The Australian franchising industry is a thriving one. Time and again we are made aware of the growing number of franchise systems in Australia; the franchise contribution to GDP statistics; the number of jobs that franchising produces; and the opportunity for entrepreneurs and mums and dads alike to develop their business dreams.

Online Shopping

In many ways, Australia is leading the charge in fostering franchise development. Overseas counterparts seek guidance from the Australian example when developing their own structures, systems and codes of conduct. This is an exciting place to be, but it also produces pressure to “keep on top of things”.

This is certainly the case with online presence and sales. We now live in a world where many prefer to jump online rather than jump into the car. Our typing fingers get more of a workout than our legs, and our credit card numbers are known by heart (Pay Pal has become our best pal).

As a consumer, this is an exciting time. We can avoid the crowds and browse all the colours and sizes available. We can shop for the best price without ever leaving our desk chair, and we can have it delivered straight to our door. The time-consuming part has become one of sifting through all of the special deals that arrive in our inbox each day.

For franchise systems, however, tension exists between bricks and mortar stores and online shopping options, the latter of which potentially take customers away from the franchisee and send them directly to the franchisor. Essentially, where cooperation once existed, an environment for competition has thrived. The franchisor now competes directly with the franchisee.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does present new challenges for franchise systems. Many existing franchise agreements were signed before the development of online sale systems. These agreements now require amendments around marketing contributions, territory, competition clauses, just to name a few.

These amendments produce friction, tension and resentment when not handled well. When handled badly, the stage is set for a new category and scale of franchise conflict.

However, when managed well, systems can embrace this opportunity to foster collaborative approaches, clever and mutually acceptable clauses, and ongoing relationships between the franchisor and franchisees.

This is a great time to “make the time” for inclusive dialogue. It is a time for sharing concerns and for generating options that meet the core business needs of all involved, while preserving the franchise relationship. It is a time to listen to each other, to learn from the past, and to share information about the future.

This is a time when communication is vital, to get everyone onboard, and a time when facilitated discussions and early engagement of a third party mediator could really benefit all involved.

Over the past decade I have had the good fortune to work with franchise systems, managing conflict through mediation processes that encourage joint problem solving and preservation of profitable and rewarding relationships. Now more than ever I see the opportunity for these relationships to flourish and embrace this new age of “technology shopping” – by having structured and inclusive discussions rather than unilateral changes without stakeholder engagement.

Rather than let online sales become the new battlefield, why not take this opportunity to make it the platform for new business collaboration?

Bianca Keys is the director of Bianca Keys Dispute Resolution Consulting, providing conflict prevention, management and resolution processes for franchise systems. For 7 years she acted as Assistant Mediation Adviser under the Australian Franchising Code of Conduct, managing in excess of 700 franchise disputes. Bianca remains active within the franchise community as a specialist mediator, facilitator for system-wide discussions, and as a conflict management coach. She also trains people in negotiation, mediation skills and complaints handling. Bianca looks forward to helping systems embrace the online discussion to make it work for, rather than against, all involved.