7 Franchisees Share Lessons from the Pandemic

Survival wasn’t easy – but for these entrepreneurs, there was no alternative.
Jason Feifer and Stephanie Schomer
Magazine Contributor
9 min read

This story appears in the July 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Jennifer Perkins, franchisee, Main Squeeze Juice Co.

Taking care of the team

Jennifer Perkins owns two Main Squeeze Juice Co. locations just outside New Orleans with her brother, Andrew Blackwell. When his wife gave birth to twins mid-March, Andrew joined his family in quarantine — and Jennifer found herself navigating a without her partner.

“It’s been really hard,” she says. “Not to mention I haven’t gotten to meet my nieces! But safety is what’s important, more than anything.”

That’s true of their businesses, too. Their juice and smoothie shops have required a dramatic increase in safety precautions, and while foot traffic has dwindled, drive-through purchases have quadrupled. Inside, Perkins is working overtime to keep her staff healthy and comfortable.

Related: 5 Things to Do to Transition Your Business From Partially Closed to Reopened

“A lot of our younger staff’s parents wanted them to quarantine with them, and that makes sense,” she says. “But it did leave us shorthanded, so for the team members who committed to go through this with us, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.”

As they’ve taken on extra shifts, longer shifts, and the increased pressure of serving items in a pandemic, Perkins has hustled to hire additional support staff and make sure her team members aren’t stretching themselves too thin.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as sending someone home a little early and letting them know that the store will be OK,” she says. “Sometimes it’s making sure our high school employees have the time to take their classes on Zoom and keep up with their schoolwork. Our team has been the backbone of this business, and we’re finding new ways to support each other.”

It has paid off: Sales for the month of April were stronger in 2020 than in 2019.

“I can’t lie and say that any of this was super easy or super planned,” Perkins says. “I had my moments of doubt and panic: Are we doing the right thing? Is this the right way to handle it? But now that we know we’ve come out on top, it’s a super proud moment for our team.”

Regal Patel, franchisee, Pieology

Taking care of your own Town

Owning a pizza shop is all about serving your community. So when the Pieology in Stamford, Conn., closed its dining room in the wake of COVID-19, its owners only got busier.

“We’re not doctors or nurses, but we needed to do something,” says Regal Patel, who owns the location with friends Nishant Patel and Sahil Patel (pictured, from left). “We have pizza, and we have food — let’s keep our community fed.”

The trio and their team (whom they managed to keep employed and busy with delivery and takeout orders) got to work assembling care packages of food and pizzas to distribute throughout the community and to the frontline workers at local hospitals. They started including a roll of toilet paper to deliver a laugh along with the food — and realized that their stock of supplies could be even more impactful than pie.

Related: Why This Family Is Betting Their Future on Franchising

“It’s always safety first at restaurants,” Regal says. “So we contacted our glove supplier and were able to order and donate 6,000 pairs of gloves to a local hospital, and they were just like, ‘Holy Jesus, that’s a lot of gloves for one business to give!’ ”

With pizza sales down and their charitable efforts up, Patel and his co-owners are stretching their wallets thin. “We’re doing this out of our own pocket, and there’s no profit at the right now,” he says.

But as they waited to reopen their dining room, they even doubled down with the brand and launched takeout at a new, second location that was originally put on pause as the pandemic spread. “We know that it will operate differently than restaurants of the past,” Regal says. “But now is the time to adapt and create a new blueprint to serve.”

Patty Clisham, franchisee, Ductz

Maintaining transparency — for staff and customers

Patty Clisham purchased her Ductz franchise — which conducts HVAC restoration and air duct cleaning—in 2007. “And six months later, the went to crap,” she says.

Looking back, she envies the clarity she had at that difficult time. “We could see where that crisis was coming from and why,” Clisham says. “But now, this, this is an unknown adversary.”

And for her business — one that requires sending employees into people’s homes — COVID-19 is an adversary that has changed everything. Clisham used to be booked out for three weeks; now she’s booking week to week. Two months into the pandemic and she’d already lost $60,000 compared with 2019. And the jobs that are coming through require extra care.

Related: Buying a Franchise Post-Pandemic

“We’re disinfecting tools, taking temperatures before a job, wearing masks, wiping down switch plates and doorknobs or anything that we touched,” she says. “We have to make our customers comfortable and share that process with them.”

Clisham has been transparent with her team, as well. She counts herself as one of the lucky business owners who received a loan (she says a good relationship with her bank helped her file for relief as soon as possible, and quickly) and was up front with employees about what the months ahead may look like.

