As the senior vice president of global development for Quiznos Sub, Scott Adams learned firsthand the challenges of communicating with a large franchise organization. The amount of snail mail required to keep more than 1,000 operators abreast of policy and menu changes was mind boggling, and once that mail left headquarters, no one really knew if those operators even opened it.
Just as limited was operators' ability to communicate with headquarters: phone calls, faxes or, yes, more mail, might do the trick, but never quickly or very efficiently. So when he became chief executive officer of Nick-N-Willy's World Famous Take-N-Bake Pizza in 2001, he sought a better way.
While attending a legal symposium a few years ago, Adams heard a speaker talk about custom-made intranets (private, Web-based communication networks) for mid-size companies like his. The speaker showed how such a high-tech network could drastically improve the exchange of information from Nick-N-Willy's headquarters to its operators and back by placing everything online. Twenty-four-hour, paper-free access. A dream come true for Adams.
"We're pretty much a paperless company because of this," said Adams, whose 50-unit company is in Lone Tree, Colo. "We barely need a mail room at all because we put almost everything on the intranet."
Dubbed NickNet, Nick-N-Willy's intranet hosts all the company's important documents, such as
NickNet also contains a company documents library, sections for news and discussion forums, and e-mail communication between everyone.
"Even our uniforms can be ordered through the intranet system," said Adams.
A few years ago, Pittsburgh-based Fox's Pizza Den needed a way to improve communication with its franchisees. As a 100-percent franchised operation, the challenge of maintaining standards throughout the 250-unit chain is never ending, according to Scott Anthony, a franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pa.
So in an effort to "teach, not tell our franchisees what to do," Anthony started an e-newsletter filled with hyperlinks to stories about successful foodservice operations in the United States.
As the newsletter caught on, Anthony fielded an increasing number of requests from franchisees seeking opportunities to communicate electronically with their peers.
"So we built a Web page with threaded messages that allowed them to discuss topics with each other," he said. "We started to share art work so everyone could to create better ads. We also shared helpful spreadsheets and P&L statements anyone could use in their operation." The franchisor got into the act and started supplying its own graphics and documents for group use.
Fox's pays the tab for the site, but it's 100 percent franchisee operated, Anthony said. Fox's benefits, too, he added. "By watching the Web site, the company can get a good feel for what the franchisees need and how they can help us. Both sides get a lot from it."
Corporate education by proxy happens also at Nick-N-Willy's.
"You might see a question come through about somebody having a hard time wrapping pizza, and maybe five or 10 people in the company answer it," Adams said. "That allows all our (corporate) staff to see questions and answers come through and learn more about what challenges these guys have in the field."
The communication intranet at Domino's Pizza is much like NickNet, according to spokesman Tim McIntyre. All important Domino's documents are available online, and the company uses it to send out weekly e-mail blasts to franchisees and corporate managers around the world.
"We send out Fast Facts, which includes hot news, information on upcoming advertising programs or any changes in standards or policies," said McIntyre. "We also use it to recognize people. ... Franchisees routinely write us to talk about store managers and team members who have had record sales weeks or opened stores in new communities and made a splash, or received perfect scores on our internal auditing program. We call that Fantastic Performances."
Domino's intranet also is the company's channel through which operators report sales numbers. (Franchisees also can even pay their royalties through the intranet.) Compiling that information electronically has significantly reduced the data acquisition burden on its headquarters staff.
Relevant info, shared quickly
While Nick-N-Willy's NickNet is designed to serve all its U.S. stores, Adams envisions its role as a localized information source will increase along with the growth of the company's unit count. Ideally, franchisees clustered in a given city could exchange information on that area's unique customer desires and complaints, or highlight events that those Nick-N-Willy's operators could benefit from.
"The system makes it very easy to set up all kinds of forums on a local level," he said. "There could be a Milwaukee forum or Denver forum and nobody else but those operators can see that information. It allows them to localize their communication, such as, 'Hey, has anyone heard about the Taste of Milwaukee? Should we get involved?'"
The ability to poll its franchisees via the Web has also been a plus, Adams said. Last year, after Pizza Hut rolled out its 4forALL pizza, Nick-N-Willy's polled its operators 30 days after the launch to ask owners if it had impacted business. It also polled them on the impact of low-carb diets on their sales.
"You get a really quick reading into what your franchise owners really think about an issue," Adams said. "The information we got quickly through those polls would have taken a long time to get if we'd had someone from corporate call and interview them."
Since NickNet handles nearly every Nick-N-Willy's communiqué, the company has full knowledge of which operators are receiving and opening their messages. That ability to track every message reduces the chance a franchisee can ignore communication from the franchisor or simply claim he
We're pretty much a paperless company because of this. We barely need a mail room at all because we put almost everything on the intranet."
— Scott Adams,
"The system tells us who opened it and who read it," Adams said. "When they do read it, it prompts them to acknowledge that they read it, and that keeps everyone from saying they didn't know about it."
Domino's McIntyre said that with nearly 7,600 stores chain-wide, such detailed tracking of communiqués would be logistically burdensome. But since every operator must report weekly sales numbers via its intranet, it's almost impossible to avoid seeing important messages.
"We created distinct e-mail addresses tied to Domino's Online for everyone who uses the system," McIntyre began. "That eliminates the chance somebody using a Yahoo account didn't get a message. So much of what we do drives them to the Web site, so it's hard not to know what's going on."