A comprehensive guide on how some of franchising’s biggest names stayed at the top.
Report by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise
The idea of a legacy franchise brand is a very subjective one, and also isn’t something that a headstrong entrepreneur can intentionally set out to create. When Colonel Harland Sanders first franchised his fried chicken concept back in 1952 in Salt Lake City, for example, did he know that KFC would go on to become such a staple of the food franchise world, with 24,000 restaurants across more than 145 countries? Doubtful.
That’s because to become a legacy brand, you have to focus on the continuous journey of your franchise’s growth and development, rather than setting an arbitrary goal from the outset. You have to maximize your customer experience while adapting to changing wants and needs, all without losing sight of what got you going in the first place. And you have to acknowledge that shortcomings will occur, which you can navigate using your experience and expertise.
“To be a legacy brand, you need to be consistent – not trendy”
We spoke with some of the most recognizable and enduring legacy brands in the franchise world, to create something of a guidebook for emerging franchisors on how to create a long-term franchise network, and cement it as a cornerstone of the industry.
Conquering a brave new world
Every international franchise that has stood the test of time had to make one key decision near the beginning of its global growth strategy: which foreign market should it expand to, and how can that be handled effectively and sustainably?
For many brands, this initial dipping of toes into the world of international franchising starts as close to home as possible; both for logistical convenience and also because nearby markets are seen as naturally receptive to incoming concepts due to brand awareness and familiar cultural trends.
This can be seen in almost every industry. Wendy’s, for example, first opened in the U.S. in 1969, and then decided to trial international growth with an opening in Ontario, Canada, six years later in September 1975. Taking a concept from the States to the Great White North is commonplace in the world of franchising, as the cultural divide between the two countries is seen as slim enough to justify cross-border expansion.
Just Cuts, the Australian-founded haircut franchise concept, opted to expand close to home too when it traveled to New Zealand. “The first international market that we expanded into was New Zealand, back in 1997,” says David Mathie, the U.K. general manager for Just Cuts. “In terms of our target demographic, the market was fairly similar to the Australian market that we were already familiar with. There was a real demand for our affordable and convenient salon experience in key locations across New Zealand so, just seven years after launching our first franchise salon in Engadine, Sydney, in 1990, we launched our first Just Cuts salon there.”
Markets in close proximity to a brand’s country of origin aren’t always a carefree next step, however, and as with every part of international development, careful consideration and planning sort the wheat from the chaff.
For example, Poolwerx might now be known as an international powerhouse for swimming pool maintenance and supplies, but the brand has come up against its fair share of challenges when taking business across the pond.
“In expanding to New Zealand, which is only a three-hour flight from our head office, we made the mistake of treating this market the same way we did in Australia,” says John O’Brien, founder and CEO. “However, we now realize that the New Zealand market is more like cousins and not siblings to Australia, and we need to respect the different nuances in doing business, franchisee recruitment, and consumer marketing.”
Embrace the digital revolution
Online orders for a restaurant franchise might seem commonplace today – especially during the no- contact world of COVID-19 – but this is only because the pioneering legacy brands of the F&B world revolutionized what it means to offer convenience to the customer.
Domino’s Pizza is widely regarded as one of the main pizza franchises that customers turn to worldwide, and the brand has even taken the title of the largest global pizza concept based on retail sales. However, this didn’t happen overnight. Instead, Domino’s ascension to franchising fame occurred due to a sequence of clever innovations and adjustments to its model.
These began around 2009 when the 60-year-old organization acknowledged that its pizza wasn’t up to scratch when compared to competitors. This spurred a complete turnaround mentality that saw Domino’s return to the drawing board with its menu. Once the pizza itself was perfected, it turned its attention to the most important differentiator for pizza franchises: delivery.
Throughout the 2010s, when then-CEO Patrick Doyle joined Domino’s, the chain’s philosophy seemed to shift; it went from seeing itself as being in the pizza-making business, to being in the pizza-delivery business, too. This dichotomy allowed Domino’s to showcase genuine innovation.
Case in point: Domino’s Pizza introduced the idea of ordering a pizza from a cell phone without having to make a call in 2007, and spent the next 13 years creating both vital and novelty ways that customers could get their hands on its now-iconic variety of pizzas.
‘Zero-click ordering’ was released in 2016 through smartphone voice recognition software, and the next year, Domino’s allowed customers to order food through Facebook Messenger. Thanks to embracing technology, Domino’s Pizza isn’t just the largest pizza franchise in the world; it now generates around 65 per cent of all those sales through digital channels.
“To become a legacy brand, you have to focus on the continuous journey of your franchise’s growth and development”
For some F&B legacy franchises, embracing online ordering and digital convenience was more of a necessity than an evolutionary step. Take Smoothie King, the vast smoothie franchisor that’s been serving up since 1973. When the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of many of the brand’s brick-and-mortar locations around the world, Smoothie King was suddenly hit with a problem that even its enduring menu, which had cemented it as a true legacy competitor, couldn’t solve: it couldn’t serve customers.
