How has Baskin-Robbins adopted a collaborative approach to change?

By Sarah Stowe | 02 Nov 2015 View comments

David Jordan, Baskin-Robbins general manager, believes a collaborative approach is the best way to develop a franchise strategy.

Baskin-Robbins has had a “fairly challenging” time over the last few years, says Jordan, who joined the business five months ago. In the last 12 months alone there have been two owners, and consolidation has been the focal point.

Now the business is stabilised, and the next stage – a comprehensive strategy for growth – is underway.

“Taking into consideration the past four years, it was important to bring the stakeholders together and to get alignment on strategies,” explains Jordan. “It’s more than just from a brand standard and expectation but also the standards and expectations of franchise partners and customers,” he says. “Everyone could put together a strategy themselves but in an organisation in rebuild or growth mode, all stakeholders need to be aligned. A collective approach was non-negotiable.”

What Jordan believes has been created is a strong presence and a strong message to franchisees. But it isn’t simple, he says. It takes tiered stages, starting with listening and understanding the franchisees’ and customers’ viewpoints.

A support centre with long term employees can reflect well on the business, but a challenge can be bringing in fresh ideas.

“It builds a bias so we had to look at everything through a franchisee and customer perspective.”

The first major step to collaborate was a series of four meetings around the country which instead of being the expected Powerpoint presentation turned the tables on franchisees and asked them to share opportunities they could see for the brand.

“We created a forum titled ‘Change the lens’. It was challenging for the franchisees, it was really different from what they expected.”

What came out of these meetings were ideas that ranged from micro to macro concepts, from changing name badges to developing Apps.

At the end of the sessions Jordan then shared what he had learned from his first three months in the business and the concepts the franchisor team had pinpointed for development.

Making his job easier, there was a simple alignment across the network. “The ideas from the franchisees were in principle in line with our identified ideas,” he says.

The next stage was to form nine smaller groups with franchisees, each group focused on a specific topic such as local area marketing and led by the relevant department head. Jordan says more than 40 percent of the franchisee network is engaged in these groups.

“We believe franchisees are excited that they can directly influence a topic. It’s a catalyst.”

The meetings are monthly phone conferences with a six month catch-up in person.

“The key component is the framework. The meeting needs to be clearly designed with a clear agenda and follow up,” says Jordan [pictured here].

Successful collaboration will deliver the brand a competitive edge, he believes.

Some of the groups will achieve their goal within the next quarter, others will run into next year, and as the business evolves, so will the forums.

“For the process to work it needs to be undertaken with empathy and sincerity, this is a value-add process.”

But the big danger of collaboration is a failure to execute the plan, he says.  The answer is mutual accountability and ownership within the group.

“Some franchisees have research to do to deliver to the group. The department heads though take full control and the support team has to deliver. The majority of the work is done by us, it’s up to the franchisor to give insight and shape.”

The challenge for a business in a high growth phase is achieving the balance between dictating and collaborating, Jordan indicates.

“In my experience the strongest companies are those that recognise the need to collaborate in an effect manner with the key stakeholders.”


Jordan is clear there are three critical factors to achieving a successful collaborative approach:

  1. Be authentic
  2. Set a framework
  3. Ensure execution

Franchisees Rick and Karin Alborn have been impressed and “pleasantly surprised” by David Jordan’s tactics. “David has brought a really fresh approach to the system, it’s very refreshing,” says Rick Alborn.

Keen to be involved in the shaping of the business he put his hand up to participate in three of the small topic groups: local marketing, phone apps, and charities.

“I believe franchisees should be involved in strategy. If a franchisee buys a proven system, it’s still a personal business and they should be driving the business; they need a franchisor who is understanding and responsive to that but they also need a little flexibility.”