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One of the advantages of being a franchisee is that, in most cases, the franchisor assumes responsibility for marketing, product and process innovation. It can also be one of the downsides.

I am fortunate to be able to attend many of the

industry conferences

and listen to talented speakers talk about leadership and success in business. Virtually every one of them spends time focusing on the importance of innovation and new ideas. That’s all well and good but as a franchisee, how does one innovate and still work within the confines of the franchise agreement?

After all, some of the most successful products and programs in the history of franchising were first proposed and tested by franchisees. Two products that come to mind are the Big Mac and Filet o’ Fish Sandwich at McDonald’s. And that’s just the tip if the iceberg. Ask any good franchisor, they all have a list of successful programs brought to them by a franchisee.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Let innovation ideas percolate in your head for a while before discussing them.

If you think an innovation is right for your system, start by asking yourself some questions. Is it something that adds to the customer experience? Is it compatible with the brand? Does it already exist in the market and, importantly, does a competitor have it? Convince yourself first that the idea will work.

Know the franchisors system for testing ideas.

This assumes there is one. The more mature the franchisor, the more likely it is that a system exists. If there is one, be willing to try it. If there is no system start by discussing it with someone you know and trust at the franchisor.

Be prepared to defend the idea.

Note the points above. Know why this is a good idea, have compelling data-based reasons why this will add sales and/or contribute to profit. If it’s an idea a local competitor is doing it takes on another layer of importance. The Big Mac was just that, a response to a local competitor doing a double-decker burger. A competitor’s innovation should get the attention of the franchisor faster. If it doesn’t, well, that’s another article.

Be persistent.

In my experience most franchisors are slow to respond to new thoughts from franchisees. It isn’t rudeness or arrogance, or even “not invented here”, it’s usually just each person having a really long to-do list and a new idea might just add to it. But don’t give up. Keep trying to find a way to try it out without antagonizing the franchisor.

That brings me to my last point.

Push the innovation as far as possible but know the limits.

If the franchisor says no, don’t risk default by trying it anyway. Just bring it up again when the smoke clears!

Learn more about franchise opportunities at

Bob McDevitt CFE,Senior Vice President, Franchise Development
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