by Sloan Kamenstein
Republished from Entrepreneur, July 8, 2018
When we made the strategic decision to expand our brand internationally in 2015, we recognized that doing so required an in-depth look at how we were going to maintain the Sloan’s Ice Cream experience in markets that were, at the time, wholly unfamiliar and thousands of miles away.
Three years later, we have six locations open across Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and are sharing our proprietary Sloan’s experience with entirely new cultures. But, that road hasn’t always been easy– it’s been paved with learning curves and challenges for both our corporate team and our franchise partners in the Middle East, as we strive to strike a balance between maintaining the brand’s personality and product quality, and adapting the concept for new markets.
As we continue to grow our presence in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, here are a few best practices I’ve found on how to maintain a brand on an international scale.
1. Be discerning with partner selection It’s easy to get stuck in a mindset of quantity over quality when developing a brand internationally –brand recognition is key in helping a concept find success in any market– and many brands set goals to grow a certain percentage annually. In my experience, however, we’ve found that focusing on quality franchise partners has brought us the most success in developing our brand in the Middle East.
Beyond finding franchise partners that share our values, behaviors, and attitudes, we have paid significant attention to searching for franchisees who have ties to the Middle East business community. Clout can be extremely important when it comes to real estate, importing goods, and other vital functions, so those existing connections can carry a lot of weight in helping to get things accomplished.
When vetting partners that are existing business owners, it’s important to observe the way they support their current business ventures, their existing development schedules, and how many other brands they currently own or operate to get an idea of their overall track record of performance. We have also seen success in allowing our existing international franchisees that are interested in growing their portfolios the opportunity to build their presence in other countries where they have established operations and business experience. By sourcing from your current network, you can better ensure that the product quality and brand experience will be the same as your brand expands into new markets.
2. Establish open lines of communication from the onset I’m sure it’s much to the chagrin of most business owners that they can’t be everywhere for their business at once. But, as a business continues to grow and expand, business leaders need to loosen the reigns and let others take control of some aspects– especially when expanding the presence internationally.
Within the franchising industry, this means trusting your franchise partners with the successful execution of your business in a new market. For us, this starts with extremely open lines of communication between both the corporate team and our franchise partners.
When an individual becomes a Sloan’s franchisee, they are looking to us for all of the answers as to what to do, how things should look and how their business should operate. From the beginning, we strive to be attentive in enforcing our standards and in helping the franchisee find the resources that they need on the local level. This includes a robust initial training process, daily and weekly check-ins, and visits to the international stores multiple times per year.
By establishing an open dialogue from the very beginning, you can build a rapport with the partner to help enforce brand standards and guidelines in the future.
3. Keep an open mind about product alternatives or substitutions We go through great lengths to maintain the same Sloan’s experience that we established in the US on an international scale, as that’s proven to be very successful in the Middle East with our brand and others. That being said, very few concepts can expand into new markets – let alone countries– without making some alterations to the products or services that they offer. Varying cultural norms, product availability, or local laws can all affect a brand’s offerings in international markets.
For example, when shipping food products internationally, you have to take into account the shelf life of those products. In some cases, we’ve had to find alternatives or sample local products that meet the brand standard, and are easy to obtain by the local franchise partner.
Additionally, there may be instances in which international partners find products at a cheaper rate locally than what it would cost to import them from the US. While we always encourage our partners to save money where they can, it is extremely important to maintain the quality that Sloan’s is synonymous with and follow the quality control process. This includes sharing pictures and samples of the substitute product, so that our corporate team can ensure guests at any location are all receiving the same overall Sloan’s experience.
Replicating the brand experience and product quality on an international scale can be difficult, but with the right business partners, open lines of communication and an open mind, you can find continued success in international markets.