The 4 Fundamental Franchise Leadership Principles that Create Successful Systems

Franchisors and franchisees—Sometimes, it’s easy to think of them as polar opposites. But at the end of the day, they both really want the same thing: a successful business.

Now, that success might be defined or motivated by one factor for some and something entirely different for another, but to get there, one thing is for certain: They need to lead well and invest in each other.

The million-dollar question: What does that look like?

After re:group proudly sponsored the 2016 FaegreBD Franchise Summit back in August, I knew I had a prime opportunity to find out. Thanks to introductions by summit organizer Brian Schnell, I was lucky enough to connect with three of the summit’s distinguished speakers. But not just any three—three with completely different perspectives, and repping both sides of the franchise coin:

Steve White is the president and COO of PuroClean, headquartered in Tamarac, Florida. PuroClean is a commercial and residential restoration franchise with over 230 offices. It specializes in water removal; mold mitigation and remediation; and biohazard cleanup and removal. Prior to PuroClean, Steve’s corporate franchise résumé spans more than 25 years, most recently with an 18-year tenure at Allegra Network.

Tamra Kennedy is a 33-year Taco John’s multi-unit franchisee veteran with eight locations in the Twin Cities and one in central Iowa. Taco John’s is a quick-service restaurant franchise concept, with over 400 locations in 25 states. The company focuses on menu items served in generous portions and made fresh to order with high-quality ingredients.

Saunda Kitchen is a longtime Mr. Rooter Plumbing franchisee. She owns a 25-vehicle fleet in Sonoma County, California. Since 1996, she has co-owned and operated several Dwyer Group brands, including Mr. Electric and Rainbow International Restoration. Mr. Rooter is a full-service plumbing and drain cleaning franchise with approximately 300 franchises internationally.

What I found was striking: the symbiotic relationship between franchisor and franchisee is a byproduct of 4 fundamental franchise leadership principles. Not for the franchisor or the franchisee individually, but for all franchise stakeholders.

#1: Have Purpose

Tamra Kennedy never set out to be a franchisee. She thought she might study law, but when family circumstances prevented her from going to college, she took a job at a Pizza Hut instead. Though her time there was short, it was there that she grew an enormous respect for the role that restaurants play in people’s lives: “I really truly believed, still do today, that there is such a great gift in helping serve one of life’s basic needs: food. It’s an honor when they choose us as a brand; those choices are personal choices as a guest. It’s our opportunity in my business to make that a great option for them, and make sure they come back.”

Though she found her calling in food, her definition of success takes that purpose further: “I only feel successful when I can see that my team has continued their development. My success comes when my employees have an opportunity to grow…even if Taco John’s isn’t their lifelong dream.” Or as she said in the Franchise Times last year: “We teach young people how to enter the workforce. I’m in the development business.”

Saunda Kitchen’s franchise vision may not have been fully fleshed out when she started her career at 22, but was driven by the opportunity to be self-employed.

21 years later, she is the proud owner and operator of a 25-vehicle Mr. Rooter fleet. But along the way, she uncovered another passion: franchise advocacy.

Saunda serves as an International Franchise Association (IFA) board member, and works hard to make sure the industry’s voice is heard on crucial legislative and regulatory issues.

On the franchisor side, Steve White finds purpose in building a franchise system that succeeds when its franchisees succeed. From a franchise recruitment perspective, he’s not just looking for a prospective PuroClean franchisee that just “finds joy in sucking water out of people’s homes.” He’s looking for franchisees that find human purpose in the work that they perform. It’s personal work; it’s rebuilding homes and offices after a disaster strikes—it’s helping to rebuild lives. “I love the fact that I’ve got franchisees that come to me and say, ‘I love being a PuroClean franchisee because, every day, I feel like Superman.’ I want people to get joy from that.”

#2: Respect the System

Whether you’re creating or buying a franchise, there always has to be one thing guiding your every move: the brand. Tamra says it best:

“First and foremost, we remember and respect that we are part of a system, part of a franchise, part of a brand. And that brand’s reputation takes place every single day in individual neighborhoods. We have to honor and respect what we bought—which are recipes, trademarks and standards of operation. We have to. Whether we agree or not is not as important as whether we comply or not.

Supporting the integrity of a brand cannot be a one-way street. Steve White’s first job was in the United States Army before starting his franchising career at Domino’s Pizza: “I was blessed to work for some Army leaders who were servant leader kind of guys. My battalion commander was a guy that put so much trust in us; he did so much to support us—we would be mortified to let that guy down. [At Domino’s], Tom Monaghan put franchisees first and genuinely cared about their welfare. If you want to be a successful franchisor, make successful franchisees. Support them, take care of them and make a successful business.”

The truth is, though, that sometimes franchisors can provide all the support in the world, yet there will always be franchisees that think they know best. When Steve looks at his underperforming franchisees, more often than not the root of the matter is that they’re not following the system.

On the other hand, he frequently has top-performing franchisees coming to him saying, “Steve, people ask me how I’m so successful and I don’t know what to tell them. All I tell them is I’m following your model. You say do this; I do this. You say do that; I do that. And we get success as a result.”

