It’s now been four weeks since the UK went into lockdown. This is, undoubtedly, an uncertain time for business owners around the world, as they navigate this new reality without any assurances that their business will come out the other side of this economic downturn unscathed.
However, it is the franchise industry, as a whole, that is set to maintain their stature throughout the pandemic, for one key reason – the support and reassurance available from both franchisors and franchisees alike. In situations like these, franchisees know they can turn to their franchisor when the chips are down.
In line with the government’s guidelines, Stagecoach Performing Arts made the decision to postpone all classes on the 20th March, three days before the formal announcement was made. But long before this decision, the support team had initiated a crisis communications strategy, for the benefit of their global network of 320 franchisees. In return, franchisees kept in close contact with their Regional Franchise Managers, alerting them to any concerns they might have and what impact the outbreak was having in their own communities. Here, Andy Knights, COO at Stagecoach, and Kate Parkinson, a franchisee, explain how their relationship works for the mutual benefit of each other; now more than ever.
Managing from behind the scenes
“As a franchisor, it’s your responsibility to keep up to date with any developments linked to a pandemic, or any other business disruption, from day one,” explained Andy. “Mitigate the opportunity for error later down the line by ensuring you have a constant grasp on the current situation and what it could mean for your franchisees. Ensure you’re keeping your network in the loop and, where possible, offer one-on-one calls or video conferencing sessions. Above all else, give your franchisees the respect of keeping them abreast of latest developments, just as you would expect them to keep you informed if their business changed significantly.”
To successfully implement this strategic virtual-open-door policy, Stagecoach has initialised a process of regular calls with their franchisees via Google Hangout, as well as setting up a designated online COVID-19 hub on their internal communication system. The support team has also been sharing insight regarding the available government business support schemes and how these will benefit individual franchises.
“We’ve also distributed a whole series of virtual training videos that our franchisees can share with their current students, to encourage retention and engagement during the lockdown period. These are filmed to a professional standard and circulated via our support team. We want to ensure we’re providing our franchisees with quality content that will uphold our standing in the industry as the children’s performing arts school of choice.”
The show must go on
Franchisee, Kate Parkinson, has been proactive in implementing all of the new procedures put in place by her franchisor, for the benefit and longevity of her business.
“The support I receive from Stagecoach is invaluable, regardless of the current situation. I completely trust their judgement which is why I’ve been so willing to utilise all of the resources they’ve provided us with. I haven’t once hesitated in reaching out to them with my concerns, which is a major part of a healthy relationship between a franchisee and franchisor – communication.
“My brother is a scientist overseas, so as soon as he was aware of the threat of coronavirus, he advised me to close the business. I was straight on the phone to Stagecoach, who guided me through the process of postponing classes. I think, in these situations, honesty is the best policy, which is why the sharing nature of our network works so well. We’re happy to air our thoughts with our fellow franchisees and often find that working together during challenging times brings us closer,” said Kate.
Andy, who has worked in the franchising industry for over 19 years, believes that passivity during challenging times is detrimental.
“For business owners, there is temptation to batten down the hatches until the situation has blown over, but this can have a devastating effect for the long-term,” explained Andy. “Maintain your investment in securing yourself as consumers’ service provider of choice by adapting to the current climate. We live in a digitally-literate age, whereby more people are turning to social media for comfort and reassurance. Utilise that tool by maintaining your presence and, like we have, share digital tools with your consumers, where appropriate.”
Be a ringleader
As well as maintaining the operations of her business, Kate is taking the time to stay safe at home with husband, Dave – who runs the business with her – and her three children.
“I know it can be tough to sit at home but, ultimately, customers will have more respect for business owners that are seen to be respecting the lockdown restrictions. Stagecoach is not deemed an essential service, so we must respect government guidelines and keep our communities safe. I thrive on human interaction, so I’m struggling like many people, but social media is allowing me to keep the morale of my team and students up, whilst also providing a much-needed resource for children stuck at home. I’m very thankful for what I do have,” said Kate.
“It’s important to remember that the ongoing impact of this outbreak won’t last forever but making conscious business decisions now means the transition back to normal life will be easier in the long run. Don’t forget, it’s not just about the planning for lockdown, advance planning to come back to business when restrictions are lifted is essential. Maintaining a regular work schedule, even if tasks are a little light right now, will help when the show gets back on the road,” concluded Andy.
For more information, visit www.stagecoachfranchise.com