By: Alex Lockie, editor at 1851Franchise.com
Years ago, Mark Renehan took a job at a local trampoline park, Altitude Trampoline Parks. Within months, he found himself on the corporate team, working in the wide world of franchising and flying across the globe to build the brand. By the time he left that company, he had helped grow it to over 82 locations worldwide.
Today, as the director of franchise development at Integrated Digital Strategies, a full-service marketing agency that works extensively within the franchising space, he’s helping brands like his old trampoline park to find that next bounce back after the COVID-19 crisis.
1851 caught up with Renehan to learn about his tips of the trade in the franchise development space.
Mark Renehan: What we do at IDS is primarily digital marketing. We primarily focus on franchising with franchisors, but we also work with franchisees. Franchise development is our bread and butter. We do web development, we do social media marketing and we’re big into SEO and digital advertising. We also do content marketing and can do all the content and blogging and creating personas in-house, as well as competitive analysis for all of our brands. We’re also in the B2B services, offering B2B marketing in all industries.
We’re a full-service digital marketing company, and IDS has also moved into franchise sales. We're able to help franchisors qualify leads and take them down the sales process.
Renehan: I’ve been franchising for about eight years, I started with a company called Altitude Trampoline Parks. I was one of the first over there. I started as a general manager and quickly moved into corporate. About six months after I got offered the job, I was moving to Texas to be near corporate headquarters. I’m from the Northeast, so it was a big deal moving to Texas.
From there I pretty much helped grow the company worldwide. I traveled internationally quite a bit and took Altitude to 10 locations in nine different countries. I started at the fourth park ever, and when I left, we were at 82 locations all over the world.
For the last two or three years, I’ve been in franchise development helping the company grow. I had developers under me that would take franchisees in the opening process and helped the CEO drive growth.
Renehan: I think the key indicator for franchises continuing to grow is having great franchisees and strong unit-level economics.
Starting with the franchisees, it comes from great word-of-mouth. You can start using them as your personas and your ideal customers and growing from what you know.
Having strong unit-level economics is critical. If a franchisee is performing where it needs to, more people want to join.
Having a unique product and service is a big factor. Obviously profitability factors in. You just have to find the right markets and right franchisees and they’ll be huge advocates for you.
Renehan: It’s tough. Obviously right now everyone is focused on COVID, but going back to before the pandemic, something most franchisors struggle with for growth is insufficient capital. You want to be able to market yourself and advertise yourself to customers. Get your name out there so you don’t just do referrals. It's a great way to start but once you hit that plateau, you want to be able to put marketing dollars to drive growth.
You need the people and culture in place to be able to attract and keep the right people to service the qualified leads you just put money and marketing towards. That’s huge — probably the biggest thing people run into. When we first started, I was lucky we had a phenomenal, Disney-esque culture. People came to see us and wanted to be a part just because of the way we were and the way we acted.
Renehan: Obviously right now the biggest thing in all the leads we have is COVID-19. Every single person is concerned about it. They’re thinking, “Should I put my money toward this franchise when they might not be ready for this crisis?”
The number-one thing people are finding out right now is what happened to the business sector. At Altitude, parks are closed, so people are wondering what the next steps are. They were asking, “What are the steps to keep this profitable?”
The biggest thing is businesses filling to find out they’re an essential business. It could branch quite a bit. Essential business is not only what you think. It could be lawn care or outdoor things that keep business moving forward.
Obviously the different protocols for COVID-19 and being able to put those plans in place and is helping a lot of franchisors. Now it’s more important than ever to decide where you want to put your money to be most effective to determine how you'll drive your leads and make sure business keeps running forward.
Renehan: I would say the biggest one is probably getting ahead of themselves. One mistake I've seen firsthand, and been part of groups that did it, is getting ahead of themselves with advertising and bringing in too many franchisees they can’t handle. It’s not quantity over quality, you want to bring in leads at a pace that allows you to support them properly.
People focused on the numbers forget about customer service. My biggest focus is keeping the capacity and getting the most franchises, but giving them the quality they want and deserve. It goes back to the support structure and recruiting and retaining the right people.
Renehan: So 2021 is pretty exciting for us at IDS and the entire franchise industry. Franchising has shown to be resilient and continues to grow amid the pandemic. I have franchisors who have done better than the previous year, and having the right plan and structure in place for 2021 will really help the entire industry and economy.
Our personal goals are to continue to help franchisors grow and put marketing dollars in the right places. It helps our company and the entire franchise industry. IDS is in a great place to continue to attract big clients
If you’re looking for the next thing, it’s a great time to get into franchising.