Adapt or Die
Buzz was founded in 2012. We still deliver on the same promise and we still use the same tools; drama, dance and singing for kidz to build confidence, boost social skills, be creative and get buzzing. But wow, has this business shape-shifted, changed, adapted, almost died (thanks COVID) and now, thriving!
And that is the essence of business, isn’t it? To adapt or die. It is Darwinian. It is cruel because there is only room for the strong, the persistent, the adaptable… to survive. It IS cut-throat and so it should be.
Illusions about franchising
If you told me in 2012, that Buzz would in 2022, turn into a fully fledged Franchisor, I would insist on inspecting your medicine cabinet. You must be mad. I will never franchise (verb) Buzz. And before you could even ask me why, I would furnish you with the following reasons:
- Only as a centrally managed and controlled business can quality be controlled to a detailed degree.
- Franchisees will ruin and change the brand. Our reputation will be ruined.
- Franchises are inconsistent. You might have one excellent franchisee and the next a fraud and failure. It will be the latter that tarnishes the brand for all.
Looking at the above little list, it is not so much 3 bullet points as one overall point and concern: quality (and the fear of its demise).
Remember, we do not sell apples. It is not a concrete product of which one can guarantee a relatively objective level of quality when certain boxes are ticked on a list. It is a 3-in-1 drama, dance and singing service. The aim of the in-person service being a very specific level of child development.
Many of the magical, nuanced elements for success in this space are not something one can tick off on a check-list, it can only be developed through time and experienced (felt) in the moment.
Dreams come true
But then Buzz grew, as I always wanted it to. Why?
- We are passionate about having as many children, parents, teachers, schools and communities benefit from what Buzz delivers: child development through the arts!
- We also want Buzz to be a commercially successful business and deliver to its shareholders.
By 2017, we were up to 100 schools across South Africa and 50 staff members. Centrally run and controlled by us.
Dreams and unexpected nightmares
But the fears I always had around franchising (although we were not a franchisor) were coming true!
Quality could not be guaranteed. And it had nothing to do with franchising. Turns out, it was as a result of our success!
Even though we had full control and ownership of every school and venue where we Buzzed, we could not financially afford the rapid growth, and the middle management staff required to manage and ensure quality on the ground. The more we grew, the more expensive things became and the harder to guarantee a certain standard across the board.
Some employees were excellent and instinctively understood Buzz and what it stands for, some didn’t. Many helped Buzz grow, a few tarnished the brand.
We might as well
It turns out, PEOPLE are (for lack of a better word) “a gamble” and one could even argue that a franchising model could safeguard us a little against negative characters. Franchising could immediately cull a certain type of person, because unlike an employee, a franchisee has to put skin, money, in the game and carry some of the risk.
Not everyone with the entrance fee to the franchise “dance” is automatically a person of high moral standing, sure, but employees have far less to lose. To be the employer of many can be exceptionally hard. To partner with the right people who love your business as much as you do, to give them real ownership is incredibly special and for us, so rewarding!
Nothing is guaranteed with a franchisee-franchisor relationship. Agreed! But NEITHER are there with the employee-employer relationship.
Finally Franchising – Inevitable
Our systems naturally developed into a franchisee model long before we became a franchisor. We allowed people to buzz under the central business in various provinces in South Africa. Everything conceivably needed to buzz is accessible online. Buzz-in-a-Box is an exclusive, virtual encyclopaedia. It IS the complete how-to manual of every Buzz administrative- and creative system, tool, material, exercise and approach. Buzz-in-a-Box is more than 10 years in development. An organic, living archive of tools that grows with the organisation.
Buzz staff have been using our custom-built online platform, Buzz-in-a-Box, self studying and training at home, plugging into our system with the use of the internet. They were, already in essence, functioning as mini franchisees with their commission incentive. These staff members are evolving into full blown franchisees and there is only upside for us all. We are sharing the burden, the responsibility and the return on investment, the income, fairly!
Potentially we were too stubborn and should have followed the route all other extramural providers in South Africa follows: franchise! I see it as a decade’s worth of brand building, adapting and iterating. Franchisees who are coming on board now are buying into a well established brand and business.
Finally Franchising – our mission, vision and goals reached
Franchising allows Buzz rapid growth and significant scale, which guarantees our mission of reaching children in every corner of South Africa and the world.
Instead of working for us, the lion share of the income belongs to our partners, the franchisees. A small portion of the franchisee’s revenue comes to us for the use of Buzz curricula, learning material- and method as well as training, access to systems, marketing and more! The franchisee’s success is Buzz’s success.