Coastal Hire is a leading franchise in the rental of equipment to the construction industry, bakkie builders and the DIY market. With over 100 franchise stores trading in eight countries throughout Southern Africa, it is a well-established franchise that has been around for over 25 years and the average franchisee has been with the brand for over eleven years.
The franchise operates a different support system to most traditional franchises in that different support specialists deal with franchisees in different areas such as operations, finance, tax, business planning, technical, computer and social media support. This was normally done via store visits, regional quarterly meetings and annual conferences. Golf days were also extremely popular and hosted many of those all over the country every year.
According to Coastal Hire’s franchisor, John Harcourt-Cooke, the pandemic changed everything. “Visits to store became impossible and franchisees needed hands-on support to handle the myriad of ever-changing regulations that changed all our lives late in March. Whilst we were able to open our stores for essential service customers business had reduced to a trickle and in addition many large construction companies closed their doors forever.”
During this time we communicated every few days with franchisees to deal with:
- Covid Policy guidelines
- UIF Covid-19 TERS claims
- Support Initiatives from banks and government
- Salary and work policy for April and May
- Essential Service registrations
- 42 separate communications were made with franchisees during this time.
Head office also had to relook at the way in which stores traditionally did business with customers and introduced Covid screens, hygiene procedures and introduced digital signing for a contactless experience for customers.
They became expert at Zoom calls as this became the most effective method of communication with stores. As business with large construction companies had reduced so substantially they had to find new ways of communicating with the large number of people stuck at home and beefed up their Social Media presence in a variety of mediums including Facebook and Live Chat platforms.
“As disillusionment with politicians grew and race related politics became the order of the day we had to relook at our group social media policy and appointed one social media company and a Head Office review committee to review all content from all social media from all stores,” says Harcourt-Cooke. “Only Head Office approved content may now be posted on any social media platform. This took quite some selling as franchisees were fiercely protective of their social media platforms. But the risks to the brand are so severe that no exceptions could be made.”
Attracting a new customer base
The franchisees found while operating their stores during lockdown with minimum staff – normally just themselves and their family – that their stores did not actually require so many staff and many have significantly reduced staff numbers due to improved efficiencies. Business with DIY and bakkie builder customers has increased significantly as people now do their own improvements and repairs at home. There is a whole new level of customers we never had before.
The Head Office franchise support and communication structure has changed significantly, explains John Harcourt-Cooke. “Field Service consultants are gone and new levels of franchise support have been generated as we cannot personally visit stores or convene regional meetings. Specialists now deal with computer software support, social media postings, finance applications and remote technical support. My own hands on visits – I always visited every store a minimum of twice a year personally – has changed to one on one Zoom and telephone calls.”
Business levels are almost back to pre-Covid levels at Coastal Hire but everything has changed and will never quite be the same again.
“We look forward to the new future.”
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