“I sat my guys down and said, ‘Look, we’re not going to have a lot of work,’ ” she says. “ ‘But you’re going to get paid, and I want you to stick with me through this, because when we come out of it, we’ll be OK.’ ”

She knows a lot of other business owners can’t say the same.

“We’re going to make it through this because of the PPP money, I’ll tell you that,” she says. “I tend to have about three months’ worth of payroll and emergency funds set away, but when you don’t have any money coming in from jobs, that will go fast. I’m so thankful we got that relief.”

Meghana Patel, franchisee, Kumon

Lending support, asking for support

Meghana Patel was scheduled to open her first Kumon learning center on April 15 in Valdosta, Ga. But when statewide shelter-in-place orders made it clear that she would not be able to open the doors to her new after-school destination as scheduled, Patel considered hitting pause on the whole operation — until she heard from her would-be customers.

“Parents we had spoken to were panicking, and had expressed interest in maintaining some kind of schedule for their kids,” she says. “So we decided to open up early, on April 1, to help those families.”

Lessons at Kumon — which focus on math and reading for students ages 3 to 18 — quickly shifted to the digital realm as the crisis spread across the country, and Patel, who’d just completed her initial training with the company, found herself seeking support once again.

Related: Why Every Franchise Should Pivot Right Now

“I was nervous; you know, I had never used Zoom before,” Patel says with a laugh. “So to have the company there, ready to walk me through it every single day and have them lay out a plan to conduct lessons that way, really made me comfortable and confident.”

She is still participating in weekly digital training sessions hosted by the company, but as shelter-at-home orders have been lifted in Georgia, Patel is also starting to figure out what in-person classes may look like. “Kumon has sent us all the PPE and hand sanitizers we’ll need. We have a daily sanitation plan in place, and I’m limiting all in-person lessons to just two to five kids, no more,” she says.
But it won’t be business as usual for some time: “Some parents are comfortable coming in for lessons, others are not. But we’re in a position now to accommodate whatever way they and their kids want to learn.”

Mike Ziegenbalg, franchisee, Dream Vacations

Crafting your pitch for the moment

Dream Vacations franchisee Mike Ziegenbalg sells travel — especially cruise bookings — for a living. That seems like a tall order now, when planes look scary and virus-filled ships were the subject of horror-show news stories. Despite all that, Ziegenbalg booked 32 people on a cruise while his customers were locked away at home…and he plans to book a lot more.

His secret: It starts with a foundation he laid seven years ago, when he started a “travel club” in his community. It’s a regular gathering of people with wanderlust, who talk about travel and learn about new destinations. The club has 500 members — and when his home state of Georgia went into lockdown, he decided to keep the club going virtually. “My belief is people want to travel again and are ready,” he says. They need something to look forward to.

The missing piece, therefore, was trust: They needed the confidence that cruising was safe. So he focused on a small cruise in Egypt set for late 2021, and said he’d be going, too. (Translation: The size felt safe, the timing felt right, and his presence means he stands behind his sales pitch.) It worked, and he learned an important lesson: “Don’t just wait for them to call or come to you,” he says. “Clear your mind and come up with new ideas and solutions.”

By: Jason Feifer and Stephanie Schomer Magazine Contributor

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Stop Asking, ‘Can I Pick Your Brain?’ Harvard Researchers Say This Is How Successful People Ask For Advice

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“Can I pick your brain?”

Five words that make up the most thoughtless, irritating and generic way to ask for advice — and any person who is a rock star in their industry has heard it more than a dozen times.

The phrase, while well-intentioned, is overused, vague and way too open-ended. When conversations start this way, there’s no telling where it’ll go or how long it’ll take.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for giving — and receiving — advice. Offering advice is a sign of good leadership, and asking for advice is a sign of intelligence. If the exchange goes well, both parties benefit.

“The whole interaction is a subtle and intricate art. It requires emotional intelligence, self-awareness, restraint, diplomacy and patience,” Harvard Business School professors Joshua D. Margolis and David A. Garvin wrote in a 2015 Harvard Business Review article.

But the process can derail in many ways. It can quickly lead to “frustration, decision gridlock, subpar solutions, frayed relationships and thwarted personal development,” according to Margolis and Garvin.

To avoid those consequences, here’s some guidance on how to ask for advice without annoying the other person:

Start with a positive tone

The way you initiate the conversation is everything. Instead of starting with, “Can I pick your brain,” shift the language to a more positive tone.

When in doubt, I recommend: “I’d love your advice.” No-frills, friendly and simple.

Identify the type of advice you’re seeking

Immediately after your opening line, address the topic of your problem in the form a question.

In order to craft a question with great precision, ask yourself: What type of advice am I seeking? What does my problem involve? What are my desired outcomes?

