5 Steps to Ensure Your Franchise Growth Even Through Covid-19

5 Steps to Ensure Your Franchise Growth Even Through Covid-19

by Brent Dowling, Raintree CEO

Before franchising, I came from the competitive snowboard world. That’s a career built on learning to make the right decisions, even when fear is at an extreme level. The right decision can mean victory & elation. The wrong decision can sometimes mean serious injury or even death.

But as I exited that world, I lost my love of fear and my ability to make the right decision, even in cases of high risk. Of course, I started a franchise development company and became a Franchisor, but honestly, neither of those decisions came with high risk. The need in the market for both those companies was clear. And so, since my snowboarding career ended, I’ve never really made any high-risk fear-driven decisions. 

Many of my closest friends today whom I snowboarded with, however, retained their excellent decision-making ability in the face of high risk. 

To cut some long stories short; my best mate started a snowboard glove company in 2010 when snowsports retail was dead – it’s now the biggest snowboard glove company in Australia. 

Another poured almost all of their snowboard earnings into Netflix in 2010 – when the stock price was $19. 

And yet another bought $40K worth of Bitcoin in 2013 – It was about $300 per BTC at the time.

And so for the last few years I’ve been wondering whether I’ve lost the ability to embrace risk, and make smart decisions despite extreme fear. I’ve told myself for a while – if you get scared in business – embrace it! It means you’re probably on the right track.

Enter COVID-19. And I’m scared…so now it’s time to get ready.

Here’s how you can too:


It’s pretty evident to everyone at Raintree that many franchise brands are now full of fear. 

In terms of franchise marketing keywords, Google and Facebook PPC cost-per-click (CPC) prices are falling quickly, but the search volumes have remained stable and even in some cases increased.

There are already far fewer brands active on franchise portals. Most franchise brands appear to perceive the shutdown of restaurants, bars, retail and the need for social distancing to directly correlate with a shutdown in franchise marketing and sales. Simply put, it looks like many franchise brands are scared – and rightfully so!

The result of this fear has undoubtedly created an uncrowded franchising marketing space.  



It’s OK to be scared. In fact, it’s good. It likely means there are opportunities here. 

But try to set it aside and make some logical decisions. I used to have to launch off 100-foot jumps for a living, and before I did, I would always take 5 very deep breaths. This would slow my heart rate, which in turn would reduce my anxiety and therefore physically allow me to be in a better position to make decisions and mental adjustments along the course.

So, take 5 very deep breaths now and then decide if you think some sort of normalcy will resume in the next 2-4 months. If you believe that to be true, then I think you should be brave and continue to invest in advertising your franchise opportunity. 

As fear takes over other brands’ decision-making processes in the coming days and weeks, the power of your active franchise marketing dollars will increase exponentially. Put yours aside and really assess the opportunity here.



Based on previous economic downtowns, the most notable being the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis, we are expecting to see a significant increase in the franchise buyer pool in the coming months. 

Unemployment and corporate layoffs are a breeding ground for a surge in potential franchise buyers, who become attracted to the idea of controlling their destiny through business ownership, with the support (and reduced risk) of a franchise behind them. 

As one small data point, at the first franchise company in 2009, we continued to advertise that year, in spite of the state of the economy. We awarded 5 franchises that year.

…We awarded over 100 franchises in 2010. 

The demand for franchise sales still exists, today. Again, search volumes for franchises on Google have stayed steady this week. Certainly, based on previous recessions and global economic disasters, we believe that demand is going to skyrocket once we start to see the COVID-19 curve flatten.

Having a pipeline already built, versus having to start from zero to build it will mean the difference between brands winning and losing at franchise sales in 2020.


The disparity in performance between experienced and inexperienced franchise salespeople is about to become more obvious than ever. In a climate of fear and the unknown, understanding buyer psychology and how to work with the variety of fears that most candidates will have is going to play a critical role for you in terms of deals being won and lost. 

At the very least, you want to encourage your candidates to move at their own pace. Over the next 1-2 months, you need to nurture & educate, rather than sell. Pushing any type of timelines or outcomes on candidates while we are in a complete state of the unknown could prove unwise. 

Your primary goal should be to keep your candidates active and engaged so that when the COVID-19 curve flattens, you have a pipeline full of candidates who will be in a strong position to move forward in buying a franchise. 

