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Thursday 11th August, 2022

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Why culture is king when growing a franchise

Insight

Why culture is king when growing a franchise

A strong organization places culture at the center of everything it does, and continuously improves as a result

A strong organization places culture at the center of everything it does, and continuously improves as a result.

The idea of a franchise being a business system with repeatable businesses that sell a product or provide a service doesn’t quite capture the magic of a franchise network. The intangible but essential aspects of franchising stem from the comfort that comes from consistency, as well as continually meeting the customer’s expectation of quality. And while that’s quite easy to replicate with a handful of businesses, as the network grows there’s only one way to ensure both consistency and quality: culture.

Culture is intangible, but it is recognizable and can be maintained with careful selection of team members and franchise partners who not only share the brand’s vision and values but practice them and embed them in their work. Culture is not just a motto, it’s an attitude and a commitment.

Culture based on improvement

KX stands for ‘Kaizen eXperience’ where kaizen is the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. Our core business of providing an intense 50-minute full-body workout using dynamic Pilates was a way for our clients to improve themselves through fitness. But beyond that, KX is also a lifestyle brand where we promote better health and build a community centered on a positive and inclusive culture. We want to see the kaizen attitude cross over to our clients’ daily life.

This comes to the fore at a franchise level, where the culture of kaizen translates to the way we conduct our business and network, from the individual studio right up to headquarters. It means we are, from the outset, innovation-focused because we are constantly looking for ways to improve what we do.

To make sure that’s not just lip service, we create space for those ideas at a studio level – giving franchise partners a degree of freedom to interact with their community in a way they see fit – and at network level, providing forums online and in-person for our franchise partners to contribute ideas. Having this culture ingrained in the network gives our team and our franchise partners the psychological safety to pitch new ideas and solutions to others’ problems so we can then dedicate time and resources to develop the most viable ideas.

Recruiting based on culture

It is fairly telling that a solid majority of our franchise partners are drawn from our trainers and our clients, people who are well aware of our culture and have bought into it. These people have the energy and commitment to invest in KX and what it stands for, and it always makes us feel proud when someone who is already part of the family steps up to become a franchise partner.

“Culture is not just a motto, it’s an attitude and a commitment”

Our Indonesian partner spent six years in Melbourne, Australia, where KX originated. Having identified with the KX brand and culture on a personal level, she wanted to bring it with her to Jakarta, which led to her signing a regional master franchise partner agreement. Drawing our first international master franchisor from the KX community has made us confident she will share our values and carry the KX culture through to her franchise partner studios.

Recruiting based on cultural fit sounds like a luxury but it really isn’t: it’s integral to maintaining the consistency and quality of your brand. There’s no better comparison than seeing the franchise partners who’ve come from the KX fold and the kind of inquiries we have fielded at franchising expos where many think investment-first. Passion cannot be faked and it’s this inherent cultural fit that you need when you start to scale overseas, especially if the country you’re going into is culturally different to the one where you first grew your franchise.

We are now expanding into China, and this is where maintaining culture with franchise partners and their employees will rest with our country partner. Our business partner in China has a clear interest in fitness and wellbeing, having grown a yoga brand and boasting 20 years’ experience in the fitness industry.

We have a very trusting relationship in that we are clear about the culture and business opportunities that KX Pilates offers while the team there has the in-country expertise, communicating which parts would work and how best to accommodate them. Our department leaders work with their international counterparts to run things. We can’t and don’t prescribe all the elements as we prefer to work alongside them to decide what would work best in their country. The skill of the country partner is finding where the brand culture and values intersect with the country’s culture and values and leveraging that through the business.

Embedding culture

Culture is not just a foundational concept, it needs to be embedded and continually maintained. A focus on culture is where I started the business 11 years ago and it is the number one thing that separates us from other fitness franchises. My recent move into the newly created role of chief cultural officer is testament to that.

The practice of culture needs to be accessible and consistent. Because kaizen is about continuous improvement, it means continually asking the team – from studio level up to head office – ‘how can we improve?’. We do this via our core feedback cycle and supporting that through our network structure – a cluster of five-to-10 studios right up to our annual conference to build a community among franchise partners.

The key to this is listening, allowing space for franchise partners to give feedback while acknowledging that hearing the frustrations is just as important as celebrating milestones. The psychological safety and the constant encouragement to do so results in continuous and effective progress across the team and brand and reminds franchisor and franchise partner alike that we’re on the same team and we’re working towards the same goal.

Culture may be intangible, but it is the core of your brand. How you embed and maintain culture will determine the strength of your growth and the consistency and quality by which you will be known, so make sure it’s a good reflection.

THE AUTHOR

Aaron Smith is an award-winning fitness innovator, entrepreneur, and founder of KX Pilates. In November 2018, Aaron stepped down as CEO with an initial focus on innovation and international expansion and in 2021 has stepped into the role of chief cultural officer.

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