April 6, 2018
By Charles Bonfiglio
I like to build systems, and I like to help people succeed. That’s why I built Tint World® into the leading aftermarket automotive window-tinting and accessories retailer in the U.S.
The road to success had a few bumps, but my business life before Tint World® helped smooth the way
to overseeing a small empire of nearly 60 stores across the U.S., in Canada, and Saudi Arabia.
I headed down to South Florida in the early 1980s with two suitcases and a goal to open a car stereo and accessories shop. It was a niche market few were familiar with at that point, and I couldn’t get a loan or a lease. A few months later I went to a family wedding and some cousins sold me on an opportunity with a national automotive maintenance franchise. I was young, but knew opening a franchise was a great way to leverage a system and grow a business quickly. I was able to get financing and a willing landlord, and I started building credibility – and profit.
Eventually, I operated eight franchises, but by 2005 there were no more franchise opportunities available with the company. I was a top franchisee, and grateful for the opportunity and the success it afforded me, but I thought there were things I could do better. In 2006, I began building the Tint World franchise and wrote a marketing plan. I opened the first store in 2007. I was financially secure, and really didn’t need more money. It was a labor of love.
My time as a franchisee operating multiple auto-repair stores imparted valuable lessons and made me acutely aware of the challenges faced by my owners. Franchisors need to see the world through franchisees’ eyes to help owners succeed.
During my initial stint in the franchise world, I became increasingly involved with the intricacies and behind-the-scenes management of the franchise system by joining various committees focused on things like advertising, marketing, and vendors. This was by choice, and it helped me learn both sides of the franchise process.
I was able to tally my likes and dislikes as a franchisee, and that eventually allowed me to understand what is expected of a franchisor by a franchisee, and vice versa. There are a lot of moving parts in the franchise business. There are vendors to secure, buying power to scale, and training programs to implement.
There is also a whole new world of marketing to understand, and marketing at the franchisor level is key to franchisee success. Long gone are the days of purchasing an ad in the Yellow Pages or magazines and calling it a day. Now there are social platforms to maintain and track, and concepts such as organic growth and search-engine optimization to understand. Most people don’t get into the franchise business to become a marketing expert. Owners need to focus on their customers instead of chasing marketing techniques and tactics. We have a strong marketing focus at the brand level, and this translates to better marketing results for our owners.
While the digital advertising space has its challenges and learning curves, it can make for more effective marketing than that enjoyed when I was a franchisee. Tint World®’s national presence means there are a range of locales to market. Different products and services are in demand in different seasons in different parts of the country. It’s not wise to have one marketing message across the nation.
My participation at the brand level when I was a franchisee imparted upon me the importance of listening to owners at every level of the business. Digital tools such as social media, blogs, and email allow for better tailoring of the marketing message at the local level. But the owners know best, and that’s why we ask franchisees for constant input on our marketing plans: What are the most effective brands, services, and price points? How can we enhance our marketing to meet your needs? All the data in the world can’t negate the value of interacting directly with franchisees. That’s why we have franchisee advisory councils of five franchise owners who allow us to work in local markets and people in the area. They can give us feedback because they know the community. That’s integral to growing the brand. All of those marketing decisions need to be as transparent as possible from the owner to the brand. Each location should be able to see real-time analytics and any ROI data they want.
Another thing I learned during my stint as a franchisee was the importance of buying power, which wasn’t as strong as I’d have liked at the time. I had to negotiate based on the local store value. Tint World® now has hundreds of national and international vendors, and through our marketing efforts, value pricing, and offering the best prices on the market, we have cultivated loyalty with our vendors. Franchisees buy in – not because we are telling them to, but because the value is there.
I also wanted to ensure the brand was receptive to the needs of franchisees, and in a position to ensure their success. Tint World® recently unveiled a five-star program that allows us to grade performance and manage strengths and weaknesses each location: customer service, products and services, operations, and financials. It’s not so much a measurement of what franchisees are doing wrong as much as it is a measurement to determine what they are doing right. Instead of waiting until they need support, marketing or staffing, the five-star process allows us to benchmark against the rest of the team. We can cross-pollinate positives across the company.
It can be difficult for someone to make the transition from owning local franchises to owning the entire franchise. It becomes a completely different type of business. You go from running a handful of franchise stores to overseeing a large stable of franchisees. You can win them over with great systems and trust, and by understanding their needs. Some achieve. Some struggle. But you can’t fire them. The only option is to work hard with them to make sure they have the tools they need. It requires a lot of leadership and teambuilding and helping them understand their range of abilities.
As a franchisee and now franchisor, I’ve learned a lot, and chief among the lessons is the need to work toward franchisee success constantly. If you are there for them, they will be there for you, and that symbiosis can fill your coffers. Just remember to cross-pollinate the positives.
Charles J. Bonfiglio is the founder and chief executive officer of Tint World® LLC, a privately owned franchise chain of independent retail window tinting, mobile electronics, auto accessories and appearance centers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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