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what_is_freedom_to_you.jpgHow free is free?

No, this isn’t going to be a political or philosophical piece. But when you manage a business model known as the “Freedom Franchise” you have to watch this on a regular, almost daily, basis.

There are two schools of thought within Great Harvest on freedom. Well, technically, there are as many thoughts on freedom as there are people in the room — but they roughly break into two groups.

The first goes something like this:

You are not the boss of me, and franchise owners, not the franchisor, know best so I will talk with them and then make my own decision. I don't need any mandated best practices from the franchise.

And the second school of thought is more like:

Hey, I want someone to add some consistency between me and my neighboring Great Harvest and enforce some best practices over there because they are making my Great Harvest look bad.

Well, I can’t do the latter without violating the former.

Which leads to a middle ground.
There is an old African proverb that says:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

This is pretty much where many people in Great Harvest are settling in terms of our business model. The United States is a country of freedoms, but we have rules. In a retail environment, we don’t set the rules. Customers do. They have likes and dislikes and hitting more of the likes is a more successful strategy.

Honestly, there has been a movement among our franchisees for years to establish a set of standards for operations that restrict freedom, and I have been the one saying “no way.” We have an Advisory Council of franchisees who are elected to advise the team in our home office on all matters Great Harvest, and this is a concern of theirs. I have always said I will enforce standards once you write them and get your peers to agree to them. I am not going to be the bad guy.

make_your_store_yours.jpgAnd I still believe that, but increasingly we are seeing that you can go far by going together without requiring a lot of policing. There are certain things that should never (never is a long time and I rarely use that word but will here) be dictated from the great corporate eye in the sky. Hours. Exact menu. How you interact with your community. The prices you charge. Colors. Staffing. Those are all things that touch the bakery customer and should be individualized for each bakery.

But there is a whole list of “back of the house” items and processes which absolutely should be as common as possible, and this is where we are seeing some change in Great Harvest. How you manage customer loyalty. How you handle online ordering. Service standards. How you calculate your prices with local inputs. How you cost-effectively manage staffing. How you lay your store out. How you advertise.

Traditionally, those are all things that each store would do individually and the home office would, too. Some would be good. Some would be great. Some would just be. And we would all think ours is the best because it was ours. But you know who is not having a say in that conversation? The customer. They don’t care how we do those things — they just want them to work. And, they don’t really care how our freedom works if it impacts their experience. They are fine with us doing our own thing as long as it doesn’t hurt them. Having too few systems does hurt customers and eventually will cause us to not go far as a franchise because we are going separately as stores.

IF I am right, and we start trying to go farther by going together, this will take some time and getting used to because we have never operated that way. But I do think it is time….What do you think? Weigh in below in the comment section.

Learn more about Great Harvest’s training on bakery processes and systems:

Listen to Our Bread Business Training Interview

We've been exploring the optimum balance of freedom in our franchise. Read more about the freedom to choose success with Great Harvest:

Image credits: © shaffandi / 123RF Stock Photo; © tebnad / 123RF Stock Photo; modified by text overlay.

I am Mike Ferretti, the Chairman and CEO of Great Harvest. But, I am also a dad who grew up in a world with old fashioned business ethics. Before Great Harvest, I thought those days and companies were gone. Luckily, I now get to work with a group with a strong moral compass that genuinely lives "Give generously to others" and "Run fast to serve customers." And we do it with more than just lip service in a way that allows us to set an example for others. I am proud that my kids are proud of what I do for a living.