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The Emergence of the Franchise Development Officer (FDO)

There’s a new role emerging in the franchise world: the franchise development officer (FDO). What is this leadership position, and why should everyone be paying attention? Let’s take a look.


What Does a Franchise Development Officer Do?

A franchise development officer (FDO) is someone relatively high up in a given organization whose job is to help expand the business through opening new franchise locations. Whether at the level of a director, a VP, or in the C-suite, this role focuses on developing growth strategies, recruiting new franchise owners, and managing the relationships with franchise owners once they’re on board.


In some ways, an FDO acts as an official bridge between the parent company and the individual franchise owners. On the parent company side, the FDO is leading the way in developing overall franchising strategy, while keeping in mind long-term business performance, long-term value for stakeholders, and brand growth. On the side of the franchise owners, an excellent FDO will develop strong relationships with them, offering them the support they need during those crucial early stages of business, and ensuring that the best possible franchise candidates join the “family.”


What Makes a Great Franchise Development Officer?

Ideally, a franchise development officer will be someone who has worked with emerging brands. They’ll be comfortable “in the weeds” of franchise sales, and they’ll also be able to sit in the room and “at the table” for a legacy brand as it grows.


A successful FDO would most likely come from a strong franchising background, with experience in different areas of the niche being a major plus. A proven record of generating significant growth, working with an innovative development strategy, and bringing experience with deal-making and negotiations also are key skills.


Because of the unique position of an FDO, someone successful in this role will be particularly adept at communication and collaboration. They will work as part of the larger leadership team, ensuring that decisions made about franchising are in line with the overall business strategy. At the same time, the FDO is the person who works closely with individual franchise owners, hem, growing the brand, and building relationships of mutual trust and understanding to develop a thriving, dedicated franchise community.


Three Challenges for Franchises

The rise of the franchise development officer role in many companies has been driven by a handful of factors in this fast-changing business world. Let’s look at three of the most important ones, and how an FDO can help smooth the way.


1. Increasingly diverse customer needs


When franchises grow, it’s all about reaching new customer bases and expanding into new markets. The side effect of this expansion, however, is that these new customers come with new sets of expectations and needs. Quite simply, the larger your customer base, the more likely it is to contain a much wider range of customer needs and wants.


To keep up with these evolving and diverse needs, an FDO can work with individual franchise owners. Those franchise owners can provide better information about their own communities, which in turn can be communicated up to overall company leadership. The FDO can also play a role in developing larger-scale customer data analysis and communication strategies to ensure that customer needs are being heard and understood.


2. New competitors entering the space


There’s no way to avoid it: every niche, even the ones that start out small, wind up expanding and getting more competition. Franchises are likely to be on both sides of growth: expanding into new markets that bring them into contact with new competition, and seeing their existing markets add competition as other businesses likewise expand. Keeping ahead of the competition and retaining clients are key to staying successful as the niche grows.


While the FDO should be staying abreast of important shifts in the market, this leader can also help to steer strategy towards excellence from within. It’s important for companies to keep an eye on what is and isn’t working for their clients, and to adjust accordingly. Keeping an eye on the competition can help, but an FDO can help maintain focus even as new franchise owners come into the fold.


3. Maintaining company culture


Overseeing and maintaining company culture is one of the key responsibilities of an FDO. Expanding and adding new franchise locations is exciting, and there will likely be tweaks made to maximize the potential for success in each unique market. However, it’s crucial that expansion does not overshadow the culture that makes the company successful in the first place.


With franchising, it’s easy for things to wind up less centralized and less cohesive than might have initially been planned or wanted. With a strong FDO, who truly understands what matters most in the company’s culture, it will be much easier to ensure that every new franchise owner is on board and fully understanding what it means to be part of the brand. An FDO can always have a finger on the pulse of the company culture, receiving feedback about what is and isn’t working – both for customers and for employees – and developing strategies to address that feedback.


By Nancy Estep-Critchett


About the Author

Nancy Estep-Critchett is a founding Partner of Blue Rock Search, with oversight of the Franchise Practice. She has 30 years of successful working experience as a business advisor and executive recruiter in the franchising space. Nancy has built solid relationships which have spanned decades with industry professionals and internationally recognized brands.


Blue Rock Search is a 100% minority/female-owned executive search firm, an SRA Network member, a Hunt Scanlon Top 10 global recruiting firm, and a member of the Hunt Scanlon HR/Diversity Recruiting Power 65.  We specialize in the targeted identification, assessment, and placement of executives across four distinct practice areas: Human ResourcesFranchiseHigher Education, and Customer Experience.

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