I’d also recommend that you ensure your salespeople understand the opportunities that lay ahead for fast-acting franchise buyers. Two of the most important being:

~ Improving Loan Environment – Interest Rates: 

The first is the most obvious: Interest rates are at historic lows. Here are some talking points:

  • Because of the COVID-19 scare, the Feds dropped prime to zero which has allowed all banks and credit unions to drop their unsecured interest rates as well. There will be the lowest interest rates we have seen in 10 years.
  • With the prime rate being at zero the banks and credit unions are deploying as much capital as they can which means that approval rates should get much higher
  • More banks will be looking for SBA loans to put on the books so the number of banks focused on this type of lending will increase
  • Legislation being introduced to Congress by Marco Rubio, Chairman of the Small Business Committee. It is focused on the 7a Program. Some of the highlights are:
  • Allow any 7(a) borrower to use the proceeds of the loan for payroll support, including paid sick leave.
  • Waive all fees for all 7(a) loans for one year for both lenders and borrowers.
  • Provide a 90 percent loan guarantee for all loans, no matter the size.

We do, however, expect a backlog in funding to come through, hence why you should prepare to fund your franchise marketing budget, without fee revenue for at least the next month. 

~ Real Estate:

Unfortunately for many, we predict that there will be a significant increase in the number of independent (Mom & Pop) businesses that close over the coming month or two. Without the support of a franchise corporate team to help strategize and implement survival tactics, they won’t have the same ability to survive the months of social distancing, self-isolations, and quarantines.

This could quickly result in a shift to what we call a “tenant’s market”. Commercial real estate will become more widely available, with the cost of rent decreasing, Tenant Improvements (TI) increasing, all of which will result in new Franchise Owners being able to see a much faster return on investments than what we have seen over the last decade.


Again, while many franchise brands reduce their lead generation spends to zero, opportunities will only increase. 

As I Franchisor myself, I understand right now how it feels to see minimal revenue, with continued overhead – it sucks! You can, however, ensure you are in a good place to continue to sell franchises while reducing your cash burn. 

There are three types of franchise buyers in terms of lead generation: 

franchise marketing graphic

To reduce your risk, focus only on the HUNT MODE candidates to fill the top of your funnel. This means you should only be spending marketing dollars on SEO, Google PPC ads, Franchise Portals & Brokers. PR will help engage and keep prospects active, per the advice above. 

By turning off Youtube ads, Facebook ads, portals with a conversion of <2% conversion, and a number of other channels, we will reduce the budget for most brands by about 50-70%. 

But again, the power of that remaining 30-50% is going to increase by the day here, as other brands succumb to their fear and shut down franchise marketing. 

The advice here is to reduce your spend today to just the HUNT MODE channels. 

Then, as soon as you see the COVID-19 curve start to flatten, double-down on your lead generation spend. Franchise sales are going to get crazy shortly after that time! But begin the preparation on those campaigns now. This will put you months ahead of your franchise marketing competition. 


Continuing to push forward with Development now can allow you to not only save your year in franchise sales but if the bounce-back is as quick as it was following the crash in 2008/2009, staying the course will allow you to quickly distance yourself from your competitors in terms of new franchise owners and market share. 

In our experience, it takes 60-90 days for a new lead generation campaign to optimize and mature, and from there, a 12 week sales cycle to close your first deal. This means that waiting for this virus to be completely under control will mean from that day, you will be up to 5-7 months away from your first closed deal. While in that time, your competitors who held steady may be capitalizing on the biggest pool of post-recession franchise buyers in the last 10 years.

Emerging brands need franchise fee revenue to survive. Even brands that are currently royalty-sufficient, may not be so with continued closings and a slow/halt in consumer spending. Shutting down your opportunity to sell franchises could really dictate the speed of your recovery, and unfortunately for some, that decision may be the nail in the coffin in a few months.

And while I don’t encourage this for you all, I for one will be doubling down on franchise lead generation in the next week or so. It’s risky to do that so early, but of course, I just want my own “Netflix” / “Bitcoin” success story to share with my mates when I see them next at the end of this year.

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” Denis Waitley


Franchise Development CEO Brent Dowling is On a Roll!

Franchise Development CEO Brent Dowling is On a Roll!

Dowling and his franchise development team have grown Raintree into a company that can help franchise brands of all sizes and industries achieve their sales goals

Brent Dowling wasn’t supposed to get into franchise development.

Today, he’s the CEO and co-Founder of Raintree, a franchise development firm.

