In this “Meet the Mentor” series, we share key insights from leading franchise professionals to help you learn from their experiences and get inspired by their successes. Whether you want to own a franchise, operate your system more efficiently, or improve your work-life balance as a franchisor, these high performers will provide the advice you need.
Interviews were conducted pre-COVID-19.
Hao Lam is the CEO and Chairman of Best in Class Education Center. Hao has devoted his entire career to advocate for supplemental education. As a child living under the communist regime in Vietnam, Hao was faced with adversity and hardships that discouraged his opportunity to attain an education. As a teenager, Hao escaped political persecution and made his way to Canada where he realized his dream of graduating from high school. His amazing story can be read in his book,From Bad to Worse to Best in Class: A Refugee’s Success Story.
In 1995, Hao’s true passion for teaching and entrepreneurship propelled him to open his first tutoring school in Seattle. He currently owns and operates 10 education centers throughout the Seattle metropolitan area. In 2011, he franchised the business and has since facilitated the opening of another 60+ franchised centers across the nation.
Hao’s mentoring advice focuses on establishing a framework for success, setting business expectations for each and every franchisee, and knowing when to step away: “The single most important task for a new franchisee to do in the survival stage is to stay laser-focused on customer acquisition,” he says.
Q: What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love to deploy in your business and why?
Food is the ultimate connector and is the universal bonding agent that brings people together. Every quarter, I entertain all of my team members by organizing Chef Hao Day! My wife, Lisa and I don our aprons and launch into a cooking extravaganza where we whip up our favorite Southeast Asia culinary dishes. In our culture, it is important to invite the mingling of the five senses of smell, touch, taste, vision, and hearing into all gatherings in order to fully share and embrace the gastronomic and social experience.
My wife and I strive to share our life experiences and authentic specialties as a way to connect our traditions to Best in Class Education Company’s core values that stand for PEACE: Positive, Energetic, Adaptable, Collaborative, and Efficient. This cornerstone celebration is pivotal in uniting all of us and allows for understanding, respect, and commitment in our organization. Chef Hao Day! is wildly popular and the enthusiasm is palpable when enjoying each other’s company while sharing our life experiences through the pleasure of food.
Q: When you feel overwhelmed or losing focus, what do you do?
When I feel overwhelmed or unfocused, I take a few minutes to look at my life, family, and company goals. This allows me to reset and refocus my mind on the big picture priorities rather than the small details.
In order to relieve the stressors, I find that making notes eases my mind and helps simplify goals and objectives. Seeing how far I have come, from point A to point B, and where I need to go, is important to assess daily so not to get torn in multiple directions. I often ask myself if the thing I am doing is benefiting the company, franchisees, and customers, and if not, I look to rework the project in order to make sure that there is balance and focus.
Perspective is everything when dealing with too much stress or a lack of motivation. My life has been a roller coaster, and I look to all of my ups and downs to gain clarity. When faced with adversity I have found the strength to overcome obstacles that may blur my focus and will seek to find the strength to forge ahead.
Q: If you could start your franchise over from scratch, what terms or requirements would you change and why?
In retrospect, I would have set forth a strategic plan to maximize efficiency by implementing standard operating procedures (SOPs). When we first started franchising, we had a solid business model in place, but did not understand the importance of creating a framework for everyone to equally emulate. Our vision now is to build strategic and informational well thought out documents that can guide all franchisees to work in concert. SOPs are a critical foundational tool that support brand standards, but also create discipline for franchisees so they can embrace efficiency and realize their financial success.
Q: What advice would you give to a smart, driven, new franchisee about to enter the new world of franchising? What advice should they ignore?
When a new franchisee signs on to Best in Class, we introduce the 4S model – Survival, Stable, Success, and Scaling Up – to assist them in setting their business expectations correctly. It is imperative that all franchisees understand the growth patterns of a new business and can strategize accordingly.
In the Survival stage, the franchisee needs to understand that they will be handling day-to-day operations and that their cash flow will be very limited. The quality of the customer’s experience is pivotal at this stage, so the owner needs to concentrate their time and efforts on attracting new business. The franchisee must invest all of their time, energy, and money into the business in order to generate cash flow. Only once revenue picks up, can the franchisee start to focus on other parts of their business. The single most important task for a new franchisee to do in the survival stage is to stay laser-focused on customer acquisition.
In the Stable stage, the franchisee now has an established business that allows them to break even and start earning a salary. Typically, operation responsibilities may be better allocated at this time due to additional personnel, yet all imperative tasks still belong to the franchisee. In the Stable stage, the business owner must concentrate on retention and driving revenue whilst also staying focused on customer acquisition. At this stage, the franchisee must stabilize their business by finding ways to reduce expenses without sacrificing quality.
The Success stage is when the franchisee has reached profitability. The franchisee must shift their focus to being efficient, which includes delegating tasks, utilizing tools and technology, and automating processes. Historically, franchisees at this stage start to become stagnant because they feel financially secure and do not want to take more risks. It is important that the franchisee does not become so complacent that they are unable to adapt to inevitable shifts in their marketplace.
The Scaling up stage is the most difficult yet rewarding step for a franchisee to reach. This franchisee has a strong business model which allows for them to obtain multiple locations that can be managed by a strong executive team. The business owner has more flexibility to watch their KPIs, company objectives, and growth patterns. The scaling up stage is a good place to be for the franchisee that enjoys both business planning and financial stability.
As a franchisee, it is important to know the 4S model when entering into business. This model allows for the franchisee to make informed and practical business decisions. The franchisee can also set their expectations correctly so they can embrace the rewards and anticipate the growing pains at each stage.
It is important that franchisees ignore any advice to open up several businesses before they are at the success stage. It is much more important that the franchisee is stable and concentrating on their company core values, culture, customer base, processes, and infrastructure. Franchisees must be patient and continue to work towards the next stage of growth while remaining mindful of their resources: time, capital, and staffing.
To provide you with more insights and advice from successful franchise brands, we regularly host expert-led webinars. Learn how to create a roadmap for unit level profitability in 2021 by watching our recorded webinar, Franchise Budgeting for 2021.