Franchise Basics

Five Pillars of Successful Franchises, Part 4: Brand Reputation

Brands are expectations.

They are collections of promises and stories that customers associate with a product or service.

Brands are also shortcuts. They make the purchase decision easier and faster. Because no matter how great a product or service is, most customers don’t have time to figure out what a company stands for.

But if an emerging franchise has the brand piece locked down, then it enables the customer’s  brain to stop actively deliberating over what to do next. People know what to expect and how to feel, and as long as that promise continues to be delivered, they continue to buy.

What kind of reputation does your brand have? And how passionate are the consumers who both buy it, and buy into it.

In this series, we’ve been breaking down The Five Pillars of Successful Franchises, according to the internal framework we use every day:

  1. Unit Economics 
  2. Repeatable Operations
  3. Scalable Supply Chain
  4. Brand Reputation
  5. Strong Executive Team

Today’s fourth pillar, Brand Reputation, is a complicated one. Our goal is to help you understand the nuances of branding and how it impacts (or doesn’t impact) the type of franchise you have.

How Emerging Franchises Think About Brand

When it comes to an emerging franchise’s brand reputation, it’s unfair to compare them to well established brands like KFC or Dominos. Every franchise that is famous today started with just one location, so it’s unreasonable to expect an emerging one to be a household name at the stage Oakscale is evaluating them (typically anywhere from 0-25 units in development). 

What Oakscale looks for is if the brand has a strong foundation from which a notable franchise can be built. We’re looking for a brand to have a “local sizzle.”

Now, figuring this out isn’t an exact science. The local sizzle takes a mix of visiting existing locations in person and getting a feel for the customer experience, as well as using digital resources to gather intelligence through portals such as:

  • Instagram followership
  • Google reviews
  • Doordash reviews 
  • Local media coverage

Specifically, if a franchise is a food concept, it can be a helpful metric to examine not only the number of reviews, but the quality of them as well. If one restaurant concept has fifty reviews that are long, detailed, filled with emotional language and are overwhelmingly positive, that’s more indicative of a brand’s local sizzle than another restaurant that has five hundred short, vague, lukewarm reviews. It’s quality over quantity in this case.

Take Biscuit Belly for example, an emerging brand out of Louisville. They have three locations, with the first one opening in 2019. In addition to having close to 10,000 instagram followers, they also have racked up 630+ google reviews with an average rating of 4.6/5.

This would certainly be impressive for any brand, but the fact that they’ve done this after being open for less than two years, and one of those years was 2020 during the pandemic, tells us that consumers love this restaurant brand.

Differentiating Between B2B and Brick & Mortar Franchises

Oakscale thinks a little differently about brand reputation for B2B franchises versus our framework for brick and mortar concepts that we’ve outlined above. 

A brick and mortar franchise builds their brand reputation over time as locations open up, and it becomes a critical aspect of a franchise that can make or break future growth.

Conversely, for B2B franchise systems, we find that brand reputation is a far less important metric, and that the quality of the franchisor’s marketing playbook and operations support is what makes or breaks franchisee success. 

For instance, Jan-Pro is an extremely successful commercial cleaning franchise with over 10,000 franchises sold worldwide! Take a look at their growth over the past decade:

Source: Entrepreneur

Despite this success, the average person has likely never heard of them, but they definitely have heard of retail franchises with thousands of units sold, whether it’s a food concept like Wendy’s, or non-food concepts such as Planet Fitness, The UPS Store, etc. You can’t argue with those kinds of numbers. Whether the brand recognition is there is a moot point.

The reason for this distinction is, customers for b2b franchises aren’t industry insiders. Here’s what we mean by this:

Jan-Pro offers commercial janitorial services to businesses of all shapes and sizes. When an office manager of a large company, or an owner of an SMB is tasked with hiring a cleaning service for their office, warehouse, building, etc. I doubt any of them have a de-facto janitorial service brand that pops into their head. 

And why should they? Their job isn’t to be an expert on janitorial services, but it just so happens that overseeing an office requires a cleaning service.

So instead, they likely go to Google or other forms of research to find a qualified vendor. Thus, solid b2b franchises need to be experts at placing their brands in the places where customers look to find their type of service.

If a B2B franchise can consistently market their brand in the right places, and provide turnkey support that makes it easy for a new franchise owner to run and ramp up their business, then you have a winner on your hands.

Notice how we haven’t mentioned “Brand” once in this breakdown of b2b franchises. It’s not that it’s completely irrelevant, but for certain verticals, there are other more important factors.

Ultimately, though, brands are still expectations about your franchise. And whether those are built through million dollar ad campaigns, online reviews, local sizzle or a simple graph showing massive adoption over a short period of time, brand remains a critical pillar of a successful franchise.

If you’re an emerging company with a passionate consumer base and a monopoly on a certain way of doing business in the market, you’ll set yourself up for success.