Multi-location brands

How Much Autonomy Should Multi-Location Brands Give Their Locations?

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A whopping 75 percent of new and innovative ideas don’t even come from within companies themselves. Although you have a multi-location brand and consistent customer experience to protect, giving your team members at field locations a certain level of control over their day-to-day operations can result in creative new ways of doing business.

Perhaps you’ve seen the reality TV version of this concept. For example, in “Undercover Boss,” CEOs and founders go to their stores or other locations to discover what’s happening in the field. Although grossly exaggerated, these secret shopper moments always seem to significantly improve some aspects of the business.

You don’t have to wait for a makeup artist and film crew to discover inefficiencies and terrific new ideas to increase sales and grow your business.

Here are five ways to involve your field team in decision-making and encourage creative thinking throughout your multi-location operation — whether you have 10 or 10,000 locations.

  1. Branding. That doesn’t mean you should allow employees to redesign your logo or store footprint; quite the opposite. The best way to ensure consistent customer experience across your locations is to educate your entire team on what the brand means, how it was created, and which elements must remain recognizable throughout customer touchpoints. Invest in fun and inclusive training to build pride in the brand and ensure every point of sale interaction reflects your brand personality and values. When you involve your team in new merchandising, make installation as simple as possible. You want to hear, “I love this new campaign and it was so easy to execute,” rather than, “Corporate is making me do this and it’s a huge pain.”
  2. Creating a culture of creativity. What does that mean? Psychological safety in the workplace means that if someone at any level has an idea, they should feel comfortable expressing it to their management and that they are listened to. Some ideas may be brilliant, but others may go in the parking lot or even the junk pile. But your location and regional managers must learn to listen and close the loop when they receive suggestions. If employees feel that no one cares about their opinions, they will simply become “order takers,” and their contributions to your business will be diminished. Psychological studies have proven that active listening can ultimately impact morale, productivity, job satisfaction (or insecurity), and turnover. Conversely, when an individual location gets a poor review, engage your location managers positively in solving the underlying issue. Knowing the significant impact of negative reviews on search and customer decision-making, you need to take all feedback seriously and ensure that local teams feel they are part of the solution rather than just the source of the problem. Look too at the language you use to talk about the people who work in your stores and restaurants. If they are made to feel as “cogs in a big bureaucratic wheel” they are less likely to play an active role in customer experience and business growth.
  3. Adoption of new technologies. Given the high level of anxiety around automation replacing humans at the retail level, having advocates of technology within your locations becomes even more critical. If you have store or regional managers grumbling about that “awful new POS system,” the people who work with them are less likely to learn how to use it properly. Turning your leaders into technology evangelists will become even more important in the future. When you roll out new systems, do a stellar job explaining to users how it can make their jobs easier. Even more important, train them for important new roles within your locations. When you hire new people, screen for those who have had to work with new systems at previous jobs and ask about how they’ve adapted to change.
  4. Hiring. As the number of people working at the location level declines, the quality of those people becomes even more important. If you’ve built a strong sense of pride and a positive work culture, employees are more likely to recommend other employees. That can cut down dramatically on recruiting expenses and interviewing time.
  5. Local marketing and community engagement. Mom-and-pops may have an advantage over larger brands because they can make speedy decisions about sponsoring neighborhood events, hosting activities, and lending logos to kids’ sports teams. Create a simple and speedy process for locations to run these ideas “up the corporate ladder” and give them discretionary budgets for community involvement. That will not only lead to a sense of ownership but will also build local loyalty and sales. A 600-unit bank launched a “branch big idea” program and awarded $5K to each location that came up with a creative revenue-generating idea that worked in their neighborhood. The judging committee comprised a corporate representative (to ensure the idea was on-brand) and people who had worked in the field.

Why spend millions of dollars on search marketing and mass advertising campaigns if they will only unravel at the local level?

Your locations are where the rubber meets the road, and even if you aren’t going to put on a wig and fake nose and mystery shop, you need to look at every location’s people as ambassadors for your brand. Spending a day every quarter working in a location is probably a great idea — no matter your role in the organization.

You’ll gain respect for your field teams, see corporate decisions and infrastructure through a new lens, and maybe even learn something!

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.