An Australian native who often found himself in the Colorado Rockies as a competitive snowboarder, Dowling thought he’d found his dream job working in the General Assembly of the United Nations. Ultimately, he decided to leave the field and pursue his MBA after realizing it wasn’t a fit for him.

While completing his MBA, he came across franchise development and thought it was an overlooked industry deserving much more attention. He said he didn’t realize it was such “a massive industry,” and decided he could put his skills to use in it. He moved to Denver to be with his then-girlfriend (now wife!) and to pursue his new dream.

Once in Denver, he started working on a part-time basis at Doc Popcorn before he went full time, and he worked there with his future Raintree partner, Mike Edwards. Together, they helped Doc Popcorn grow from 10 units to more than 100 Franchise Owners and 400 units within three years. During that time, Dowling said he and Edwards were approached by different franchise brands and were asked to join their teams and help them grow.

“After that happened a few times, it became pretty clear that there was a demand for folks like us in franchise marketing and franchise sales and we figured ‘Why just help one more company when we can definitely scale this and help multiple companies at a time?’” Dowling said.

Together, Dowling and Edwards decided to launch Raintree.

Raintree’s main focus is to help franchise brands grow, and it has come a long way since it was founded in 2013. It started off working with just a few smaller clients, but the past year has seen major growth for the company. While Raintree still works with smaller clients, it has also expanded its roster to include larger, more established brands, including Jamba Juice, Screenmobile, Cheba Hut and Famous Dave’s.

Raintree spent 2018 working to position itself for optimal growth. The brand brought in one new brand per quarter. They also grew their team to more than 30 team members and are currently “hyper-focused on ensuring each Raintree Team Member is better trained and equipped to outperform all others in their field in this industry,” Dowling said.

As much as Dowling and Edwards enjoyed their time at Doc Popcorn, they were confident in their decision to start their own company and provide functions that were typically found in-house.

“We were really excited because we knew there was this big hole in the franchising industry and we were excited to get to work and start to fill it,” Dowling said. “We grew slow, but smart in the first few years. It paid off, as we are now exceeding franchise growth goals for over 20 partners, and have carefully built the infrastructure and personnel to continue to grow from here.”

Raintree’s services include franchise packaging, lead generation, and franchise sales.

Today, the company seems to turn away far more brands who are looking for a partnership, than those who they bring into their portfolio, which speaks to the major growth it has experienced over the past five years.

“The Raintree team’s straightforward, real language and practicality was totally different than the other franchise development companies I’d talked to,” Screenmobile president and CEO Scott Walker said. “Raintree made no lofty promises and shared our view that working hard leads to progress and success means being flexible and accommodating along the way.”

Some of Raintree’s newest partners include Footprints Floors, Voodoo Brewery, Level UP Learning Center, and Dog Training Elite.

“The most surprising thing we continue to see in brands that apply to partner with us is the lack of energy that some companies are putting into their development programs,” Dowling said. “I think that we’ve learned that there’s a lot of brands out there that could use our help.”

Brands, he said, are playing catch-up, as they are often a bit behind in terms of, for example, lead generation.

“Companies do not always put the right amount of effort into their franchise development programs,” Dowling said. “What we do is we try and take a pretty well-rounded approach. We’re big believers in content. We believe in telling the story. We create a lot of video. We spend a lot of time on social media speaking to potential entrepreneurs. But before we do any of that, we do the hard yards to try to understand exactly who we need to attract to each brand and find out what resonates with them. This type of strategic positioning takes months of continual refinement. The level of patience and flat-out hustle needed here is something we just don’t see in most brands, but something we are very proud to bring to all our partners.”

There has also been some self-development. Dowling and Edwards made the decision to become franchisors themselves so as to even better understand their partners. Although he’s had several years of experience in growing a brand and helping other brands grow their franchises, there was still something missing. He didn’t feel as if he had true empathy for franchisors, which are RainTree’s valued partners. When an opportunity came up to invest in a franchise, he did so along with Edwards.

“Becoming a franchisor has been a fascinating and rewarding experience,” Dowling said. “We are learning so much more about the industry, and now we can take those learnings and apply them to RainTree and make sure we are the best possible partners. It’s not just about results in terms of awarding franchises, it’s about being great partners for our brands and really enjoying the ride.”

Raintree projects it will bring in at least two new brands each quarter in 2020. Historically, Raintree’s clients have been smaller brands that were just starting out and needed help. Often, they were companies with only two or three locations.