Until this year, Smoothie King didn’t offer online delivery at any of its 1,200-plus locations in countries like South Korea, the Cayman Islands, or even the U.S. So it had to think on its feet, bring the brand’s offering into the modern world of digital convenience, and reap the subsequent rewards.
“Before 2020, Smoothie King had no revenue from digital sales – because our online ordering platform did not exist,” says Elise Ganucheau, the franchise marketing manager for the brand. “However, we rolled out our digital, online-ordering platform to better service our guests, and because of COVID-19, the guests immediately adopted the platform. We then fast-tracked curbside and delivery, which had been planned for later in the year. Additionally, guests could go straight to our website and order in a similar fashion. What resulted was a highly-engaged digital platform that accounts for 14 per cent of our total revenue (as of June 2020) and, consequently, total sales were up 10 per cent year-over-year.”
Smoothie King was no stranger to overcoming unique obstacles, as the brand effectively introduced the entire country of South Korea to the idea of a smoothie back in 2003. “At Smoothie King, we have quite a few proprietary items to ensure a consistent brand experience, and we had to replicate those items in Korea or find something comparable to sustain such an experience internationally,” says Ganucheau. “We also had to sell South Korea on the idea and purpose of a ‘smoothie’, which was, at the time of expansion, a bit of a foreign concept to the country. Smoothies just didn’t have much of a market in South Korea before Kim [Wan Kim, Smoothie King’s CEO] opened the first Smoothie King store there in 2003.
Becoming more than a brand
One of the key differences between an outdated brand concept and a leading innovator in the franchising space is whether an organization provides more than its standard offering. That is, whether it goes above and beyond to not only deliver an outstanding customer experience, but that the business itself is structured in a way to positively impact the wider community around it.
Chem-Dry, for example, has factored the importance of environmentalism into its modern carpet cleaning solutions, and this consideration has not only allowed the 43-year-old franchise to offer a premium cleaning service throughout this year’s pandemic, but has positioned it as a frontrunner in a greener world.
“Since Chem-Dry is known for creating cleaner and healthier indoor environments, societal and consumer mindset shifts play a big role in how we serve our customers,” says Ed Quinlan, president. “Customers are looking for greener options – so we are always looking for ways to take care of our customers, while also caring for the Earth. In total, we have more than 50 green-certified solutions that serve a wide variety of customer needs.”
As well as giving back to the environment, it’s just as important for a timely legacy brand to position itself as charitable and welcoming of all societies and backgrounds. For Pollo Campero, the Central American chicken franchise founded in Guatemala, this comes in several forms.
“To remain relevant over a long period of time, it’s vital to stay close to the marketplace and customer needs and be willing and nimble enough to quickly pivot and possibly even reinvent your model to meet those needs”
“Equality and diversity have always driven us as a brand. Because of our background, we know how important it is to show equal representation and stand against injustice,” says Luis Javier Rodas, MD and COO for Campero USA Corp. “We believe that the most important footprint of a brand is to make the community that it is in a better place. To us, this means creating long-term relationships with charitable partners and supporting our local communities. Over the years, Pollo Campero has collaborated with partners to team up in the fight against childhood cancer, raising millions of dollars at an international level.”
As has become evident, legacy brands may all approach their status in varying ways, but there are universal truths that can be traced throughout their success. These brands are adaptable and can change their product offering to suit the needs of an evolving consumer. They are tech-savvy, utilizing the latest means and methods to keep in touch with both customers, and their wider franchise networks. And perhaps most importantly, legacy brands are conscious of their impact within society as a whole; they’re not afraid to take a stance when it comes to the big issues governing the wider business landscape.
“To remain relevant over a long period of time, it’s vital to stay close to the marketplace and customer needs and be willing and nimble enough to quickly pivot and possibly even reinvent your model to meet those needs,” says Ed Quinlan, president of Chem-Dry. “Legacy brands don’t assume that what has worked in the past will also inevitably work in the future.”
FRESH BURGERS, FRESHER MARKETING
Wendy’s, the square burger franchise renowned for its meme-worthy Twitter clapbacks, is one of the F&B legacy brands leading the charge when it comes to reinvention and tapping untapped marketing avenues.
Introducing the world to the idea of pick-up windows for restaurants in 1970, the Wendy’s of today continues this modernist trend with the likes of the #NuggsForCarter Twitter campaign, that led to the most retweeted tweet at the time, as well as the introduction of a mobile app in 2012 – well ahead of many QSR competitors.
In addition to these, Wendy’s also dropped a ‘We Beefin’’ mixtape in 2018, which won a Cannes Gold Lion award, and launched a podcast in August 2020 to promote its ‘4 for $4 deal’, titled SIR, THIS IS A WENDY’S PODCAST.