Nationwide Franchise Assistance for Hotel Owners
No Franchisee Stands as an Island When Advisory Boards are Strong
By Steve Belmonte, Chairman Emeritus and Founder, Hospitality Solutions, LLC
John Donne had something profound to say about our human existence when he taught that no man is an island, but even he could not have known how much that particular meditation of his would ring true 400 years later in the 21st century hotel industry.
Perhaps there are those to whom it would seem trivial to talk about Donne's words in an attempt to apply them to some extended part of commerce, but it seems clear that that intonation in 1624 was meant to be extensive and all encompassing in a way that required consideration not on just a philosophical level, but so too in practical everyday situations.
So, Donne as a philosopher of the hotel industry? All right, let's not get carried away. But we can keep in mind the more contemporary instruction from Clarence the Angel delivered to George Bailey in Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life": "No man is a failure who has friends."
For the hotel franchising industry, friendships are most keenly important not with one's workers or lenders, or even with the employees and executives of one's franchise company. Indeed, the most important bonds are to be formed with other entrepreneurs who have cast their lots with that particular franchise company and figuratively or in reality hoist the same franchise flag every morning in order to properly welcome weary travelers to the inn.
For it is they who know best the struggles and obstacles to success faced 365 days a year by a hotelier in a franchisor/franchisee relationship. And it is they who are the most likely sources of information and problem solving that eventually can lead to enhanced bottom lines and the attainment of success in the hotel industry.
Before going any farther, let me be clear that none of this is no imply that the owners and executives of hotel franchise companies are mercenaries out to make lots of money off the hard work of their franchisees with no concern for the eventual success of those franchisees. After all, I spent a large part of my career as president of Ramada Franchise Systems, which is one of this industry's oldest and strongest franchise companies. It, like other franchise companies, owe its continued strength and existence to dealing fairly with franchisees.
Nonetheless, I recognize that there are many franchisees who can legitimately find one or more faults with the manner in which some hotel franchise companies do business. But, for the most part, franchisors understand the reality that their success is very dependent on the success of their franchisees and they work hard to avoid any situation in which they would compromise the success potential of those franchisees.
Still, despite the inextricable bond created between franchisor and franchisee, it is the bonds that exist between franchisee and franchisee that are even more important and more valuable in the short and long runs.
But even in the relationship between franchisee and franchisee, it is the franchisor that plays an indispensable role, namely that of facilitator.
I am not certain how the first Franchisee Advisory Board came to be, but in the best scenario it was a joint effort on the part of the franchisor and aggressive franchisees who recognized the importance of drawing from the experiences of hoteliers from across the country in order to create the best possible situations at individual hotels.
More likely the first franchisee advisory board was the spontaneous result of two or more franchisees getting together in an impromptu meeting to discuss mutual concerns and solutions. They eventually found that it's not just misery that loves company, but success too, and that there are very few business problems that are unique only to one person. Suddenly they discover that through casual conversation with other hoteliers they would be able to solve problems that exist in their own hotels. Imagine what could be accomplished if the discussions and exchanges of ideas took place in a more formal setting involving only franchisees. And further imagine how a franchise organization could be made stronger if that franchisee group actually had a voice in how decisions about policy and standards are made at the franchise company.
And so it came to pass that franchisees found real strength in a formal arrangement in which they worked together. Now, franchisee advisory boards exist in just about every situation where there are franchisees, but some are stronger than others, and therein lies the rub.
A franchisee advisory board that meets perhaps once a year at the franchise company's annual conference/convention, might just as well not exist for all the good it does. For a franchisee advisory board to be strong and for its members to feed off that strength, the board must meet frequently throughout the year in order that its members can quickly and positively react to changing overall economic climates, and business situations particular to that franchise company.
And it is the franchise company that needs to facilitate and encourage those meetings and the participation of all franchisees. The franchise company can help to bring members of the FAB together at its national headquarters or regional locations, or help to arrange conference calls in which important matters can be discussed. In situations where the franchisor does not take the lead, strong franchisees must see to it that discussion and exchange of ideas are constant throughout the year.
The time is long past where franchise company executives should be fearful of its franchisees finding strength in unity. Besides, any franchise company that harbors doubts about the importance of FABs or actively discourages interaction among its franchisees, are probably to be avoided at all costs.
It is clear that hoteliers from particular brands face the same approximate challenges wherever it is geographically that they are doing business. When one of these franchisees discovers a solution to a problem, that solution is something that needs to be quickly shared with all so that all of the links in the chain can be equally strong and equally important to the existence of the entire chain.
It's a strong franchisee advisory board that is the key to that sharing, and no franchise company should ever do anything to discourage or thwart the existence of such a board, And, of course, no franchisee should be cavalier about such a board or be unwilling to take part in its ongoing functions.
One of the most frequent pieces of advice sought from me by hoteliers is to recommend a franchise. Often my answer to them is to take a good look at the Franchisee Advisory Board that is in place at a company under consideration.
Does it convene regularly? Is it a real force at the company or merely a rubber stamp for company ownership? Do the people who are on the board have a big-picture mentality?
To paraphrase Donne, no franchisee is an island and the problems of any one franchisee are problems for all franchisees. Strong franchisee advisory boards can help mitigate the severity of those problems.
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