The series: We look at decision makers among Canada’s mid-sized companies who took successful action in a competitive global digital economy.
Blo Blow Dry Bar never set out to be everything to everyone.
From its very beginnings in Vancouver in 2007, the hair salon decided it was going to do one thing well. No cuts, no colouring, just a simple wash and blow out.
The chain started with three Vancouver-area stores in 2009 and expects to finish 2018 with close to 130 franchises in Canada, the United States and the Philippines, with about 350 employees across Canada.
After merging in 2009 with Melonhead Children’s Hair Care, a Toronto-based hairdressing chain, Blo embarked on a pure franchising system. In 2011, Head Co., the holding company overseeing both entities, sold off Melonhead to focus exclusively on Blo Blow Dry Bar Inc.
A large part of that rapid growth has been to invest in its franchisees, or franchise partners, as Blo’s chief executive officer and partner, Vanessa Yakobson, calls them.
“We think of our franchise partners as being our No. 1 customer,” she says. “So our entire focus here at our head office is on ensuring that they are set up for success.”
While that support includes things such as the availability of funding or operations expertise, particularly valuable for a franchise model that requires no prior hair or beauty experience from its franchisees, head office found training to be an increasingly time-consuming proposition.
As part of a roughly 12-week-long on-boarding process that leads up to a store opening, franchisees receive weekly coaching calls with members of the head office marketing and operations teams. But as the number of franchisees has exploded over the past few years, those calls sometimes spiralled out of control, sucking time from head-office employees.
With an aggressive growth plan that is targeting 500 franchise stores worldwide within the next few years, something had to give.
“We looked down the path and saw that we really needed a solution that was going to help us be more efficient with our time,” Ms. Yakobson says, “but ensuring that we weren’t sacrificing the quality of the information and resource we were offering.”
After looking at various learning management systems (LMS), many of which target universities and colleges, Blo came across Docebo, a global LMS company with North American offices in Toronto and Athens, Ga.
After signing on as a client with Docebo in January, Blo was able to create online courses to correspond with its on-boarding learning plan, complete with tests, training manuals and videos.
The benefits were twofold. On the one hand, it saves time for head-office staff, with one-on-one phone calls with franchisees reserved for subject areas where online testing shows they might be having trouble.
Secondly, the online learning platform caters to people’s individual learning style, turning written manuals into visual resources.
In time, Blo will also be able to build out the Docebo platform to cater to salon staff, such as styling videos or manager training for individual stores. For now, it is using the platform solely to educate its franchisees on aspects of marketing and store operations.
“Ultimately our franchise partners will have a searchable repository of resources – written, video, recorded webinars, etc. – that they can go in and search on a particular topic,” Ms. Yakobson says.
“Perhaps it’s customer service, perhaps it’s how to drive retail sales, and they’ll be able to pull up the resources that are available.”
Founded in 2005, Docebo has built a platform that can cater to a number of industries, from retail and manufacturing, to software and pharmaceuticals. But the companies that approach Docebo generally come with the same problems as they look to scale up their network of franchisees.
“When they come to us, typically they’ve outgrown whatever the previous [learning] system is and they need something that can support a complex organization structure,” says Kevin Sands, the Docebo account executive who looks after Blo.
The Docebo online learning platform can also be all things to all team members, so franchisees will see a different interface than store managers or team members. It’s also a central access point to post information such as newsletters and to exchange best practices.
That was certainly what Blo wanted.
“In a way, it almost became a quasi-intranet for their franchisees,” Mr. Sands says. “So any time you need any information related to your business, this is where you go for that.”
But like any form of training, it can’t happen in a vacuum. Wayne Maillet, the founder of Franchise Specialists, a consultancy in Coquitlam, B.C., as well as the author of Franchising Demystified - The Definitive Franchise Handbook, says e-learning platforms such as the one Docebo provides are just one part of the training puzzle.
“What I’ve seen is the e-learning complements the training, but it doesn’t replace the training,” he says, emphasising the need to still use hands-on, one-on-one training.
However, he recognises the advantages of e-learning, in that it can save time and money, as well as ensuring a consistency in the message being delivered. In addition, it can be a valuable tool for any franchise business looking to grow.
“[It’s] very scalable,” he says. “You could have thousands of employees in different stores, cities, even countries, all getting the same message.”
One of the hurdles preventing franchise companies from adopting e-learning systems is the old adage of, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” However, Mr. Maillet says that franchise brands should always be looking to evolve, and though adoption has largely been slow, in his experience, it is increasing.
“Of the brands I’ve been working with, it’s probably … a quarter to a third of the franchisors, but I think it’s growing,” he says, having worked with well-known brands such as Burger King and Benjamin Moore Paints.
“I think more franchisors need to do it.”