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Focus Brands International’s virtual coaching leads to unparalleled success

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Focus Brands International’s virtual coaching leads to unparalleled success

The international franchisor has levelled up its franchisee support

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Even in a perfect situation, delivering a best-in-class customer experience in just one store can be difficult, but with nearly 2,000 stores in 50-plus countries, speaking over 17 languages, and a pandemic, success can feel nearly impossible.

The international division of Focus Brands LLC (Focus Brands), a leading developer of iconic global, multi-channel foodservice brands, developed and launched the Customer Experience Center of Excellence (CECE), a global hub for international franchise operations support.

Changing with the times

Like most retail stores and food establishments, the ability for Focus Brands International to make in-person visits to brand franchised locations was already challenging – there was only one operator for every 400 stores.

Then, any personal visits came to an abrupt halt when they were most needed during the pandemic. Focus Brands International knew it had to dramatically change its interactions with brand franchisees to enhance customer experience. Given the unforeseen constraints, Focus Brands quickly pivoted its approach and, in fact, used the pandemic as a catalyst for doing things differently.

Being proactive in business requires thinking and then acting before anticipated events happen. But when the pandemic hit, no one was prepared. So, Focus Brands International immediately started problem-solving to equip brand franchisees with the tools necessary for success. While many companies were leveraging various tools to do virtual visits, no one was doing it in a cohesive way that maximized economies of scale and leveraged the resulting data to improve performance.

Because Focus Brands International believes in practicing hypothesis-driven development and not waiting for others in the industry to provide solutions, the team started brainstorming and implementing from the inside to enhance the customer experience and improve the performance of brand franchisees’ restaurants.

Steps toward success

Everyone has big ideas, but it takes the right team to implement them. That’s why Focus Brands International took three key steps to support brand franchisees in their efforts to provide proactive, rather than reactive, customer service:

  • Step 1: Centralizing operations. Focus Brands knew a central hub was critical in order to break down geographic borders and observe patterns and solutions across cultures. When searching for the best location, Heredia, Costa Rica was ideal given the geography’s level of educated talent, immense language capabilities, and proximity to the U.S.
  • Step 2: Coaching from the heart. Training the trainers to truly understand the business and the work it takes to be successful was mission critical. Every single coach at the CECE spends over 160 hours, both in-store and out, learning the operations and better understanding each brand’s processes and culture. Identifying and training coaches who share passion, values, and mission with franchisees is what transforms a big idea into a successful experience
  • Step 3: Applying instincts and insights gets to the core root of any challenge and provides the ability to not only fix it but also see a correlation between coaching and financial performance.

Through this approach, the Customer Experience Center of Excellence (CECE) was built and reinforced by trial and adoption over the past two years, utilizing technology developed in collaboration with RizePoint, a leading software services provider.

Today, the CECE provides an affordable and effective means to deliver world-class operations support so brand franchisees can reach their highest potential.

To feed people and potential

The Focus Brands mission statement is ‘To Feed People and Potential’. Helping franchisees provide delicious food and a fantastic customer experience is at the core of Focus Brands. “Feeding potential” comes to life in many ways, from how business owners are empowered with profitable and fan-favorite franchising opportunities, to providing team members with best-in-class training and development opportunities. When retailers have the tools needed and are shown how to implement them, they can rise to the top of their industry.

“Our job is to help our franchisees amplify their success. The CECE allows us to have eyes and ears into their operations, greatly enhancing our ability to achieve this goal,” says Beto Guajardo, president of Focus Brands International.

“Never before have we had the employee bandwidth or the resources to visit nearly 2,000 stores in 50-plus countries on a regular basis,” adds Jim Holthouser, CEO of Focus Brands. “The CECE is an incredible advancement in operations and training that came together at the perfect time. These new virtual capabilities will undoubtedly shape the future of global franchising.”

To date, the CECE’s proprietary software has already revolutionized global operations. Developed through a collaboration with Auxis, a leading management consulting firm focusing on operations, the software houses brand standards and guidelines, training materials, and business solutions such as data analysis and performance dashboards in a convenient application that can be accessed from any mobile operating system. In short, it has the keen ability to collect the facts and figures that contribute to operational success in a cohesive way.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Focus Brands to help execute on their innovative vision for delivering world-class operations support,” says Raul Vega, founder and CEO of Auxis. “The CECE enables the ability to collect the facts and figures that contribute to operational success in a way that is affordable, achievable, and a game-changer in the industry. We now have the unique ability to provide analytical insights that will help correlate store improvements to financial performance from one central location.”

The Operations Excellence Review (OER), a gold standard in evaluating operational excellence across 100 touchpoints in a store, allows for automated data collection and builtin business intelligence during each coaching session.

This innovative technology enables coaches to give real-time, authentic, and holistic feedback that franchisees can immediately start implementing. Additionally, with the correct data and insights, a correlation between coaching and financial performance is easy to see.

With 24 time zones, brand coaches work around the clock to schedule visits with store operators in their native languages. Focus Brands International now has the resources to visit brand stores in any country, across 17 different languages, with a regular cadence. A team of extensively trained multi-lingual customer experience coaches virtually visits every store four to six times per year to deliver an OER with the store operators in their native language during regular business hours.

“RizePoint’s Quality Management Platform automates OER tasks, the operational data collection for each coaching session, and provides the built-in business intelligence needed to perform the analysis and quickly execute recommendations,” says Kari Hensien, president and CEO of RizePoint. “Focus Brands International’s innovative approach to conducting OERs will enable quality assurance and global consistency in meaningful and measurable ways at every location.”

The OERs allow Focus Brands International to streamline efficiencies, track progress, and monitor forward momentum for brand franchisees. “The CECE allows us to work both faster and smarter,” said Jose Dutari, a Cinnabon owner in Panama. “After making the recommended changes, we have seen a positive reaction from guests. The coaches also provide ways to optimize productivity, which means we can invest more in store openings.” Respectively, a large franchise group in Korea stated, “The OERs help with sub-franchisee management; they are now more focused on operational standards.”

Why Costa Rica?

When thinking of Costa Rica, many picture beautiful beaches, fabulous surfing, and lush rainforests. And while those are all true, Costa Rica is quickly becoming one of the leading geographies for global companies to hub centralized locations. As Costa Rica’s economy transforms, its long-time dependence on agriculture is now transforming into one based on technology, microprocessor production, and tourism. In fact, the country is now being dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Latin America,” as it attracts large corporations including Microsoft, GE, Abbot Laboratories, Continental Airways, and more.

Given the proliferation of American businesses, there are tremendous language capabilities in the market, allowing Focus Brands International to support thousands of stores across the globe. Costa Rica offers favorable foreign investments economic terms, resulting in several multi-nationals opening facilities.

From a logistical standpoint, Costa Rica is close to the East Coast, shares the eastern time zone, and is a direct flight from many U.S. hubs. In addition, Costa Rica has the technological infrastructure to support substantial internet bandwidth.

Perhaps most importantly, Costa Rica has a sense of service inherent in its culture – the people are driven by heart, and a heart for service is engrained in their roots. A joyfulness in the culture leads to great partners and amazing coaches.

At a Glance Focus Brands International

Established: 2001
Number of franchised outlets: 1,800+
Location of units: Nearly 60 countries
Investment range:
20-49 units: $1m liquidity, $1.5m net worth
50+ units: $2m liquidity, $3m net worth
Contact: – EUMEA – Asia – LATAM
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