion of onsite training, the franchisee should receive an overall written evaluation of the training program. The evaluation should reference both the franchisee's areas of strengths, and areas in which the franchisee needs additional work. A specific action plan should be included with this evaluation - providing a clear list of objectives for the franchisee to focus on in the coming weeks and months.

Effective follow-up with the franchisee in the weeks following onsite training will help provide a seamless transition between the franchisor's initial and ongoing support phases.

Ongoing Training

While most franchisors provide extensive training to new franchisees joining their system, many franchisors fail to ensure that franchisees and their managers receive ongoing and refresher training from the franchisor. New managers and employees of the franchisee need to be properly trained as they are hired. As a result, in some systems franchisees and their managers are often inadequately trained in new policies and procedures regarding system standards, and the franchisor does not have a clear understanding of what training is being provided by the franchisee to their new employees.

To minimize the erosion of system standards over time through lack of training of franchisees and their staff, a franchisor should develop an effective training program that requires ongoing certification on core competency issues for franchisees and their key staff members. Such a program includes periodic refresher training for these key positions, as well as detailed training for any new products, services or procedures that are introduced over time. In addition, for any key ("certified") positions within the franchisee's organization, franchisors must establish policies as to how any replacement individuals are to be trained (e.g., when training must be completed, and who will provide it) once they are hired by the franchisee.

Train, Train, and Over-train

One question that is frequently asked relative to training is, "How much is too much?" And I am always tempted to answer, "You can never do too much training," but the fact of the matter is, there are always trade-offs involved.

For franchisees, who are eager to open the business and are carrying the out-of-pocket costs for themselves and perhaps their managers, the longer the training the more expensive it becomes. And since the franchisee is not earning money during this training, this "time away from the job" can be a significant financial drain.

Likewise, for the franchisor, time spent training is time not spent selling. As the franchisor grows, they will need dedicated training staff - and the more training is provided, the more staff is required. So training has a cost.

Thus, it becomes incumbent on the franchisor who is attempting to quantify their own training program to attempt to measure these costs - both for the franchisee and for the franchisor - against the complexity of the system, the potential for error, and the importance of the brand both now and in the future.

My quick rule of thumb for making that assessment is my "keys to the shop" test. When making this assessment, I tell the franchisor to imagine that they are going on a cruise down the Amazon for a month. No cell phones. No internet. And then I ask them, "How much training would you want someone to have if you were going to let them run your company store for that month without you?" Add start-up training (site selection, lease negotiation, etc.) to that number, and you will be getting close to an adequate initial training requirement.

Test for Competence

Training without testing assumes two things that may not be true. First, it assumes that you, as the franchisor, did a good job of training. Second, it assumes that your franchisee did a good job of learning.

Franchisees should be given a number of written and practical tests (for example, on customer service procedures) throughout the headquarters training program. A final exam covering a broad range of topics covered during the training process should also be part of this testing process.

While the majority of franchisees will successfully complete the franchisor's training program, some franchisees (or their managers) may struggle with the training or display traits during the training (e.g., rudeness, lack of sales ability, lack of focus, etc.). This could raise red flags as to their potential success as a franchisee. In such cases, it is important that the franchisor gives its training staff the authority (and responsibility) to address deficiencies with trainees and, if necessary, fail them from the training program.

There are a variety of philosophies on testing. Some people test by broad category of subject matter and others test at periodic intervals during training, perhaps daily or weekly. Most prefer open-ended testing and hands-on operational tests, but some franchisors will use other testing methods as well. The important thing is that you provide the appropriate tests to your franchisees.

While the goal of the training program is to assist new franchisees in their transition to the franchisor's system, not every franchisee or manager attending the training session will demonstrate the ability to succeed. It's much easier to deal with such problems when they occur during initial training than after the franchisee returns to their location and opens for business.

There are only two ways to find out if your heart is healthy - test it or have a heart attack. We recommend the former.

This article first appeared on and is reproduced here with permission.
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Mark Siebert is the Chief Executive Officer of the iFranchise Group, a management consulting firm specializing in franchising and franchise marketing.

During his 20-year career, he has personally consulted with over 30 Fortune 1000 companies and over 250 start-up franchisors.

Ph. 708-957-2300


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