Below are the four general types of advice, according to Garvin and Margolis’ research:

  1. Type of advice: Discrete
    What it involves: Exploring options for a single decision
    Desired outcomes: Recommendations in favor of or against specific options
    Example question: “Where should we build the new factory — in China, Brazil or Eastern Europe?”
  2. Type of advice: Counsel
    What it involves: Providing guidance on how to approach a complex or unfamiliar situation
    Desired outcomes: A framework or process for navigating the situation
    Example question: “How should I handle my domineering supervisor?”
  3. Type of advice: Coaching
    What it involves: Enhancing skills, self-awareness and self-management
    Desired outcomes: Task proficiency; personal and professional development
    Example question: “How can I work more collaboratively with my peers?”
  4. Type of advice: Mentoring
    What it involves: Providing opportunities, guidance and protection to aid career success
    Desire outcomes: A relationship dedicated to building and sustaining professional and personal effectiveness and to career advancement
    Example question: “How can I get more exposure for my project?”

Just the other day, someone approached me for guidance, and her execution was perfect: “I’d love your advice. My company is asking me to relocate. There are several factors to consider and I’m not sure if I should do it. Do you have 45 minutes to chat?”

Forty-five minutes is a lot, I know, but I appreciated the fact that she acknowledged it would be a longer conversation. I happily blocked off some time on my calendar and we ended up talking for an hour.

Come prepared with specific details

As you move further into the conversation, it’s important to clearly define the problem. Otherwise, you’re doing what I like to call a “bait-and-switch.”

(This is another reason why you should never ask to pick someone’s brain; it makes the other person assume that the exchange will only take a few minutes. But more often than not, it ends up being a deep dive.)

According to Margolis and Garvin, when you don’t come prepared with specific details about your problem, you’re more likely to end up “telling a lengthy, blow-by-blow story” that might cause the advice giver to tune out, lose focus or misidentify the core problem that needs solving.

Simply put, don’t come into the conversation empty-handed. Put realistic guardrails on the conversation and include any essential background information that your advisor might not be familiar with. Providing specific details also keeps the conversation pleasant and interesting.

Ask the right person

Several field studies have discovered that advice seekers are more likely to ask for guidance from people they feel comfortable with, like a close friend or family member.

“Though friendship, accessibility and non-threatening personalities all impart high levels of comfort and trust, they might have no relation to the quality or thoughtfulness of the advice,” Margolis and Garvin wrote. This is especially true if you’re seeking career-related advice.

Think creatively about the expertise you need. Who will bring in the most valuable insight? Who has the most knowledge that’s relevant to your problem?

For example, if you’re asking a seasoned CEO for advice involving your personal life, don’t expect to have lunch with Yoda. Your advisor is offering up valuable time to listen and provide professional feedback, not to hear you vent for an hour.

 

Don’t ask everyone

Things can backfire quickly if you run around asking a bunch of people for advice. Clearly, you won’t be able to follow everyone’s advice.

Research shows that those whose advice you don’t take may have a worse view of you afterward. They may even see you as less competent or avoid you,” according to Hayley Blunden, a PhD student at Harvard Business School and co-author of the 2018 study, “The Interpersonal Costs of Ignoring Advice.”

For example, a marketing executive who is widely respected is pleased when you ask her what to do about a particular situation, but is then less pleased when she finds out you didn’t do it.

Remember, you’re not running a Gallup poll (but if you really are, then just say so).

Don’t assume you already know the answers

Garvin and Margolis pointed out that people often have a hard time “assessing their own competence and place too much faith in their intuition.”

As a result, they end up asking for advice simply to gain validation or praise. Those who have a tendency to do this often believe they’ve already solved the problem, but just want confirmation or recognition from their bosses or peers.

“It’s a dangerous game to play because they risk alienating their advisers when it becomes evident — and it will — that they’re requesting guidance just for show or to avoid additional work,” the professors noted.

Be grateful

It should go without saying, but based on my experience, I still feel the need to emphasize it: Be grateful.

Thank your advisor for their time at the conclusion of your meeting. It doesn’t hurt to thank them again the next day via email. Follow up later to let them know how their feedback helped you. If they sent you an article or book, let them know how it you benefited from it.

Showing that you’re humble and appreciative will go a long way in maintaining good relationships with those in your professional network.

By: Gary Burnison

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry, a global consulting firm that helps companies select and hire the best talent. His latest book, a New York Times best-seller, “Lose the Resume, Land the Job,” shares the kind of straight talk that no one — not even your partner or close friends — will tell you. Follow him on LinkedIn here.

Source:https://www.cnbc.com

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