A Clearcut Way To Stay Ahead Of The Curve

The singular reason behind the success of the top franchises of 2018 is undeniable. 

It’s a lead you can follow—but with less friction since you’re far more nimble than a 14,000 location (or 4, for that matter) behemoth!

I’ve been out of the franchise game for 9ish years years. But each January when Entrepreneur magazine releases the Franchise 500® issue, I geek out like an NFL Superfan (minus the face paint) who obsesses over the stats of every team in the league.

But instead of tailgating on game days arguing over who threw the longest touchdown pass in 1973, I scour the charts, rankings and trends in today’s franchise market. Comparing franchises systems within and across categories. Looking for ideas that we (yep, you and me!) can use in our small(er) businesses.

This ritual of mine is partly what inspires some of the best ideas I offer my clients!

I’m also looking for any big ups or downs in number of units the past three years? Who are the hot newcomers? Who’s losing their luster?

Who made it into the coveted Top 10? How did they got there? And who fell from grace? (Like, Subway, how did you crash to #125 after basking in the Top 10 for decades?!)

But before I go any further, let’s acknowledge a few notable differences between Us and Them… ➡️

  • we don’t do things like flip burgers, rotate tires or sell “lightly used” clothing
  • we don’t have all their systems or detailed operations manuals
  • we’re not as “brand famous”
  • we don’t make as much money as a behemoth franchise system
  • we offer far more personal service
  • we’ve got flava’!

Now let’s move onto what we can learn from them, because there are loads of lessons without having to be them. It’s something we all need to pay attention to. Yes, even those of us who have entirely different business models that have nothing to do with selling or operating franchise units.

Let’s start with McDonald’s who nabbed the number one spot last year.

Before you groan and roll your eyes—bear with me. Whether you care for their menu or not, one thing is for sure:

They’re at the top because they’re in a constant state of reinvention.

No detail is overlooked or taken for granted.

They scour their legacy structures, commitments and attitudes—and make a conscious effort to rethink the old—to make way for the new.

Sure, they still sell their old standbys: burgers, shakes and fries.

But the burgers are no longer frozen. The chicken no longer is treated with antibiotics. There are no hormones in the milk.

Breakfast sandwiches all day? Ask, and you shall receive! (Coming soon…)

Over the years, they’ve made it a regular practice to rethink EVERYTHING.

Yep, they’re reevaluating their practices even when documentaries like Supersize Me are NOT taking aim at their oversize portions. (The supersize option has been gone for over a decade, in case you’re wondering.)

In addition to higher quality ingredients, recent updates have involved installing touchscreen kiosks and mobile apps for ordering. Offering delivery. And even selling off corporate-owned stores.

Ray Kroc, the man who had the vision to franchise McDonald’s back in the 1950s, always maintained,

“Change has been our history.”

What I noticed most this year was the focus on CHANGE highlighted about each franchise that made it into the Top 10.

#2 Dunkin dropped “Donuts” from their name and have repositioned as a beverage business. Oh, they happen to sell donuts too.

#3 You can now order ahead to so that you don’t have to wait to enjoy your burger at the old-timey, drive-up experience at Sonic.

#4 Want a margarita with your meatless taco at Taco Bell? Yep, vegetarians and carnivores alike can now booze up when making a run for the border.

#5 UPS Stores have been redesigned with an open floor plan and continue testing to keep up with what their customers value.

#6 Culver’s is focused on re-shifting franchisee development by formally grooming store managers to become store owners.

#7 Planet Fitness is forming joint ventures and partnerships with complementary brands to increase revenue opportunities—without selling valuable member data.

#8 Great Clips reimagined the “front desk” experience by creating an online check-in app.

(I’ll let you do your own homework for what #9 and #10 did to change.)

None of these businesses changed their core business in the process of rethinking and reengineering.

Which pokes a hole in the common fear that reinvention and change mean becoming someone or something else. 

Nope. These franchise reinventions made (and continue to make) their core business even better.

What would be easier for these franchises—and us—to do?

It would be hella easier to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them.

But that comes with a price. They know it. And we know it—even when we don’t want to face it.

Among 4000+ franchise companies in the US, McDonald’s clawed their way back from #16 in 2014—into the #1 spot.

All credited to their commitment to reinvention.

Sure, we might think it’s easier for them to rethink their business because they have the resources to make it happen. It’s natural to assume they’re better equipped. And maybe in some ways they are.

But when you imagine trying to roll out changes across 14,000 stores, it doesn’t take long to realize it’s not so “easy” in light of the scope and scale.

In fact, we have it easier than they do.

You can make one small pivot to an existing offer (or value stream or sales strategy or…) in an afternoon—turning the entire trajectory of your business around!

We’re really NOT that different than franchise businesses. We just have different size challenges and logistics. It’s all relative.

I’m not suggesting you “be” McDonald’s. Or even try to “be the McDonald’s of” your industry.

What I’m encouraging is that you make it a practice to regularly rethink how you do business and…

  • Reject complacency
  • Reassess what’s working and why
  • Reconnect to what your clients are asking for
  • Reimagine what would make your offers more appealing
  • Replace and/or retool what’s not working

Yes, your clearcut way to stay ahead of the curve is to reinvent. And repeat.

Face paint optional.


Hey! If you know in your bones something in your business is ripe for change and like the idea of gathering with other smart, successful business owners to expose yourself to new ideas—hit me up!

I’m hosting my first Reinvention Roundtable where we’ll ideate specific tweaks, swerves and pivots (big and small) for your business. Add your name to the invitation list for brains + curves + hors d’oerves.

Posted In: Business Model Design