How to Make a Franchise Shareable

Q: How can I promote choice within my franchise while maintaining a high-quality product?

A: Great Harvest Bread Company is the largest group of specialty bread retailers in the United States with over 200 bakeries in 39 states.

Great Harvest’s “freedom franchise” business model encourages bakery owners to exercise free choice. Great Harvest is not a cookie-cutter franchise in the fact that no two bakeries are alike. Every bakery owner knows that his or her bakery is “the neighborhood bakery.”

Unlike most franchises, owners of Great Harvest franchises can choose just about everything about their business, with the exception of wheat. Great Harvest buys all its wheat from family-owned farms located near Great Falls, Montana because of the taste and baking properties of wheat from that area. Beyond that, bakery owners can purchase other seasonal ingredients from local vendors.

Giving bakery owners the opportunity to make their own decisions on what specific ingredients to use in their products allows for a greater sense of control over their individual bakery and a feeling of uniqueness among competitors.

But the company is shareable in other ways, as well. Before Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and blogs, Great Harvest was harnessing technology to allow bakery owners to communicate online, 24/7. Its "social network" is called the "Breadboard" and the company has been using it for decades to facilitate conversations, criticism, solutions and share information. The Breadboard is a place where bakery owners speak system-wide and never fear censorship.

Great Harvest also has several councils composed of bakery owners, who represent all of Great Harvest's bakery owners on issues relating to the company's franchise covenants, marketing strategies, product issues, group purchasing, trends and more. The Great Harvest councils, the Intranet, and field representatives all facilitate robust dialogue and active listening.

"Democratic practices are central to our organization because empowered, happy owners run amazing and profitable bakeries," says Mike Ferretti. "Our owners are connected to a lively network of people who love what Great Harvest stands for - having fun, creating the freshest whole grain bread in the neighborhood, giving generously to the communities they serve, supporting family-owned farms, and creating a local bakery that's upbeat and family friendly."