Strong franchisee co-ops Part 1: “We have to walk alike and talk alike to make money!”

By Beth Caron

A strong franchisee cooperative (co-op) is the backbone of many successful franchisee businesses. A co-op is made up of franchisees who operate businesses in a specific market or in neighboring markets. This group of business owners works together on marketwide initiatives with the belief that when they speak with one voice—when they deliver one consistent brand message—it helps them individually and collectively.

Some of the strongest Great Clips markets have strong co-ops. Much of what the co-ops focus on is marketing, but Great Clips co-ops also work together on other business functions, including recruiting, training, community outreach, and real estate.

The Great Clips San Antonio market is an example of how strength in numbers has led to both marketwide and individual success.

When Diane Sinclair and her husband Les Norton became Great Clips franchisees in the San Antonio market in 1998, they didn’t have any expectations that it would be a big market. Their assumption was right for the first 10 years. But that changed about six years ago when several franchisees in the market decided that there was potential to grow. They needed just one thing: capital.

“You have to have the capital to be successful and grow your business,” says Diane. “And the best way to grow capital in our industry is to increase your customer counts.”

So that’s what they did—growing customer counts in their market by almost 50%. But they didn’t do it alone. Diane believes this growth is the result of the franchisees making the decision to be strong together.

“The public thinks we’re one brand so we needed to act like one,” says Diane. “We made a real effort as a market to adhere to Great Clips brand guidelines and measures and follow the system consistently. Slowly, our customer counts grew, and that gave us the capital to grow.”

Diane, how does your co-op work together to achieve market strength?

No one person can build a market alone. We really believe that. We can run our businesses alone but to really make a difference in our market, we have to work together. I’ve been known to say, “We have to walk alike and talk alike to make money!” And I really believe that.

What’s your approach to making your co-op work?

The San Antonio market franchisees don’t necessarily think alike and we each express our opinions and wishes. We have high expectations that everyone in the co-op will show up at meetings and respond to emails, which is a primary way we communicate. We know that through marketing, attending community events together and looking out for each other, we make our brand stronger in the market, which makes each salon more successful, too.

Do you believe having a united front as a brand will keep competitors at bay?

Yes, I believe that’s critical. We pay a lot of attention to what the competition is doing with sales or community programs, and we always want to do it better than they do. We’re quite competitive here! We’re not afraid of the competition because we know our business model is strong. There are a lot of heads of hair out there and we believe great execution will bring as many to our salons as we can serve. Our customers tell us that they may try out another salon, but they come back to Great Clips because of the personal attention and great haircuts. And when each franchisee approaches his or her business from that perspective, it makes our brand stronger.

What else do you do that has helped your market grow?

Hiring and training. We do a lot of hiring straight out of beauty school so all of the franchisees in our market really take the time to train new stylists. Several of us have started an in-house training program, using Great Clips Academy as a foundation. This is another competitive advantage for us. The extra training makes a big difference in a stylist’s skills, and eventually that cuts out the competition. Plus, it’s a great recruiting tool. New stylists appreciate that we take the time to give them extra training.

How does the San Antonio co-op collaborate on marketing?

In addition to doing marketwide promotions, we believe in the power of localized marketing. We always have a representative handing out coupons at school fairs, parades and Chamber of Commerce events, and we have an ad in most high-school football programs. This community involvement gives you the chance to be face-to-face with both your current and prospective customers.

And there’s no better local marketing than to visit your salons and personally thank your customers. Nothing replaces that kind of one-to-one connection.

MORE: Six secrets to a successful advertising co-op

What is so critical about a strong co-op?

When your co-op is strong, your business is stronger. I always say to our customers, “Thank you for choosing Great Clips.” Certainly, I want them to come to one of my Great Clips salons, but if another salon is more convenient, that’s okay as long as it’s Great Clips!

It’s all about providing convenience for the customer, and when another salon delivers a great experience, that’s a happy customer who will refer other people to Great Clips. Eventually, we all have more customers. That’s good for the market and that’s good for our business.

In a future post: How a franchisee co-op in St. Louis works to attract the best new employees through a marketwide recruiting effort

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