“We’ve really worked hard on making sure that we’ve got a program in place that can help not just young food brands, but any brand of any size in any industry and we’re seeing that with Famous Dave’s, Hounds Town USA and Screenmobile and all these different-sized organizations, and I’m really excited to now deploy that with new partners in 2020,” Dowling said. “But I tell my Raintree teammates all the time; it’s not about being the biggest. I couldn’t care less about how many brands we have. It’s about being the best. That will always be the goal.”

Franchise Marketing Q&A With 1851 Franchise and Brent Dowling

Franchise Marketing Q&A With 1851 Franchise and Brent Dowling

Here at Raintree, we know that an effective franchise marketing strategy is comprised of a number of factors, including a strong social media presence. After all, we’re living in a world where digital consumers spend almost 2.5 hours per day on social networks and messaging sites. Not only that, but 69% of adults in America use at least one social media site. There’s no doubt that when it comes to B2C marketing, businesses need to get and stay current with social media trends in order to keep up with the competition. According to Hootsuite, 90% of brands currently use social media to increase brand awareness and build brand identity among their target consumers. 

However, simply being part of this 90% and using social media channels to promote and build your brand is not enough. The Hootsuite blog post goes on to share that of the brands who use social media for advertising, only 34% of them measure their ROI from social. This means that brands who are spending hundreds, or possibly even thousands of dollars on social media advertising may not be tracking their metrics to assess the effectiveness of their campaigns. Franchise marketing is no exception- franchisors who are not fine-tuning their social sales strategy may be missing out on numerous lead generation opportunities.

As a leader in digital marketing for the franchise development space, Raintree has emerged as an expert in franchise marketing in the age of social media. Our CEO and Founder, Brent Dowling, was recently featured in 1851 Franchise magazine to discuss which metrics brands should be constantly and consistently reviewing in order to ensure an effective social media strategy. Here’s the transcript of 1851’s Industry Spotlight Q&A with Brent: 

1851: What metrics should brands be looking at on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to understand the effectiveness of their efforts?

Dowling: If you’re actively buying ads, the No. 1 metric is Cost-Per-Deal. On those three channels [Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn], this could range from anywhere between $3,000 to $15,000, with the main variable being the initial investment of the franchise. But along the way, we believe it is critical to track awareness metrics, cost-per-lead, cost-per-qualified application, cost per Discovery Day, to name just a few of the more important metrics. 

You will also want to make sure you have an aggressive A/B testing program in place for all social ads. For some of our brands at Raintree, for example, we have up to 25 ads running concurrently that test the impact of certain photos or different verbiage against each other. Facebook’s analytics are as powerful as they are wonderful, so it usually only takes 30 days to figure out exactly what image and verbiage best sell your franchise.

1851: How soon should brands pivot on a strategy if it’s not generating returns?

Dowling: As a general rule of thumb, 90 days for all digital channels. But brands with a higher monthly spend can generate enough data in as little as 30 days to understand the true effectiveness of a given strategy or campaign. 

1851: What are some of the most successful strategy blends you’ve seen work for brands?

Dowling: I could give you a days-long response to this question, which it deserves, but in short form, with Jamba Juice, we spent a great deal of time creating video to highlight franchise owners’ stories. Careful injection of these into Facebook and Instagram resulted in an increase from three deals awarded the year before beginning to work with Raintree to 100 awarded in Year 1 with us.

1851: If you were keynoting a conference, what is the most important lesson you’d teach franchisors on social sales strategy?

Dowling: The lead conversion requires more focus than the lead generation. Most brands focus almost entirely on generating leads, with little to no effort on conversion strategies. This means, what do you do once you get a lead. Call once or twice and let 5 drip emails go out from your CRM [customer relationship management software]? In this instance, you are almost certainly underperforming. From an infrastructure standpoint, Raintree spends 150% more on conversion staff (lead qualifiers, development managers) than we do on lead generation staff (marketing managers, copywriters). In our opinion, lead conversion is where digital deals are truly won.

Raintree has established a comprehensive franchise development program that ensures all our partner brands generate leads from a wide variety of channels and platforms, including social media. Our dedicated Content & Design team works in tandem with our Marketing department to create engaging, results-driven social media content designed to build brand awareness and generate quality leads. Contact Raintree to learn more about how we can help your brand achieve its franchise development goals.  

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