Communication is Key During COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic is unchartered waters for large and small businesses. Months into the crisis, business leaders, especially those in the franchise industry, have had to think on their feet, pivot to improve business models, and learn new ways to communicate with franchisees.
Moran Family of Brands President Pete Baldine was recently featured on the Franchise Today podcast with host Stan Friedman. Baldine shared the changes his team made to move quickly to meet the needs of its franchisees. Here are some highlights from his interview about lessons learned during that process.
Bottom Line: How are Locations Operating During COVID-19?
Most Moran Family of Brand locations are considered essential services during the pandemic, so existing stores and operations are holding up reasonably well.
“We’ve been open, except for a few of our Alta Mere locations that have been deemed non-essential and have been closed,” said Baldine. “We’ve also had a couple of franchisees setting records during the pandemic. It’s kind of shocking to me. It’s gone pretty well, so our franchisees are definitely holding their own and working hard.”
One Alta Mere location in Oklahoma City, which was deemed non-essential and closed during the month of April, opened a Pop Up Pantry to provide contact-free grocery shopping for the local community. That outside-the-box thinking caught the attention of Fox Business News and earned a healthy profit for the owners.
With a history of co-branding, the Moran Family of Brands business strategy is designed to help franchisees succeed even during difficult economic times.
“We started co-branding Mr. Transmission and Milex Complete Auto Care together under the same roof,” said Baldine. “So, the new franchisee ends up with two franchises under the same roof and a greatly expanded offering of services. And then on the accessories side, Alta Mere and SmartView are typically co-branded together as well. So, that’s been our strategy for quite some time. It’s worked very well for us.”
Communication is Key
One of the greatest lessons Moran Family of Brands has learned through this emergency is the value of communication. It’s been all hands on deck to improve communications and assist franchisees during these challenging times.
Overall, the level of communication between the corporate office and franchisees has gone up dramatically. Baldine says Barbara Moran, Co-Founder, Chairwoman and CEO, has done a tremendous job of communicating through daily updates to the franchisees.
“Both in phone communication and email communication, we’re literally in touch on a daily basis,” said Baldine. “We’ve also done a lot of video updates for them. I did one the other day and within the hour I got an email back from a franchisee that said, ‘Thanks so much for that update. It came at the perfect time. We really needed it.’ So, it’s great getting that kind of feedback.”
Helping Franchisees Survive the Crisis
“Naturally, from a support standpoint, we recognized right away that we needed to be there for the franchisees, helping them get through this crisis,” said Baldine.
Qualifying for PPP
One of the first goals Baldine’s team set was to help franchisees secure financial assistance through the federal government’s Payment Protection Plan (PPP).
“We went all out in terms of studying everything about the PPP Fund,” says Baldine. “We then started sharing that information with franchisees. We helped them with their applications, so they could get that money and be able to make their payroll, while anticipating that numbers would be down.”
Moran Family of Brands also did a lot of coaching to help franchisees in general and individually. The company helped franchisees take a hard look at their expenses, including negotiating rent reductions with their landlords.
“We advised franchisees to reduce expenses to the essential expenses during this period, and also coached them on how to pay their bills,” said Baldine. “Sometimes people just pay their bills within the terms and we coached them on which bills you could slow-walk, and which ones they needed to pay right on time.”
Getting the Phones to Ring
“From a marketing standpoint, the first thing we did was to get a hold of all the franchisees and say, ‘Look, this is going to be critical and you can’t anticipate that the phones are going to keep ringing. You’re going to have to do things to make the phone ring,’” explained Baldine.
Moran Family of Brands encouraged franchisees to review their point of sale system and contact previous customers who may need additional work on their vehicles. For example, when a customer comes in for an automotive repair, the technician may also see that their vehicle’s brakes need servicing. If the customer ultimately decided to put off that recommended repair, franchisees were encouraged to follow up with those customers and offer discounts to schedule the repair.
Protecting Customers and Employees from the Coronavirus
To make customers and employees feel safe in the stores, Moran Family of Brands instituted pickup and delivery service. Scheduling repairs and payments were coordinated over the phone. Vehicles were picked up and brought to the shop.
“We also sanitized cars after the repairs were complete,” said Baldine. “We let customers know that we were sanitizing the inside of their cars to keep them safe, to keep the vehicle safe and to keep our employees safe.”
Locations are also following social distancing guidelines inside stores. Only one customer is allowed in the waiting room at a time, and repairs are scheduled by appointment to limit the number of people inside a location. Employees also wear personal protective gear.
Moran Family of Brands Emerges Stronger From COVID-19
As businesses get back to work, owners and customers are mindful that COVID-19 could spike again in the fall, along with the annual flu season. Baldine believes customers will continue to appreciate the new communication and practices locations are putting in place to keep everyone safe. He’s also says the corporate office will continue improving its communications with franchisees.
“I think we’ve learned some new techniques and new technology in terms of stepping up our game with communication,” said Baldine. “We’ve learned how to do it better. I think that going forward we’ll be better at communicating, but at the same time, making sure that communication is relevant and meaningful, so people don’t get bored. You’ve got to have real content to share with them.”
Want to hear more from Pete Baldine? Click here to listen to his full interview with Franchise Today.