Skip navigation
Road trip! Franchisors make their conventions mobile

Road trip! Franchisors make their conventions mobile

Franchisors with expanding concepts always have been road warriors, but a growing number are becoming even more so as the economy has tightened.

Looking to reduce travel expenses for franchisees and regional employees while still offering face-to-face contact, franchisors increasingly are replacing or supplementing their big annual franchise conventions in favor of smaller road-show tours.

Cold Stone Creamery, the 1,350-unit division of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Kahala Corp., in January finished a 16-city “Town Hall Meeting Tour,” mostly by bus, featuring four people from the corporate staff. The 650-unit CiCi’s Pizza chain of Coppell, Texas, last year produced two separate road shows, one for manager motivation and another for franchise owners.

In April, the 275-unit Tropical Smoothie Café chain, based in Destin, Fla., plans to load eight of its corporate executives into a special bus for a 4,000-mile trip during which they will conduct 12 franchisee meetings in 11 different cities through May.

“It’s anything but business as usual right now anywhere,” said Mike Rotondo, vice president of operations for Tropical Smoothie. “This is an example of changing the way you do business to best support the needs of the people who are depending on you.”

The 35-day tour will start April 18 in Panama City, Fla., and end the bus tour part of the trek in Memphis, Tenn., after passing through Florida, North Carolina and up into Detroit and Chicago.

“We feel that it’s so important right now not to just build morale but to build the brand and get out to franchisees,” Rotondo said. “We’ve not abandoned the idea of annual conventions, but in today’s economy and in the environment that our franchisees are living in, we felt we had to change and modify the way we are doing business. We need to provide them the training, leadership and motivation.”

He said the advantages for the franchisee are reducing the cost of traveling to and attending a convention as well as covering with staff in their absence. Rotondo said the tour also affords personal face time between the franchisees and the corporate staff that a large convention doesn’t offer.

The road shows also can reach a broader audience than traditional conventions, Rotondo said. Tropical Smoothie hosted a traditional two-day convention last October in Miami. The year before, attendees had to travel to Las Vegas for the annual confab.

CiCi’s to host public confab

COPPELL, TEXAS—CiCi’s Pizza this year will open a day of its franchise gathering, which it calls a Restaurant Business Conference, to the public on March 5.

The event at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino in Nevada will feature presentations by industry experts Donny Deutsch of CNBC’s “The Big Idea” and Scott Young, a senior vice president of the Coca-Cola Co. Other sessions are planned on “Obamanomics,” Small Business Administration lending, commodities and loss prevention.

“I am a firm believer that we don’t do enough to strengthen our industry since we are all working so hard on our own brands,” said Craig Moore, president and chief executive of CiCi’s Pizza. “This open conference gives the opportunity for independents to get the benefit of a large company’s resources.… It’s time to work together to ensure that we don’t allow that to happen.”

The conference is free. Reservations are being handled by Angie Zimmerman, CiCi’s franchise sales manager, at (972) 745-9316.

“Sometimes the people who need to come to these the most are the ones that can’t afford to be there,” Rotondo said. “You’re preaching to the choir. This way, no one has to drive more than two hours. Our goal is 100-percent attendance.”

Rotondo said Tropical Smoothie is partnering with a supplier company to help with logistics and defray some costs.

“They are providing the place where the meeting will be held,” he said. “It doesn’t work in every city, but we will be meeting in their training facility. Vendors like to have their customers come see their facility.”

The first road show will be in Panama City, followed by a 4,000-mile tour through Orlando, Fla., North Carolina, Detroit, Chicago and Memphis, Tenn. The last road show will be held in Las Vegas, to which the team will fly.

Rotondo said the road shows are attracting several employees from each cafe, including the franchise owner, manager, team leader and key hourly employees.

“Now,” he added, “instead of touching just one person from that franchise entity, they are bringing anyone they want.”

Craig Moore, president and chief executive of CiCi’s, said the company’s road shows last year were highly effective.

“I cannot think of anything that I have done in my career that has had a bigger impact on a large group as those conferences have,” he said. “Being there in a small group to discuss strategy, hurdles, fears and successes is very impactful in keeping a big system like ours on the same page and communicated with.”

CiCi’s has evolved its road shows into quarterly events.

“It’s hard to communicate with e-mail and voice messages,” he said. “Nothing beats being there so they can see your passion and your genuineness.… The events have moved quality scores, sales and people development.”

In troubled economic times, Moore said, franchisor-franchisee communications are more important than ever.

“Last year as everything seemed to be coming unglued with the economy, we were out with our guys explaining the outlook and calming nerves instead of hiding behind desks and [offering] ‘Thanks for calling but I am out of the office’ messages,” he said.

Cold Stone’s Town Hall Tour “was very rewarding,” said Dan Beem, president of the company. “It provides a free-flowing conversation, and we really learned where we need to deliver. In this business climate, we can leave no rock unturned.”

Rotondo of Tropical Smoothie agreed, saying: “It’s business as unusual for us. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube, we have to twist it every day to find new ways to look at our business to best support and grow the brand. Companies are curled up in a ball, taking the punches. We’re out there shooting away.”

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.