Saunda agrees. When she started out as a Mr. Rooter franchisee, she had a unit and revenue goal in mind. By the time she hit that benchmark, she had developed an intimate understanding of the system. That mastery led to more brand opportunity within the same territory.

#3: Communicate

Communication is important in any business, but in franchise, where there could be anywhere from one to thousands of brand stakeholders, it’s nonnegotiable.

Fundamental franchise leadership principles

Talking, emailing, texting, conferencing—all of these things allow the other side to feel heard, to know their questions and concerns are being considered and addressed.

And Steve knows that, for most, when it comes to processing a message, one time is almost never enough. It’s all about reinforcements and reminders.

Tamra Kennedy knows it’s particularly important when considering the nuances of franchise stores that may stray from the typical demographic and psychographic makeup of a franchise: “Our brand is not a major metropolitan area-based brand. But most of my stores are there. A lot of the concepts for our brand, marketing-wise and menu-wise, don’t always play as well in the Twin Cities as they do in a couple of my more rural locations. Sometimes I feel like I have a voice that might not be heard, and so I’ll ask that we consider choices and procedures and strategies that might better support the Twin Cities than what maybe it looks like on the surface. My job is to make sure my brand knows how I feel. And they have to trust that I’ll still do what I should.”


Saunda Kitchen with Mr. RooterWhen it comes to communication, Saunda is guided by the Dwyer Group Code of Values: live R.I.C.H., or respect, integrity, customer service and having fun in the process. Because these values empower all Dwyer Group team members to have differences of opinion and perspective, she feels comfortable letting her franchisor know when something is just not working and why. Saunda admits that, yes, sometimes there is conflict in franchisor-franchisee relationships, “but if you have one core communication method, then you speak the same language, so you can come up with the same solution. I think that’s hugely beneficial.”

#4: Want to Improve

Franchise success is not a destination-type game. You don’t become successful, then stop: you keep pushing, keep learning, keep improving. That commitment to growth is what earns you the respect of your business partners, your employees and your peers.

Steve White knew he could never rest on his laurels. “You are always continuing to push, to do more than you’ve ever done before, to tackle the opportunities and the obstacles. I’ve never really been in that place that says “I’ve arrived; I think I would be uncomfortable with that place.”

On the flip side, Steve knows that, as a franchisee, there are always things to improve on as well. Since franchisees come from so many different areas of experience and expertise, there is bound to be something that could be improved with extra training (e.g. marketing, operations or financial management).

When he thinks about improving the PuroClean system, it’s typically in the area of financial management. That’s why his team makes sure that franchisees get access to the right training to make them feel confident and comfortable in their roles. He has found that franchise consultants, such as Steve LeFever, have really helped ensure franchisees are on the right path.

Saunda maintains that success as a franchisee is proactive. It’s all about building relationships with those mentors, leaders and franchise consultants that push you.

In the same vein, Tamra knew that, in order to be successful at owning and operating restaurants, she would have to put in the time. Her first exposure to the business side of franchising came when she served as a secretary, then as an office manager for a multi-unit franchisee. That job solidified her career path; she knew she wanted to someday own Taco John’s franchises of her own!

But before she could do that, she knew she needed to learn how to run a restaurant—from beyond the back office: “I started working at night in one of the restaurants and learning from the night crew how to cook and run all the procedures. Then I moved on to weekends, then to days to learn how to open restaurants, how to order, do everything that the restaurant managers do. I did all of that on my own time to make sure that I knew how to interpret what I was seeing from the reality of what happens in the restaurant every day.”

When she did move on to purchase those 14 restaurants, she knew there was still room to grow. She really appreciated the fact that Taco John’s offered education in the parts of the business that she was a little weak in when she first started.

One Piece of Advice to Franchisors & Franchisees

The franchisor-franchisee relationship can sometimes look deceptively simple on paper, but it’s always a whole different story in real life. Thanks to our guests, Steve, Tamra and Saunda, navigating the different complexities associated with the 4 fundamental franchise leadership principles—purpose, system, communication and growth—just got a little bit easier.

And with that, I’ll leave you with this. I asked all three franchise pros one final question:

If you had to give one piece of advice to a new franchisee or new franchisor on how to best work together, what would it be?

  • TAMRA: “To each: Develop your vision to your own business. Make sure that it’s true, and spend as much time as you can talking about the vision and sharing each other’s strategy on how you’re going to get there.”
  • SAUNDA: “I think that setting up the expectations in the beginning—really clear expectations as to what each person, franchisee and franchisor, is responsible for—helps to have a successful foundation, no matter what franchising concept you’re in.”
  • STEVE: Steve thinks University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler said it best: “The team, the team, the team. Nothing is more important than the team.” He maintains that, the more everyone acts as a team, the more they’ll get from it.

Definitely words to live by.

Blogger’s Note

As an integrated marketing agency specializing in franchising, re:group was honored to be a sponsor of this year’s FaegreBD Franchise Summit. The two-day event was full of fantastic content from franchise leaders. Throughout our event series, we’ve talked about franchise harmony with Walter Bond and about protecting the franchise model, with IFA Chair Aziz Hashim.

A big thank you goes out to Brian Schnell, partner at FaegreBD and founder of the summit, for making the event and all these wonderful blog post introductions. See you next year!