As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s important to look forward with positivity. While the past two years have presented us with challenges that we never thought we’d face, planning ahead has never been more important.
As a franchisor, this was an attitude that stood us in great stead throughout the pandemic. Rather than being predominantly reactive and dwelling on the multiple closures the fitness sector endured, it was important to always be preparing our franchisees for the better times ahead.
Education and franchisee engagement was primarily focused towards reopening our health clubs; for example, how you can make your current members feel safe on their return, how you can support these members after training at home for so long and how you can successfully recruit new members when the market is ready.
This approach meant franchisees were always in a forward-looking mindset and rather than focussing all their time on the stark reality of the here and now, they were keeping positive and raring to reopen when the opportunity allowed.
The right people, at the right time
One of the key learnings from the pandemic is the importance of looking after your teams. The word furlough was almost unheard of before 2020 and it provided a unique moment in time when employees had unforeseen amounts of free time to reflect on their career and their future.
The great resignation is a reality that still looms large but from what we’ve observed, the franchise sector could be one of the main beneficiaries. Speaking from the first-hand experience that I’ve seen and across other franchises, the adversity of the past two years brought out the best in head office teams who were highly motivated to support their franchisees.
This is also an attractive prospect for potential job candidates, particularly those who may be from more of a traditional ‘corporate’ background. We’ve been fortunate to be able to grow our support office team during the pandemic and a stand-out selling point for a candidate has been the prospect of working for a close-knit team and the tangible impact of helping individual business owners to succeed and grow.
Getting recruitment right
With the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us, recruitment is back on the radar for many. There is an opportunity to make up for lost time and to achieve what you want to achieve, you need a robust recruitment strategy and to make sure you take on the right people.
While the relevant experience and skills are important when assessing any candidate, the cultural fit for the business is by far the most important. Our teams have achieved remarkable things in the most challenging of circumstances and I’m sure many franchisors will echo my sentiments that we need to protect and nurture the thriving team spirits that we’ve created.
An injection of a fresh set of eyes from outside the business is essential to future progress but this cannot come at the expense of your existing team’s positive culture. Our approach is to ensure that additional members of the team are included in the recruitment process and have a direct input.
Having recruited close to ten new members of the team since the start of the pandemic, this approach has been hugely successful and as well as having the desired positive impact on the business, have slotted in seamlessly.
Planning for the future
As a franchisor, you need to walk the walk and forward planning is essential. The pandemic created pinch points within franchises of all sectors, shapes and sizes which must be navigated and overcome.
People’s lifestyles have been turned upside down due to the pandemic and for the majority of businesses, customers now expect a different experience than they had previously. For the fitness sector, it’s undoubtedly the acceleration of the rise of digital fitness which presents a new level of consumer expectation and engagement.
While recent stories around the downturn in fortune for digital-only fitness providers has shown that home workouts aren’t a permanent solution, people have become accustomed to accommodating their healthy routine when it suits them. As businesses with a tangible brand, we have customers that expect to be able to access our support at any time and weave health and fitness into their daily lives at any time they want it.
As franchisors, we need to be across these trends and developments, ensuring we equip our franchisees with the right products and knowledge to ensure the sustained success of their businesses.
All sectors will have experienced a change in consumer behavior and having reacted to the here and now of the pandemic, minds must now be focused on what’s next and on staying ahead of the consumer curve.
Take your team and franchisees on the journey with you
I’m a huge advocate of having a high level of transparency within your business and to achieve your goals, you should include your team and franchisees at every stage of the process.
The pandemic will undoubtedly have caused many businesses to adapt future plans; perhaps taking things in a different direction than anticipated. For me, it’s important that any future strategy is communicated clearly from the outset, with regular opportunities for feedback and input from your teams.
Your team is your greatest asset and they need to feel valued. By providing them with the opportunity to influence and shape the future of the business, you’re showing them the importance of their opinion, how important they are to the future success of your strategy and increasing buy-in. For me, there’s certainly a direct correlation between how valued your teams feel and the subsequent results that they deliver.
Trust, engagement and recognition are some of the key things that employees look for in any job and as we look to navigate the great resignation, this always needs to be at the forefront of your mind. It’s an exciting time to now be able to look forward with a clearer outlook ahead of us and I for one, can’t wait to see what new opportunities and developments are out there for the franchise industry.
Neil Randall is CEO of Anytime Fitness UK, the largest and fastest growing fitness franchise across the U.K. and Ireland.