It’s no secret how tough the past year has been – both personally and professionally – for so many people.

The near-immediate shifts needed to combat the COVID-19 outbreak last spring brought such an acceleration of consumer trends, thrusting businesses of all kinds into a new world.

Retail franchising has long been a business sector built on a combination of brand strength, systemwide support and franchisee work ethic. And though the circumstances 2020 introduced caused plenty of stress and heartbreak for businesses of all kinds, franchises that emphasize that combination actually found a way to both survive in the short term and carry optimism into the future of retail franchising.

What Changed?

How often has the term “pivot” been used in the past 12 months?

Despite its relentless presence in business conversations, that term has been a symbol of the shared experience for every business owner, franchisee, franchisor executive and employee. Rarely have we seen such a universal and immediate change to business models as we have since the pandemic hit, particularly for brick-and-mortar operations.

COVID-19 forced an acceleration of the trends towards online shopping over the past several years. Businesses had to alter their models to accommodate curbside pickup and other options to meet the needs and convenience for customers. New product offerings helped to sustain a dramatic change in spending habits. New marketing materials were needed to make customers aware of how businesses were handling the new environment in a safe and thoughtful fashion.

These changes couldn’t answer every question, but in some instances, those who were able to successfully withstand the rigors of COVID-era business may be well-prepared for the coming “return to normalcy” everyone awaits.

But the question remains: what will the future of retail franchising look like in the post-pandemic business environment?

What to Expect Going Forward?

The good news for businesses, particularly retail franchises, is that many of the shifts can actually inform a lot of consumer behaviors going forward. Of course, we’re all ready to get back to a sense of normalcy, but the future of retail franchising is likely going to mirror much of what we saw over the past year – or at least be heavily shaped by it.

Efforts to boost shopping convenience – like curbside pick-up, for example – are here to stay. Online and e-commerce were already well established before the pandemic hit, but it will certainly continue to drive more and more of an impact on shopping habits.

There is also much more to retail franchising than simply product offerings. People still crave education and fun. Here at Wild Birds Unlimited, for example, live streams, social media group events and a new podcast became prime opportunities to enhance our engagement with customers in markets throughout the country.

Though virtual community building might not be as necessary as it has been throughout the past year, there will still be value in providing convenient spaces to stay visible to your customer base.

How Do Franchises Build Off These Lessons?

Communication is always key in business operations but was at an absolute premium for franchise systems withstanding the pandemic. Not only can franchisors provide support and guidance to their franchisees, but they can also use the lessons of the past year to subtly alter their models to ensure they are nimble.

That is exactly what we at Wild Birds Unlimited aimed to do.

From guiding franchisees through loan and grant applications to providing them with countless marketing materials, operational support was paramount. From introducing new products like “Share The Joy” boxes, augmenting and promoting our franchisees online commerce sites and helping them to communicating with customers through those live streams and podcasting, the pandemic was an opportunity find better ways to build brand strength, customer loyalty and consumer traffic.

Our wildlife franchise was one of so many retail operations that had to find ways to not only survive the challenges of the pandemic but to learn from them going forward. Because so many others approached the past year the same way, the future of retail franchising is still bright. Here at Wild Birds Unlimited, that bright future is already being optimized.