The operation manuals of a franchise system are the written documents that provide the franchisee with all the details to duplicate the business model. It is the proven operating system defined. Critical success factors are identified and communicated so that franchisees can consistently duplicate success.
Depending upon the maturity of the franchise, there may be just one general manual but more typically the document extends over a series of different manuals. A manual for management may be separated from a manual for employees. A pre-opening manual will often outline how to find the right location and build out the physical store with typical licensing requirements and build-out processes. An advertising or marketing manual will provide all details regarding the use of the trademarks and provide standardized advertising formats.
A good set of manuals will serve to reinforce the franchise agreement and those areas that require consistency and compliance in order to preserve the integrity of the brand. No matter where in the world, each franchise location should deliver a consistent product or service. At each location there should be the same look and feel within the store, the food or service needs to be the same and provide the same experience to the customer. It is through this consistent duplication that a solid brand is established.
In the past operation manuals were typically in hard copies in a series of three ring binders. Today franchisors are more frequently making the manuals available electronically through a secure web site. This permits updates to be done more easily and the franchisor can monitor that the changes have been viewed and downloaded by which franchisees. Franchisees can print off what they need as they need the information.
Operation manuals will vary in details and to what degree they outline the business model but strong franchise systems will leave nothing to chance. There is an emphasis on price value, quality, consistency and customer service. Topics typically covered in operation manuals include;
- Overview of the company, its mission statement, vision, and company values
- Clarity on expectations and roles of the franchisee and the franchisor
- Site selection and store build-out
- Operating standards and policies
- Recipes or service procedures
- Receiving and rotating stock
- Opening and closing procedures
- Detailed job descriptions
- Hiring, training and leading staff
- Administration, accounting, and reporting requirements
- Supplier contacts and purchasing procedures
- Proper use of the trademarks
- Local marketing initiatives and advertising templates
- Public relations initiatives
All of these topics are important so as to provide the franchisee the details required in order to run a successful business. An established system and brand is the most common reason a franchise is entered into. Rather than starting a business and going through the typical trial and error that is experienced by an independent business owner, a franchisee can learn from others experience and simply follow the manuals, often saving thousands of dollars in the process.
With so much information to cover, the operation manuals will tend to be quite comprehensive. If it is a start-up franchise the manuals may be more general in nature but as time passes, the operation manuals evolved and become more detailed in scope, so as to leave nothing to chance or misinterpretation. A franchisor will often use the services of outside consultants to ensure that the manuals cover all aspects of the operation and are easily understood. The manuals become the reference materials during initial training and throughout the life of the franchise.
To simplify and make the document more user friendly often forms and checklists complement the materials so that there is easy execution. Support materials such as operation software, employee policy and procedures, training materials for employees, all form part of the operation manuals and the manuals are a resource as to how to use these tools.
In the franchise agreement, there is typically a clause stating that the operation manuals form part of the franchisees obligations. The operating systems and standards outlined in the manuals must be complied with in order to protect the goodwill and reputation of the franchise system. Due to the proprietary nature of the operation manuals contents, the franchise agreement will clearly state that the manuals are to be kept confidential and returned in the event the franchise relationship comes to an end.
During operational visits the franchisor will look for compliance to the operation manuals and will make reference to the manuals where deviations exist. It becomes the standard reference for the entire operating system. There may be occasions where deviations are found to be positive and actually enhance the operations and these changes are integrated into the manuals.
Operations are typically evolving and therefore the existing operation manuals should be reviewed and updated annually to ensure that the manuals reflect current best practices and systems. Over time technology and systems change. Service or product offerings change in order to meet the changing needs of the customer. With some established franchise systems experienced franchisees can participate and contribute as they identify best practices or processes that work well and should be shared with other franchisees, often through a focus group or operation manuals committee.
From a franchising and franchise system perspective, the operation manuals provide the tools to establish a brand. Brand awareness is driven by repetition and uniformity. The operation manuals are an essential part of any franchise systems success. Useful, readable documents provide a framework to standardize the operating system. It provides an objective standard in which to measure compliance and consistently duplicate the customer’s experience.