For franchisees opening their first unit, reaching the point where the business is cash flow positive enables the franchisee to breathe a little easier and feel a little more confident that they will indeed be successful.
A new business that is able to generate a big buzz is likely to attract the attention of early adapters who will flock to be the first to try a new concept. These early adopters will also tend to generate more word of mouth recommendations (assuming the experience is exceptionally positive), thus further propelling the success of the business.
For concepts such as educational franchises and fitness boot camps, etc., that offer their products and services in multi-week sessions, the need to open strong with a full session is critical to getting the business off to a strong start. Imagine opening a ten-week semester with only six students when your capacity is twenty-six. Building brand awareness and actually taking reservations or making sales before the paint is dry on the building and the furniture is in place can be important to establishing the brand in the marketplace. It will also help to boost the confidence of the franchisee.
Kids in Sports is a franchise that offers classes that teach the fundamentals of a wide variety of sports and the value of sportsmanship to children ages 12 months to 12 years old. “Helping our franchisees build enrollment before they even open their doors is critical for many reasons. In addition to the financial benefits of beginning with full classes, and perhaps more importantly, is the effect on the franchisee’s psyche and confidence.
Opening with strong enrollment they know that, yes, they can get customers and the Kids in Sports concept can succeed in their market,” said Michael Strutt, co-founder and CEO of Kids in Sports. “Further, knowing what enrollment they can expect helps the franchisee in hiring their staff and other aspects of planning for the business.”
There are several very simple and inexpensive ways to let your community know that you’re opening:
- As soon as you’ve signed the lease and construction has begun, hang a “Coming Soon” banner. Make it colorful and keep it short – just “coming soon” and your logo and tagline is all you need. You will reach the people in your community – your future customers – and they will be reminded of your opening every day as they pass by. If you’ve got a little more budget, consider a staged teaser campaign with a new banner every few weeks. This is especially good to keep interest if there is a long build-out time.
- Work with your franchisor to issue a press release at key points:
- When the franchise agreement is signed is a good time to let the business editor of your local paper know that a new business is entering the community.
- When you’re only a couple of weeks away from opening or are beginning to take reservations, you can let the lifestyle editor know your plans for a grand opening.
- When you open – it’s news. Invite the press!
- If your opening celebration features a community or chartable tie-in, you will want to issue another press release to report the results of your opening program and thank those in the community who contributed.
While the press release should be sent to all traditional media in your market area, don’t overlook some of the on-line opportunities. Many communities and even large subdivisions have their own website featuring news about what is happening in the neighborhood.
- Introduce yourself. Walk around your new neighborhood and say hello to your fellow business owners. Attend public and consumer oriented meetings; join the Chamber of Commerce. Let people put a very personal face to your business. Ask for their advice, help, and support as you grow. It will be amazing how many people will feel obligated to give you a try and to bring in their friends.
- Repay the community’s support by giving back in some form – sponsor a little league team, offer a free meal to teachers at the end of the school year, or free coffee to veterans once a month. Cost is little but good will is “priceless.”
- Use social media. Let people know what is happening as you meet your community and build out your business. Post pictures and funny stories. Let your potential customers know how much you look forward to meeting them. Tap into any group of which you are a member, from the PTA to your golf group or bridge club, to help get the word out.
According to Strutt, “Kids in Sports works with each new franchisee to tailor an initial marketing plan that will be successful in their area. We do not have a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to building sales. It is also important to keep refining the program. What worked for us sixteen years ago has been replaced with the newest technology. We have introduced referral programs for parents and have created some attention-grabbing advertising to help franchisees.”
It’s never too soon to begin to begin building brand awareness and let the community know that you’re coming. Those who wait until their business is open to begin to get the word out have missed an opportunity to create the consumer anticipation and excitement that will drive strong opening sales that set the pace for the growing of the business.