Think financial advisors don’t have much to learn from the food industry? Think again, according to Kat Cole, the COO of Focus Brands and head of its business in North America — which includes Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, Jamba Juice and other franchises.
At the Raymond James Women’s Symposium in Tampa on Wednesday before about 400 female advisors and 250 other guests, the president and CEO of Focus admitted that producing both quality and consistency on a daily basis “is a challenge, but a powerful network … can deliver on this mission.”
“When it comes to food and financial advice, there are similarities,” Cole explained, such as their having brick-and-mortar locations and engaging in community-based work.
There’s also the growing digital competition and transformation of the industries. “More and more sales happen with UberEats … and that causes us to question, what will happen with my … business 20 years out?”
With change a constant, it’s critical for advisors to accept the fact that the next generation of clients “will view it all differently from their parents,” Cole said.
To stay in business, try these three strategies: One, “evolve your products and services so they feel relevant to consumers”; two, address economic issues involved with your business model, i.e., the unit-level costs tied to labor expenses, competitive pressures, etc.; and three, figure out which brands/products and services you want to keep in your portfolio.
To maximize your impact on clients, “fire in the belly” is crucial, Cole said. “If we don’t do something, the competition will.”
It’s worth questioning which products and services you have decided not to offer and say, “That’s unacceptable,” she said.
Instead, ask yourself, “I have to do this — and how can I do it credibly? With partners?” she said. In other words, focus on how collaboration and cooperation can help you become more competitive.
As for keeping your business in balance, “Just because you can do [something new] does not mean you should,” Cole said. Businesses have limited resources, so it’s best to focus on producing your “highest return” rather than “being it all for everyone.”
How did she learn this? Through the school of hard knocks, she says, describing what happened in 2010. That’s when consumer spending was down, and the anti-carbohydrate Atkins diet was popular.
Just for the record, Cole said, “People do not go to the mall or the airport in a recession … when our core products were up against all the trends. But the challenge is to not run [away] and figure out how” to survive.
In the case of Focus Brands, it thrived — doubling earnings before taxes, depreciation and amortization in three years.
Across industries, Cole explained, there are many similarities and it comes down to being resilient — using people, technology and other resources to empower success.
For the executive, two success stories and one failure stand out from the rough period of 2010 and the following few years.
She attributes the successes to her desire “to see the truth and ask questions over and over [about the business] to get an understanding of the patterns,” which she did for about 60 days by working in the franchise operations.