The last few years have been filled with change, to say the least. How can franchises get 2023 off to the right start? We talked to three top franchise leaders to get their expert insights on the state of franchising, opportunities on the horizon, leadership advice, and more.
What’s Ahead in 2023
Every leader we spoke to expressed a combination of caution and optimism about 2023. As you might expect, outlooks vary somewhat by franchise sector.
For instance, the senior care niche is thriving, thanks to what JJ Sorrenti, CEO of Best Life Brands, calls a “silver tsunami”: a booming demographic shift, set to last for the next several years, which is seeing around 10,000 people daily turning 65 years old. Still, he says, it’s important to temper that enthusiasm with practicality.
“We have this unbridled optimism because of the demographics, but on the other side, we get very cautious because it’s very difficult for us to find the right numbers of people to help support that,” he said. When it comes to franchising, he said, there could be significant opportunity on the horizon once economic and health anxieties return to a more “normal” level.
“People are being a little bit more cautious, but I think once we start to … get to that leveling-off point, the future of franchising in the near term gets much brighter because people will be ready to make decisions.”
Chris Pflueger, former Chief Development Officer at We Insure, has a similarly balanced perspective about 2023 and beyond.
“I would not take additional risk with my hiring and my spending, but if I have a clear path to success and it met my goals for 2023, I’m going to pull that trigger all day long.” Pflueger said. He also suggested that franchising might prove to be a tempting opportunity for two groups of people in particular: those looking for business opportunities outside of traditional employment, and those looking for something to invest in while the real estate market deals with high interest rates and high competition.
For Andy Chand, Executive Vice President at Chester’s International, it’s the perfect time for a “back to basics” approach as the new year begins.
“I think, fundamentally, as businesses take a look at their models and across all sectors – by the way, I think they have been challenged over the last couple of years in regards to supply chain, in regards to labor, in regards to a litany of other things that kind of affect their business – and I think what consumers are wanting is just the core items,” he said, noting that franchises can be particularly responsive to those “core offering” demands from their individual customer bases. It’s a year where brands are playing it relatively safe, but still with an eye on building a strong core business for the future.
Recruiting Leaders: Challenges and Opportunities
In this era of uncertainty, there are many different ideas about what makes a great leader and what traits we should be looking for when hiring for leadership roles. Pflueger, for instance, recommends prioritizing the overall “fit” with the team, as well as versatility.
“You’re looking for the best possible player to fit your team — culturally, but also someone who can do the work… and can do beyond their job. It’s not just a one-trick pony anymore. It must be someone who can be flexible enough to be able to fit into a couple different areas, but really deliver on their core path,” he said.
Chand, on the other hand, expressed concerns over the candidate-leaning marketplace creating situations where job seekers look for roles and perks that simply aren’t feasible.
“You might have a candidate that says, well, now I’m in the marketplace, I can command anything I want, I can command to be remote, I can command a higher salary, I can command, maybe more direct reports. And that may be true for some, but for the vast majority, the business can’t expand the way the applicant believes it should,” he explained. Understanding market value – both from the candidate and the business side – can help avoid these difficult situations before they happen.
For Sorrenti, though, leadership opportunities – especially in franchising – can be wide open, even for people who perhaps come from a background different than what one might expect. Sorrenti sees today’s world as a great opportunity for people to explore and expand, provided that their guiding principles stay the course. For him, the surge in remote work is an opportunity, not a roadblock.
“Culture is a key component to hiring decisions today. It’s more important than ever and it’s even more important in the remote workforce. I’ve always embraced the remote workforce because I felt like in franchising, you had to get on an airplane and go somewhere to visit a franchisee anyway, so who cares what airport you’re leaving from. And that’s allowed me to work with some fantastic people,” he said.
Building a Better Leadership Model
“I think you can look for integrity, motivation, and capacity. And if you have those three things and a great attitude and a little bit of experience, I think you’ll be fine,” said Sorrenti, when asked about the traits of leadership. All our franchise and leadership experts echo the importance of strong core traits, and they closed out our discussion with some advice for people aspiring to leadership roles.
Sharing a pair of stories from his own work history, Sorrenti explains that his experiences led him to a particular leadership model: being the kind of leader whose employees aren’t afraid to push back when needed.
“I love the collaboration side. So, from a leadership perspective, I’ve learned that … you better have a culture that you allow for [pushing back against decisions] if you’re a good leader,” he said. Today’s leaders can’t get caught up in their own authority; instead, they must remember that they’re part of a bigger team, with lots of smart, capable people and their opinions to consider.
Likewise, Pflueger’s advice centers on the idea that leadership is having the ability to recognize talent and letting those people do what they’re best at, rather than charging forward singlehandedly.
“Based on 20 years of doing this, I would say: hire the right people and empower them to do their job. That’s really the piece of advice. I just cannot stand micromanagement. If I wanted to do your job, I would do your job [rather than] hire you for it. [There’s] communication and frequent updates, but ultimately, I’m trusting you to do your job, so hire the right people and let them do their work.”
Chand wraps it up with a seemingly simple but critical piece of advice: be a leader who is respected and earn that respect by gaining a real understanding of the whole business.
“Know the business more than anyone else. You’ll see many leaders out there that can lead well, but if you dive deeper, you’ll understand that they lead well because the people that they lead believe in what they’re saying. The people that they lead don’t just do what they say, they believe it,” he explains. “The most important thing is to be upfront with them before you lead them. Tell them, hey, I want to go to point A, but look, there are going to be these challenges along the way. Some I can foresee and some I can’t, but the ones I can foresee, I’m going to tell you right away. And these are going to be the struggles you’re going to have, and this is how I’m going to help you. And this will energize your team to surround you as a leader.”
Andy Chand is Executive Vice President at Chester’s International, with extensive experience in franchising, both in and out of the food industry. Prior to joining Chester’s, he served as Vice President at Subway, previously held executive leadership roles at Huntington Learning Centers, Popbar, and Edible Arrangements, and was President of Pinnacle Restaurant Group. He brings a record of success in accelerating growth, optimizing guest experience, improving profit margins, and increasing restaurant/retail aptitude across his career.
Chris Pflueger is the former Chief Development Officer at We Insure, with over 11 years of senior level franchise experience and 25 years of professional sales expertise. Prior to joining We Insure, Chris led US franchise sales teams for 2 top franchisors: RE/MAX, LLC, and Motto Mortgage. He has developed industry-leading sales teams, provided sales training in seven countries, and ran award-winning franchise operations units to propel business to the top ranks of U.S. franchises. Chris earned his undergraduate degree in Economics at the University of Florida, received his MBA in Advanced Finance from the University of South Florida, and earned his CFE in 2015.
A franchising and retailing expert, JJ Sorrenti has led multiple companies to award-winning results over the course of a 25+ year career. His current role is as the CEO of Best Life Brands, a portfolio company of four franchises in the Senior Care niche. Prior to that, he served as President of Safeguard Business Systems, as CEO of Hollywood Tans, and as CEO of Huntington Learning Centers. JJ has been a trustee for the International Franchise Association Education Foundation since 2019. He resides in Naples, FL, where he and his wife, Jackie, jointly own a women’s golf retail store chain and founded a non-profit charitable organization that has awarded $50,000+ in education scholarships to women in golf since 2016.
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 an MBE Certified, minority-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 Resources, Franchise, Higher Education, and Customer Experience.