5 Things the Pandemic Taught Us About Franchising
The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant changes to the business world, affecting nearly every industry in countless ways. From mass store closures and supply chain disruptions to monumental changes in consumer habits and surges in online shopping, many businesses had to adapt in novel ways to continue their daily operations. The franchising industry was no exception. Franchisees had to pivot to reach business goals while still following an established business model, and franchisors had to navigate these unprecedented times to determine the best course of action for their network of locations.
Amid change came lessons in the altered franchising landscape. Despite the industry’s strong foundation, franchising has evolved post-pandemic. Here are some of the lessons the franchise world learned over the past few years and what they tell us about the industry moving forward.
A GREATER DESIRE TO TAKE CONTROL OF THE FUTURE
The workforce was hit with many changes during the pandemic. Some employees had to navigate unemployment, while others had a changed workplace environment (i.e., remote or hybrid work). Facing uncertainty and job insecurity, the pandemic impacted how many people thought about their careers and their future.
There are several reasons why someone may become a franchisee, but for some, it can be due to a desire for greater job security, flexibility, greater professional freedom, and a need to take control over their future. As a franchisee, you are running the operations of your location(s) and managing your team of employees. “Being my own boss” is cited as the largest motivating factor for franchise ownership, with income potential, lifestyle rewards, and supplemental income the following three factors.
In August 2021, during the height of the pandemic, 4.3 million Americans quit their job, which is 2.9% of the entire workforce, a record-breaking number according to the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, the number of franchise establishments in the U.S. continued to increase during the pandemic. In 2020, there was an estimated 753,770 establishments in the country, and it grew to 774,965 in 2021 and 790,500 in 2022. While franchising does have year-over-year growth, franchising remained strong during economic instability.
A NEED FOR FLEXIBILITY
Not only did the business world change, but so did the personal lives of many. Lifestyle, workplace expectations, childcare duties, and goals shifted for many employees. Many began looking for more flexibility in their roles, with a significant number reporting that flexible work hours helped increase productivity.
The desire for flexibility pointed many toward franchising opportunities, thanks to the multiple ways franchisees can pursue their role. With a number of franchisees choosing semi-absentee and absentee models, and others pursuing franchising as a side hustle, the pandemic taught us the importance of flexibility and how malleable a franchise role can be to promote a greater work-life balance.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FRANCHISOR SUPPORT
Franchisor support is one of the key aspects of franchising, and throughout the pandemic, this support was crucial for franchisees to succeed. Operations, supply chain, customer service, and marketing were just some of the areas franchisors had to support to ensure the locations in their network could overcome pandemic-related obstacles with ease.
This increased reliance on franchisor support helped highlight how valuable it is and how prospective franchisees should look for businesses that clearly outline the support they provide their franchisees. In times of uncertainty, having a franchisor who will help you pivot and succeed is invaluable.
YOUNGER GENERATIONS TAKING AN INTEREST
In the past, some may have considered franchising as something only employees with several years of business experience pursued, but the pandemic taught us that this is not the case. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2013) had high entrepreneurial spirit in a 2021 index with millennials coming in at 36%, which outranked all generations in the index report, and Gen Z at 29%, both greater than previous years. Compared to the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964), which ranked at 25%, and Gen X (those born between 1965 and 1980), this is a significant revelation, as these two generations are often considered the ones to take on investment opportunities in the past due to business experience and available capital.
Based on franchising prospect stats by demographic, millennials also dominate in this category. In 2021, millennials outnumbered baby boomers in percentage share of total franchise inquiries. Despite Gen X showing the greatest share, these stats indicate that these numbers may have peaked in 2020. With rising franchise interest among millennials, it is a safe bet to assume this generation will reach Gen X numbers (and possibly surpass) in the coming years.
THE VALUE OF COMMUNITY AND CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS
A franchise cannot succeed without customers, and this success was evident throughout the pandemic when we saw increased support for “shopping local.” This support was a large part of why many franchise businesses continued performing well throughout this period, as franchisees are local business owners. A study found that just over 71% of Americans now go out of their way to support local businesses, while 53% say it is more important to shop from a local business now than pre-pandemic. Shopping local has become a trend that has stuck around, which has benefited franchising.
The pandemic has also emphasized the importance of strong customer relations. From changing store hours to evolving health regulations, clear communication was essential and, in many cases, resulted in stronger, long-lasting relationships. Customers now expect clear communication from the businesses they frequent.
During the pandemic, when there was a greater emphasis on social media to communicate with customers, more franchise businesses increased their online engagement, resulting in stronger customer relationship-building techniques that many have continued. The ability to use social media to connect with consumers, particularly during the height of the pandemic, taught us how valuable it is to franchising, as it offers opportunities to reach current and prospective customers.
According to the International Franchise Association’s 2023 Franchising Economic Outlook report, franchise unit and job growth have exceeded pre-pandemic levels, with a predicted 15,000 franchise units to be added this year, coming to a total 805,000 units in the U.S. This demonstrates that interest in franchising is not slowing down.
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