Tips for connecting with the community beyond your walls to make a national franchise feel local.
By Michelle Hansen
How can you make a franchise feel less like a chain and more like a local business? My husband and I wrestled with this question as we prepared to open our first location in Thornton, Colo. Not only was this our first franchise endeavor, it was (and still is) Your Pie’s first location in the state of Colorado, and we were a little bit anxious about how it would be received by a community that loves all things local.
From the beginning, it was important that our friends and neighbors came to see our franchise as an integral part of their community, rather than a Georgia-based chain that neither complemented nor contributed to the local culture. When researching franchise opportunities, we knew we wanted to align with a brand that would allow us to have a positive impact, both in and outside our four walls. We’ve been able to do just that through partnerships with local schools, organizations, nonprofits and individuals in need.
What we’ve found is this: When you’re operating from an authentic desire to serve others, success is a natural byproduct. It may sound old school, but your business’s word-of-mouth reputation is infinitely more valuable than your Google reviews – even in today’s digital age. Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way for fostering a genuine connection with your local community.
Know Your ‘Why’
When developing a community involvement strategy, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Will your involvement amplify your local marketing efforts? Sure – but don’t let this be the driving force behind your actions, or it will come across as disingenuous. Your strategy should be rooted in a sincere desire to help others, regardless of credit, visibility or return on investment. Give it some time, and trust that when you support your community, they will support you.
Find Your ‘How’
Good intentions without a tangible “how” will do nothing to benefit your community or your business. My advice: Start by identifying your passion. For me, one such passion was supporting our local schools. Having worked in the school district for 12 years, I not only had a genuine interest in our education system, I also knew of a few specific challenges we could help with and had a built-in network of contacts.
If you’re not already involved with something, that’s OK! Start by identifying a few interests, then reach out to any local organizations or groups that fit those interests to see how your business can be of service.
Beyond proactive research, I would also encourage you to listen up for timely opportunities to support members of your community. Ask your employees and even your guests what local causes they’re passionate about and try to find a way to help. My husband and I host regular giveback events, but we also leave space for one-off fundraisers benefiting local individuals – such as a student who needed a liver transplant, and my husband’s barber who was in a car accident. In other words, it doesn’t always have to be organized; just listen for a need and try to find a way to help.
Lastly, you can also connect with neighboring businesses to support local causes together. This will help to amplify your impact and provide opportunities for cross-promotion.
It’s no secret that finding reliable labor in the restaurant industry can be tough. As you work to make your business a cornerstone in the community, you’ll find that your word-of-mouth reputation extends beyond just guests; it will help to position your business as a great place to work, too. When you become known for your values and for creating a culture of service, you start to attract the best and brightest – a labor pool whose values match your own.
Thanks to our work with the local school district, we’ve become well known in the community as a place where parents want their teens to work, and a place where students can earn service hours for National Honors Society. There is a bit of turnover as students graduate and leave for college, but oftentimes they have told their younger classmates about Your Pie and we have new applicants waiting to fill their positions. Once you become known as a positive force in the community, you’ll be surprised at how that momentum manifests itself in all kinds of benefits for your business.
Michelle and Kevin Hansen opened their Your Pie pizza location in summer 2017 in Thornton, Colo. Michelle spent 12 years working for the local school district, where both of their children went through school. In their first two years in business, Kevin and Michelle hosted more than 60 school benefit nights, donated more than $11,000 to local causes and donated hundreds of meals to organizations and individuals in need.