Visitors to the headquarters of franchisee businesses Green Acres
may think they have instead walked into the office of a technology startup.
There is a living wall right behind the reception area, and colourful chairs and desks dot the open plan office. Staff can be seen working at a PC of their choice, or use their iPad. There are no printers or scanners in site.
Today, all transactions with the businesses are digital, and CEO, Logan Sears, believes the group has achieved a “paperless environment”.
Green Acres provides house and commercial cleaning and gardening services, while Hire-a-Hubby provides household maintenance and handyman tasks.
“We want to be portable and current, so we developed software for our franchising system platform with the tablet and personal computer,” he says on the business driver for the move to become a digital company.
A question kept popping on his mind: “Why are we having this paper? If the answer is ‘I don’t know’, or we did not need it, we started discarding it.
“If we are going to be an organisation that talks about using smart software, and being portable and current, it is a little bit of a contradiction to have an office that is clogged with paper.”
So the group embarked on an 18-month program to “wean themselves off paper”.
“When we moved to this building that was the catalyst to make the final leap to being paperless,” he explains.
‘Redesign your business on a blank sheet of paper’: Pointers from Gartner
Making the leap
Today, the entire business platform from the initial conversation to purchase through to training and the ongoing communications are all through the franchise businesses’ digital platform called Engage, which was developed by Sandfield Information Systems.
Basically, it’s a process where the customer comes through the website where he/she is allocated to the franchisee, and can communicate verbally or electronically, through a portal that also sits on Engage.
A customer can receive a quote electronically, and once that is accepted, that is also converted electronically into an invoice. The customer can then pay that electronically by credit card or direct banking.
“We have a customer survey platform, and after a job is completed they immediately survey the customer to make sure the standards of service are where they need to be,” Sears says.
He says franchise contracts are all signed electronically. “It just eliminated every roadblock, legally they are binding.”
The guarantee document is the only one the franchisees have to print off, sign and upload to the Engage site.
“The whole transaction from beginning to end is, hopefully, seamless,” he smiles.
He says there are some original customers who would prefer paper transactions.
“We still service them the way they want to be serviced,” he says. “But at that ground level, the franchises look after them.”
When Sears started the shift to the paperless environment, he tried to find local models but found none. When it comes to a hot desk environment, he checked out Vodafone and ASB. These two companies have implemented activity based working, where staff do not have a permanent desk but choose their work area depending on the project they are working on. He says doing this allowed them to see the pros and cons of this office layout.
“We changed our seating environment to hot desk,” says Sears, who himself does not have a fixed workstation.
“Everywhere you go there are PCs,” he says. “There is the ability to sit and work in a comfortable environment.”
Sears also shifted the phone systems to a complete operating platform that is digital and cloud based.
He says the only phone lines at the office are at the reception. “They are not exactly landlines, they are web-based,” he explains.
The frontline staff can answer the phone, while walking around with their iPads, which allow them access to the system as well.
“We have no scanner or printer, so literally there is no ability to have paper,” he says.
“We practice what we preach, and it also gave us an opportunity to talk to our suppliers as well because a lot of the paper is actually generated by other people.
“I asked myself, why should I let other companies influence our thinking?”
“We found everyone has made an effort to change their way, it was their choice.”
He says his businesses have a dozen key suppliers, most of them big organisations.
“They have to make some sort of shift to do business with us as well.
“Come on board if you want to stay working in our environment,” he says, of the message he relayed to the suppliers.
He says he also spoke to the suppliers in a positive manner about the change.
“Rather than say, ‘If you send your paperwork, we cannot work with you’, you say: ‘As a company this is where we want to go, we would really like it if you will come with us on the journey’.
One supplier was not convinced. When Sears informed this supplier that he is discontinuing the contract for the printers, he was told, “People tell us that all the time and they always end up using more paper. Good luck with that.”
One of the beauties of being in an online environment is the results are instant, you can make sound decisions really quickly. Logan Sears, Green Acres and Hire-a-Hubby
“We find ourselves moving our suppliers, dragging them along with us,” he says.
“We have to find a way to do this because I am not prepared to have other people’s business policies dictate how we run our company,” he says.
Some of the suppliers are now talking to him on how they can achieve the same transformation. One of their suppliers invited him to talk to its sustainability team about what he is doing.
“The secret is providing the platform that allows them to easily communicate with us, whether it is a customer, a franchisee or a supplier.”
The Engage platform is designed to have these conversations, he says.
“The end customers are the end driver of this whole process,” he states. “We look not only at today’s customers but the future.
