First impressions really count or do they?

First impressions

I think most would agree that trading conditions have toughened considerably in the last few years. Gone are the days where companies achieved organic growth without doing much outside of business as usual. These days, business leaders and decision-makers must be innovative, question everything that companies do, be willing to change the old with the new almost on a daily basis, pay attention to minute details and provide strong and decisive leadership. However, there are still some old values that should not be discarded and these values are often what drives the public to or away from a brand.

Take franchises for example. The Franchise Association often deals with franchisors by visiting their offices, emailing and phoning their employees and dealing with their marketing efforts – particularly to attract new or potential franchisees. Here is where old values, in my opinion, are not to be smirked at.

First impressions do count and here are some instances that the Association encounters across the franchise industry:

When paying a visit to a franchisor’s office and being led through the inner offices to the board room or the manager’s office – one sometimes observes neat, tidy desks and workspaces where business is being done in an orderly fashion but more than often are confronted with a jumble of boxes, dusty work surfaces, half-broken chairs and a cacophony of ringing phones along with buzzing conversations.

The reception area which should be the first impression one gets of a proud brand, its brand value and ethos is often a collection of worn furniture, dusty, dying plants in the corners and old outdated certificates of achievement.

Long before a meeting takes place how responsive is the franchisor? Communication is at the heart of every successful business but trying to connect with or even arrange a meeting with a key person in a franchise has become a challenge. Most often these days it seems to be an accepted norm not to respond to emails and at best, to respond only after a number of annoying follow-ups. It has become a habit in some instances not to return phone calls and messages are also ignored. How refreshing it is when you do receive a response to an email or phone call from a franchisor within an hour or two, those are the companies that stand out and are memorable.

Another area where some brands often fall down is in the communication driven by their company’s website. Articles under the ‘latest news’ link, often date back a year or two and old industry certificates and awards are displayed. Countless times enquiries sent to a brand’s advertised email address disappear into cyberspace -never to be heard of again. One wonders why some companies bother to publish an email contact address at all when there is no intention of responding to public enquiries via this email address. In our industry that prides itself in being ahead of the trends curve this lack of attention to detail must be a great turn-off to prospective franchisees.

It was so interesting to match up to our experience in dealing with some franchisors to their brand’s perceived performance and standing in the industry. It was no surprise to learn that the franchisors who responded to our communication the same day or the next day at the latest, are also largely the same brands that appear to be growing and doing well in this tough economy. Where office visits were carried out, neat and tidy reception areas and offices, professional employees who were friendly and knowledgeable impressed no end! So would it be different for potential franchisees?

The Association from time to time receives complaints from would-be franchisees who became frustrated due to some non-responsive franchisors. This does not instil confidence in the management or the brand as potential franchisees no doubt believe that franchisors who do not respond to enquiries would never respond to them as franchisees if they have questions or queries, thus driving potential business away. Would-be franchisees are also consumers so one wonders if they would support an unresponsive franchisor even as a consumer.

There’s no question that old values instil trust, professionalism, energy and positive thinking while the opposite drive potential business away. Can anyone in business afford not to step away for a few moments from the daily activities to focus on the detail? I think not.

Vera Valasis

Executive Director at FASA
Vera Valasis has been at the helm of the Franchise Association of South Africa for a number of years and holds the distinction of being the first woman to hold the position in the history of the association.  Her experience in franchising spans over 30 years from her early days running restaurants to managing house-hold brands like Milky Lane and Juicy Lucy under the Pleasure Foods brand and before her tenure at the association, Debonairs Pizza and other brands within the Famous Brands stable.  She has been representing South Africa at the annual World Franchise Council meetings since 2006 and is a highly respected and experienced franchise specialist.
Vera Valasis