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.
“I've always said there's a lot of dough in cookies,” said Lawrence “Doc” Cohen — and based on his successes with the Great American Cookie Company, he was right.
Cohen is the founder and former CEO of Deblan Corporation and founder and CEO of Cookie Associates, a leading franchisee of the Great American Cookie Company (GACC). Over the years, he built what was a fun, part-time career into a dynamic, state-of-the-art franchise conglomerate. Today, Cookie Associates currently operates Great American Cookies, PretzelMaker, TCBY and Coffee Beanery stores.
For his hard work, Cohen has earned a long list of accolades. He was honored three times by GACC and the International Franchise Association (IFA) with a Franny Award, the Distinguished Achievement Award as Franchisee of the Year. He was twice named by GACC as Franchisee of the Decade, and he was the first-ever franchisee inducted into the IFA Hall of Fame.
As a franchisee-turned-franchise expert, Cohen offers a unique perspective to those in the franchise industry. Below, he answers a few questions about his successes and the advice he has for both franchisors and franchisees.
Q: How has a franchise operations failure, or apparent operations failure, set you up for future success? Do you have a “favorite failure”?
A: Valentine’s Day is our biggest day of the year. We sell hundreds of our Cookie Cakes that day, and if we do not get ahead, it is impossible to catch up. My very first Valentine’s Day was a total disaster. The night crew did not complete their work and didn’t inform the morning team, creating a hopeless task of completing the hundreds of orders to be picked up that day. Then, half the morning crew, including the opening manager who had the store keys, showed up an hour late.
Need I say more? Dozens of guests showed up throughout the day to pick up their cakes that were not ready. Lots of screaming and shouting from a hoard of angry people. Lesson learned — Murphy’s Law. Never take anything for granted and have backup plans in anticipation of all possible problems.
Q: What is one of the best or most worthwhile operations investments you’ve ever made in your franchise business?
A: The best investments I have ever made have been in people. Good or bad, it is people who make it happen. Bill Rosenberg always said, “A man (or woman) does not build a company. A man (or woman) builds an organization, and the organization builds the company.” Bill was a very smart man.
Q: What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love to deploy in your business and why?
A: I almost always use the word “we” as opposed to the word “I” when talking about our accomplishments. The last thing that “I” did was hire the first team at our first store 40 years ago. After that, the team did the rest. Hopefully I provided some leadership along the way, but “we” built the company.
Q: What are bad recommendations you hear in franchising circles?
A: “You don’t need to belong to IFA. It is not worth the investment in time and money.” That is so untrue, especially for emerging franchisors and for all franchisees. I have been in franchising for 40 years and still learn something new at every IFA event. Where else can one sit down with experts in so many areas of business who are willing to share their best practices and experience? I feel like I get a mini-MBA at every session.
Also, “Don’t let your franchisees talk to each other. They might organize and become your enemy.” That is very bad advice. Franchisees can be the biggest asset of a franchise system. If you have a visionary leading the organization, as we do at Global Franchise Group, everyone benefits from the collective. “A rising tide lifts all boats!”
Q: In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
When my close friend David Barr was CEO at Great American Cookies, I learned that never saying “no” could be a good thing. I can’t recall him ever using that word. Everything was always on the table for discussion, even things that we all recognized could never happen. But who knows? Things change, so why not keep talking.
Distractions are everywhere, especially if one is a leader. Everyone wants your attention and time, but there are not enough hours in the day to do everything. I have come to accept that, and to do as much as I can without stressing over the things I did not get to today. There is always tomorrow. I would prefer to do something well tomorrow than to do that task poorly today. Prioritize. I am much better at doing that now than I used to be.
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.”