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Note: This is the first of a number of Franchipedia articles about franchisee associations. I form and manage franchisee associations as part of my practice/business. This isn't just a theoretical discussion.
Franchisee Associations are different according to the number of franchisees, their conditions of success or lack of success, the perception that there are instances of real/perceived/potential franchisor over reaching that need to be dealt with, and the age of the franchise system.
They are to be distinguished from so-called Franchise Advisory Councils, which tend by and large to be appointed/aproved by the franchisor and that tend also to approve and try to sell to the franchisee community the programs that the franchisor initiates.
They are dealt with in this series as franchise specific rather than as a genre of associated franchisees of all franchisors seeking to deal with issues perceived to be common to the franchisee community as a whole. The American Association of Franchisees and Dealers (AAFD) is an example of that. They lobby Congress and try to set standards for the conditions under which the franchise relationship might work under optimum circumstances.
Franchisee associations should be formed as soon as possible. There is such potential for abrasive interfacing between franchisees and their franchisor that the franchisees should not await crisis before forming an association. Without serious problems of a threatening nature, it is almost impossible to convince franchisees to budget for an effectively managed association. In addition to the cost of the association, they fear being targeted by the franchisor as rabble rousers and anathematized whenever discretionary decisions can be made by the franchisor that might affect them personally. I have a program that removes most of that risk, but any protocol to protect identies can be compromised by the insider who decides to curry favor by revealing what transpires in the closed meetings. While there are rather successful measures to prevent that, the risk can't be reduced to zero. It can be reduced to almost zero by everyone joining the association. When an association includes the whole population, it becomes a nation. The problem of the Judas franchisee is a story in itself.
There is always the undercurrent that business people believe that rational business solutions can be had amongst people of good will. Unfortunately, I have found that in franchising, the contract is written so that the franchisor always appears to have all the prerogatives, no matter what the situation. Franchisors are told by their counsel that, because the contract can be used as a whip, they don't have to divert from their intended path on any subject. When franchisors give more than lip service to the proposition that the contract is intended to serve the relationship rather than the relationship being there to serve the contract, more positive achievements may be accomplished with less violence. That day hasn't yet arrived.
Writers note: I hope to provide several articles in this perspective over the next few weeks (schedule permitting), and I look forward to vigorous discussion/debate. I have been counsel to several associations, some populated by wealthy and successful franchisees and some populated by franchisees under assault. I certainly don't have all the answers. I just have those that work in situations where my strengths are needed. Being politically correct and tactful is nowhere to be found on my curriculum vitae. I can handle keeping a civil tongue in my head, but there is known to be a part of me always ready to go to war. If I can't make some material progress the nice way, I am perfectly willing to counsel doing it in other ways. Many times my own clients aren't ready for doing what has to be done when the answer is NO. I don't believe that begging is appropriate after you have already been rebuffed unless they have really caught you with your hand in the cookie jar, and begging is the only thing that might work. Then I can beg with the best of them.