“The future customers are lot younger than we are, and they are educated in a paperless environment.”
“So if we try to look in the future, we see an environment where people want to have a business they can access very easily and very fast.”
He says the mobile and wireless environment also freed up a lot of franchise support people to go out and talk to their franchisees.
“We are in the business of supporting the franchisee and somewhere along the line we can lose our way hiding behind email,” he states.
At the same time, having the data from his businesses’ digital transactions allows them to improve their services.
“We explained to our franchisees what we tried to achieve and why.
“We tried to make it exciting,” he says, when talking to the staff and franchisees of the move to paperless and digital systems.
“That changed people’s thinking.”
Staff and franchisees knew change was coming and generally embraced it, he states.
“When you are going paperless, you have to provide the tools to be able to do the job well. Otherwise if you cut something away and not have anything to replace it with, that would be a problem.”
Cost savings from the move to paperless are estimated to reach $25,000 a year, he states.
Sears says they used to spend $12,000 a year just on paper, with the rest spent on photocopier rental and costs.
“But it is far broader than that in terms of the whole group,” he says. “We have 600 franchisees, as they move gently across, embracing the system completely, then that is quite significant.”
My day to day job as CEO is managing the people. But really, my job is to look into the future.
Each time he is handed a paper docket at the supermarket he just imagines a forest diminishing.
“If you ask yourself why every time you hold a piece of paper you will be amazed at how many times you come to the conclusion there is actually no good reason for it.”
The shift to digital has also impacted the way Sears promotes the businesses. He has shrunk their print advertising costs, and moved these online.
“We do almost no hard collateral anymore,” he says, referring to print brochures. “That is way more cost effective for the business and more efficient.”
The seven rules for digital business and digital transformation: Ray Wang of Constellation Research
Analytics play a big role in a lot in business decisions, says Sears.
“We don’t make any decisions without measuring,” he says. “One of the beauties of being in an online environment is the results are instant, you can make sound decisions really quickly.”
Whereas with an 0-800 number or print advertisement, it takes at least a month or a year to make a sound decision, he says.
“We can make a decision by the hour on Google App Performance,” he states. “We basically run those reports live.”
“By shifting all of our brochures from paper to virtual, it has allowed us to communicate with them easier for longer,” he says to both their franchisees and target franchisees.
He cites the case of a new franchisee who nearly brought a franchise a year ago but stuck with his job.
“The only reason he re-engaged with us was because he was on our e-platform. He gets our newsletters, so he watches it with interest,” Sears says.
“A year later, he decides running a franchise was what he wanted to do.
“He never would have done that in the old paper environment, it was impossible.”
From a recruitment point of view, Sears has learned from the analytics that people actually want their own space to make up their mind.
“So we have taken all our clothes off in terms of information on our website,” he states.
He says in the past he and most of his competitors lived on a ‘you have to tell me that before I can give you that’ approach to would be franchisees.
“We have opened the kimono and if you look [at our website], all our information is public. And it has made a huge difference because people in their own space and in their own time can now make a judgement.”
He says one of the things he learned about trading online was 80 per cent of the decision has been made before the customer contacts the supplier.
“The information to help them make their decision is there,” he states.
“We are very much naked online, and that is working well for us.”
He says a survey reveals there was a perception that they must be taking a margin on the equipment packs the franchisees have to buy as the information about these packs were not there.
“In 25 years of our business, we have not taken a margin on our equipment packs.”
But that was the perception because the whole list of equipment was not online. He says people now can view the whole list of equipment in each pack the franchisees have to buy.
Sears says they also also built an ‘online calculator’ so would be franchisees can “design their own businesses”.
People interested in becoming a franchisee can put their expectations of their earnings based on how many hours they want to work, and how much it will cost them.
“Instead of trying to force people into a business model which says you have to work 40 hours a week, we are stating, ‘You tell us what you want’.
“My day to day job as CEO is managing the people. But really, my job is to look into the future and that is what we are trying to do,” he explains.
“It puts us on the map, this is where we want to be, and we want to be seen as a leader, as representing excellence in business. This gives us an opportunity to do that.”
Starting a tradition
Sears says the group had to face the reality of the practice of sending Christmas cards to customers.
So at a recent meeting with the Hire-a-Hubby franchisees, he showed the first Christmas card video that will be sent to customers.
“That is our Christmas card,” he announced.
“See,” says Sears, smiling, “there is a solution even for the smallest piece of paper.”
Send news tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap
Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz
Sign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.
Join us on Facebook.