Franchise Decisions: Do You Honor Corporate Specials or Not?

When you decided to become a small business owner, you chose a franchise because the start-up would be easier, not to mention the marketing, supplies and all the other things that the corporate office has to offer. Now that you own the franchise, you have to decide whether or not to participate in corporate specials. You don’t necessarily have to, of course. The company wants you to feel a certain amount of autonomy in how you run your business, but if you don’t are you causing trouble for yourself down the road? 

This question was recently brought into stark clarity by the one Popeye’s Chicken restaurant in Minnesota. Yep, they are the only one in the state and they are a privately-owned franchise. On Earth Day, Popeye’s corporate decided to run a special, which they advertised across the country. This got the folks in Minnesota pretty worked up and many came from miles around to take advantage of it. The problem was, the only Popeye’s in Minnesota decided not to participate. Here is the video:




While there was no violence, emotions were running high in the crowd, high enough that the Minneapolis police had to be called in to calm things down for the staff, which was forced to take a fair amount of abuse from the crowd. Some people ended up buying chicken anyway, others left to visit KFC, no one was happy and pretty much everyone felt cheated.


Let me ask you, what does that say about the franchise owners of that business? It doesn’t take much to imagine that if you are the only game in town, and your corporate office advertises a great deal on your signature product, you will get a pretty good influx of customers. It is also not much of a stretch to imagine that if you don’t follow through on the promise that your corporate office is making through its advertising—yes, I know all about the fine print in the ad that says “at participating locations” or somesuch—that the crowd is likely to turn ugly and make life miserable for your employees.


More than that, by creating this situation you are violating any customer relations principle you may have been operating under. Sure, fast food is not usually seen as a bastion of great customer service. Fast customer service, maybe, but not great customer service. Even if no one is expecting the red carpet treatment, the last thing you want to do is send away a crowd of disappointed customers. They talk, they make videos, they blog and twitter and they can kill your business’ reputation.


The example in Minneapolis is an extreme one. That is true. In most places, customers could have gone to a different location, but the Minneapolis example demonstrates what can happen and what the consequences might be.


The big thing that differentiates your business—stand alone or franchise—from the competition is service. That has been demonstrated, over and over again, to be your major selling point and a key ingredient to the relationship you need to establish with your customers. If you choose, like the owners of the Popeye’s franchise, to offer frustration, disappointment and that “I’ve been cheated” feeling; you show that you don’t care about your customers. If you don’t, your competition will. You also show your disregard for your staff, which will have to deal with those unhappy customers.


There is more to running a small business than simply counting the money. Your employees need leadership and your customers need to trust you. If you are running your business the way that Popeye’s franchise is being operated, then it is time for a reminder of why you went into that business in the first place—and what it takes to succeed.