How to add innovation to a heritage franchise brand: Shingle Inn
The Shingle Inn business began in Brisbane in 1936 and leverages its heritage as it expands around the country. It has just opened its 50th store, a milestone in itself – even more noteworthy in a year that the café franchise chain celebrates four decades of stewardship by the Bellchambers family. But it isn’t looking backwards. Owner and co-director Andrew Bellchambers talks about the tricks of balancing tradition with innovation in a franchise chain.
“We’ve always appreciated our customer helped form the heritage. So we use them as a bit of a barometer.
“We don’t want to change too much at once. We are keen to keep things fresh so do listen to feedback from franchisees and store owners.
“Occasionally we conduct customer research.
“It’s a really delicate balance.
“Probably because when you’ve been running the brand for so long, you get personally invested in how things are done.”
Bellchambers cites one example of how sticking to the old ways was misplaced. For a brand that echoes the traditions of afternoon tea, china crockery was an essential part of the profile.
“For ages we fought against using a takeaway cup at all in the stores. We fought on every front. But because it was becoming increasingly common, there was really a point where you stop and listen to the customers.
“This was something we were stubborn about, we were protecting the brand’s heritage. It seemed almost sacrilegious. But it was practical and to continue ignoring it would only have aggravated customers.”
However it’s important not to fall into the trap of too much innovation, he says.
“We are constantly focused on innovation, not constant change. We’re open to ideas but don’t want instability when people feel a lot is changing every week.”
It goes back to the process for generating ideas from the field, from franchisees and team members. Ideas are then taken to the national office and undergo fierce discussion among four or five people on the management team, before returning to the field.
There are no strict guidelines to adhere to, admits Bellchambers.
“Franchisees like innovation but our job is to be a bit clever to balance implementation.”
Innovation can range from products to systems and processes.
“With gluten free on the menu we were quite ahead of the curve and that’s now become mainstream,” he says of one of the more successful initiatives. A paleo menu is being trialled at the moment.
Part of the challenge is to identify what is effectively a flash in the pan, and what will prove to have staying power.
When Shingle Inn was a corporate business there was no universal rostering system. That all changed when it turned to franchising and streamlined processes were in demand.
Introducing technology to allow franchisees to access noticeboards, track rosters and costs through an online portal has been a success, and was embedded in the franchise network from day one, explains Bellchambers.
How does Shingle Inn ensure incoming franchisees who have invested in the heritage of the brand are keen to embrace innovation?
“We always talk about and instil in franchisees the value of our customers’ loyalty. That’s been built up over the years, and that’s what franchisees are buying into. We’ve spent years developing generational relationships.
“We’re open to new ideas, not clinging to the past, but respecting the values is something franchisees need to value in the store,” says Bellchambers, adding that is drilled into newbies at franchisee training.
How to innovate in a heritage brand
- Strike a balance between tradition and innovation
- Don’t feel compelled to push innovation just for the sake of it
- Control the implementation of innovative ideas