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Satisfying the Story Shortage as a Franchise Brand

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During this year’s IFA convention, we heard from best-selling author, marketing expert, and successful entrepreneur, Seth Godin. In his newest best-seller, The Practice, Seth says creativity matters more than ever and we are in a race to find our voices. He inspired us to embrace culture change and make an impact that we can be proud of.

“What we make is change, not tutoring, cleaning, or events” is what Seth shared during IFA’s keynote. He told us about a candy shop and burger shop on a run-down highway in Canada that consistently has 30–40 people waiting outside.

Why are these businesses doing so well? Because consumers have a story shortage—not a chocolate or burger shortage. People buy into a brand story and they want to be able to share that story and emotion they feel not only during a trip, but during their daily lives.

We interviewed Shannon Wilburn, CEO and Co-Founder of Just Between Friends, Steve White, President and COO of PuroClean, and Frank Milner, President of Tutor Doctor, to get their thoughts on sharing their brand’s stories as franchise leaders.

How does your brand satisfy the story shortage Seth is mentioning?

Shannon Wilburn: Our people want to be a part of something they believe in. Our sales team does this by bringing families together to help one another in a way they can really feel good about. Families helping families are the heart and soul of our business. It looks a lot like buying and selling gently used kids’ items and gear, but really, it’s about people helping one another while also taking care of the environment.

Steve White: We talk about the impact we make on people’s lives. When water or fire damage makes it unsafe to live in your home or work in your office, we are there to make the space safe again. If it’s a big project, we have to make a way for people to eat, sleep, and live while we do our work so we become a part of the recovery story. We do it every day, with great compassion, sharing the details of the process so they understand every step.

Frank Milner: Tutor Doctor’s services go far beyond helping a student get better grades—our mission is to change the trajectory of students’ lives. Our franchisees, education consultants, and tutors become part of our families’ and students’ stories—and the story is the student. We are student-centered and focused on what their dreams are, as well as how we can help them achieve them. Parents aren’t just looking for better grades—they want their child to succeed in academics and life, whatever way that means to their child. That’s the story, and Tutor Doctor is a part of that story and trajectory.

As consumers, we constantly associate brands with memories or stories. As a franchise brand, it is important to be able to tie into a customer’s everyday story. The way a brand communicates to its potential customers is critical to brand awareness and a customer’s eventual decisions.

How do you tell your brand story across various channels and track what is resonating with your customers?

Shannon: The Just Between Friends story is really the story of our customers. They are our everyday heroes—the mom making the most of her family’s budget or the stay-at-home dad who is raising his kids to be good stewards. We tell the story of savings and how our heroes can have more of what they want by participating with our events. We ultimately track what resonates by not just clicks or impressions, but by the true measure of results—bottom-line sales. As we continue to reach out and serve those around us, our sales continue to grow. And as we grow, we continue to give back, too, through continued charity partnerships. I’m so grateful to all our participating families who have donated over $30 million dollars worth of goods to local charity partners through the years.

Steve: We work in such extreme situations every day—helping people get through a difficult and emotional event—that the stories tend to tell themselves. We make them available through our social media channels, on our websites, in our collateral materials, and in our presentations. What really seems to resonate are those stories where we had to find creative ways to do our work while a family is still living in the home. The gratitude we receive is immeasurable and it inspires us to keep going. We also tell these stories internally to provide inspiration. We use every member of our support team, our meetings, our Online Academy, and our publications—every means available to keep it all top-of-mind.

Frank: Tutor Doctor has a strategy to curate content (blogs, video, infographics) that speaks to many aspects of a student’s life. We understand that there are so many facets of life that can shape a student. Our content is developed with the goal of providing valuable and informative advice and guidance to students and families that can support them through that journey. We continually review how consumers are engaging with our content—tracking social engagement on the local level, reviewing open and click-through rates of monthly client and tutor emails, and blog engagement. Our franchisees are fully integrated in their local communities and are stewards of the Tutor Doctor brand and our mission. Through networking, interacting in local Facebook groups, business partnerships, and so much more, our franchisees are spreading the Tutor Doctor story throughout their communities. We also believe the best storytellers of our brand are the families and students we serve—we focus on local reviews, and are proud of our network-wide rating of 4.9 with the incredible stories that are shared, referred, and captured via video testimonials.

Seth discussed several topics, ranging from ‘‘story shortages” to leadership and teaching people how to “juggle.” He expressed that juggling is not about catching—it is about being comfortable with allowing something to drop.

After hearing Seth speak, where do you see areas improvements that you can implement in 2021 or areas where your brand is knocking it out of the park?

Shannon: We want our JBF families to win. Today’s working family is doing SO much, and let’s face it—2020 was a hard year for everyone! We are ALL looking for those wins—especially now. We are working to better leverage the various ways we can reach our customers to help them find sales. We have a “season of life” in which families participate. Our goal is to not only to reach expecting and new parents, but also to diversify our messaging to reach other caretakers who can benefit from saving money on items for their loved ones. If I had to say one area in which we are knocking it out of the park, it’s that our franchisees LOVE LOVE LOVE their communities. They have so much care for those who participate with their events—and that makes a difference in the quality of their events.

Steve: Every brand says customer service is their first priority. We say that too, but we also have the satisfaction scores to prove it. Our focus is on Relentless Customer Service: going the extra mile whenever we can because there is never a traffic jam on the extra mile! As hard as we try, we know we are not perfect and we will make mistakes, but we also know studies show that customer loyalty actually improves when we respond to a mistake quickly and make it right. Our focus this year is on trying to see those mistakes as opportunities.

Frank: Tutor Doctor has already started on our areas for improvement—but getting even more customer-obsessed and really zoning in on who we serve (i.e., not everyone), building our tribe of people, and focusing on the best marketing, which is referrals. We will continue in our efforts of adapting to change and innovation—people are more creative than companies—as well as continue leaning into our franchisees’ ideas and agile squads to innovate.

What was the biggest lesson you learned during IFA and how do you plan on applying it to your brand in 2021?

Shannon: There were SO many great takeaways… it’s hard to choose one! My biggest “Aha!” moment from IFA is probably that we are still here—all of us in franchising that made it through 2020. We are still in the game, and like all those with us at IFA, we are fighting hard to make 2021 a great year. It will be a rebuilding year for many, but IFA showed me what a resilient, bold-hearted group we are! I am so proud of us all.

For our Just Between Friends brand, we are more determined than ever to not just rebuild after the year of 2020, but to take the hard-won “residence training” of 2020 and be even more strategic with our resources. There was so much I feel we took for granted before March of 2020. But now, we will be able to use our newly grown muscles to be even stronger than we were before. That would be my wish for all in our industry for 2021 and beyond.

Steve: Jay Shetty’s presentation really struck a chord with me. The pandemic has hit many businesses really hard, but our business saw record growth throughout it. As a result, we’ve been working hard to simply be very grateful to be in the business we’re in at this time in history. Jay’s presentation provided some very practical steps to be even more grateful and to even find inspiration in the gratitude. In the end, I think we may end up adding Gratitude to Servant Leadership, Extreme Ownership, and Active Collaboration as a fourth pillar of our culture.

Frank: After such a tumultuous year, hearing stories from franchise brands in how they led, adapted, and pivoted through it all was incredibly inspiring. We will continue to develop on the lessons we’ve learned as a brand—leaning into getting comfortable with change, adapting, and innovating, all with our end customer and mission in mind. We will lead our franchisees and team through this shift in how we do business.