Plans are a waste of paper. Chaos Rules!
Plans rarely meet the first moment of engagement, view so why bother? So back in the day French Fry Heaven opened as a little kiosk on a street corner. I had been in education for 50 billion years and my wife was working full time as an medical office manager. French Fry Heaven was just a cute little idea to make a little money on the side with a fun product. Then we got hit with several things all at once. First, we received a complaint from another store that our lines were backing up into their store and we need to do something, or else! Don’t you love those sort of people? Not, “Hey, there is a problem, can we work to solve it or can you help,” nope instantly to threats. Well, while he thought he was scaring us, he actually got us pretty darn excited; Lines! Yep, that was some darn good news for an entrepreneur or franchiser to receive that we had lines flowing and people were digging our product. Sure we fixed the direction of the line problem, but not for him, but so we could add even more people to the lines! The second thing that happened about two months in, and I can remember the day exactly, I walked into the kiosk and my manager was holding a 3 inch stack of business cards. “What do you want me to do with these?” I asked her what they were and was stoked to discover they were a stack of business cards of people who were asking for a franchise! How cool is that?
So now we knew that there was a demand for our product and our franchise, so the question became what to do next. I did some research (you’ll hear that a lot as I am sort of anal retentive academic) and found a franchiser who had a started a food kiosk and saw it explode across the country. I reached out to this entrepreneur to ask him how he put together his plan for growth. After several phone calls I was able to get a hold of a frazzled, tired, depressed guy who was the head of this decent sized brand. When I asked him about his plan, he laughed. “Man, people just wanted what we had and we were just happy to give it to them. The money rolled in and we were having a blast. I was so busy counting the dough and loving the accolades, we never put together a plan. We sold stores anywhere and to anyone who stroked a check. That was five years ago, and I have been living in the 7th circle of hell ever since. When we started we just sold anywhere, without any plan for how we would service these locations. We did this for the first three years until we realized that things were completely out of hand. We had no way to deliver our products to many sites we had sold, had no design for our stores, had no way to see what franchisees were doing, had created documents that were way too easy for these franchisees to ignore and generally just created a mess. Here is an example, One of our products is chicken wings. When franchisees asked where we get our chicken wings, we told them to buy them wherever they could find the best price; seemed logical. Next thing you know, I’ve got customer complaints pouring in from everywhere talking about how shriveled and small some of our wings were. Others were complaining about spoiled wings. It was flipping non stop! After three years we tried to change course, but it was far too late. Two years later we are still fighting the battle to fix even the most basic stuff and there does not appear to be any end in sight. Man, I wish we had planned!”
So what did French Fry Heaven do to avoid his terrible mistake? We sat down with the best in the business and developed tight documents which laid out for everybody how we were going to do things. We planned on a two pronged growth strategy. First we would grow in 19 states that we felt like we had the team to manage, and in hind sight we could have narrowed that some. On the heels of that, we set up a national distribution system to ensure that we could assure franchisees of product wherever they were, and we defined the product exactly. We put in plans for oversight and regular visits to the locations. The second plan was to add in Area Operators who would be franchisees that acted as guardian angels over their territory. They had incentive to ensure their fellow franchisees success and the skills set to make that happen. Did this bullet proof us? Hell no! Like any of my friends who’s mistakes we have learned from, we made our share too. However, we had a methodology for quickly dealing with our blunders and it was ideal.
Literally, it was the IDEAL problem solving methodology, which I will cover much more extensively in a later blog. The key in this case was that we put together a logical plan and then had a feedback mechanism in place to quickly change course when things came off the tracks or went down a dark alley full of thugs and crack heads. The plan showed us where we were going. IDEAL showed us when to change course when the plan didn’t meet the first engagement. Put a plan together, read The IDEAL problem solver and always be ready to adapt your plan to change.