The Global Network

A veritable journeyman of franchising, Mark Liston’s experience in the business is multifarious and vast. He has brought the best practices he developed in different companies and countries to the glass-repair franchise Glass Doctor, where he now serves as president. Below, Mark takes a moment to discuss what he’s learned—from leadership positions on committees and boards within the International Franchise Association to working with his franchisees.

You’ve been in franchising nearly your entire career. How did you apply that experience to Glass Doctor?
I’ve been in franchising for 32 years. I spent the first five years at the corporate level, the next 13 years in the field, and then went back to corporate. I’ve had a chance to see it from both sides. In doing so, it really helped me because my goal now is to have our franchisees see things through my eyes, and I see things through their eyes.

Which side of the business do you enjoy more?
I enjoy the franchisor side of things. I like working with a variety of people every day. I like change; I’m very comfortable with change. In the franchisee role, there’s more discipline—you really have to grind it out every day. I also feel that you can impact a lot more people on this level and help more people’s careers. This is why I have so much respect for entrepreneurs and franchisees.

What are some considerations for a company thinking about franchising their business?
They need to go to franchise.org, the International Franchise Association [IFA] website, and go through it. There’s some great expertise to take away on what it takes to be a franchisor. I would also recommend they go to at least one annual IFA meeting and talk to other franchisors, especially ones that are smaller, and find out how long it’s taken them, what the costs have been, and the challenges and costs about being a franchisor.

I wanted to ask you about that; talk about your involvement with IFA.
I got involved about 12 years ago. I went to a convention, and then I got involved with the marketing and PR committee. I believe if you’re going to be on a committee, you have to really work on it. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to be involved with the Institute of Certified Franchise Executives [CFE], and they asked me to be on the Board of Governors of the CFE program. Today, I’m the chair of that program. Later, I was asked to be on the Board of Trustees for the Educational Foundation of the IFA, a board I’m still on.

Mark Liston’s thoughts on managing a successful franchise

•    The best practices are invented in the field, not in the corporate office.
•    The relationship between a franchisee and franchisor is a lot like a marriage: both parties have to be sure they want to get into it before they sign on the dotted line.
•    Keep working on best practices every week, month, and year to make sure those best practices are developed and shared throughout the organization.

Is that level of involvement rewarding?
Oh, it’s unbelievably rewarding. You really find best practices when you sit down with people who founded major companies, and what you find is that they are very willing to help you. It’s because of my involvement in the IFA that I got to know Dina Dwyer-Owens, and this is the reason I’m here. Had that not have happened, I wouldn’t be here today.
How did you come into your current position with Glass Doctor, and how did that role evolve?
I’ve been with Glass Doctor for about three years. As I said, I knew Dina because of my involvement with the IFA. She was very involved; in fact, she became chairwomen of the IFA about three years ago. I got to the point of my career where I knew I wanted to stay in franchising on the franchisor side for the rest of my working life. Then it was a matter of choosing what organization I wanted to be with. I believed it then, and I believe it today: The Dwyer Group, Inc. is the best organization in franchising.

What are some challenges of bringing a business over the northern border?
I was with a company called Valpak for eight years, and at the time I joined them I was living outside of Milwaukee. My first job with Valpak was as the franchise consultant for all of Canada. At that point, I thought that what the US does and what Canada does were the same; I figured the cultures were fairly similar. I had 23 franchisees at that point, from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to Prince Edward Island. As I sat down with them, I realized very quickly I was in for a culture shock. There were many differences, from taxation to virtually every phase of the business. National advertisements run in the States that you thought made it across the border, and then you go there and they haven’t. You sit back and say “wow”—it’s a huge country, and it’s so different from a government standpoint, in regard to cultural understanding and also just how they do business. As a franchisor, you need to find an expert that has been active internationally, and then rely on them to work with you. It cuts down the learning curve tremendously.

You were named president of Glass Doctor fairly recently?
Yes, in December of 2011.

How has your role changed?
Well, I like it a lot better. I liked being the vice president before, but I really like being president. [Laughs.] What I like about it is that the responsibility really does stop here. Every day you have to make the right decision for about 200 franchisees. And when you make the best decision for the whole, it might not always be the best decision for somebody individually. You have to understand that. Secondly, a president of any franchise organization needs to really listen and not have a specific agenda, but have an agenda that’s developed with his or her franchisees. You have to be very open to ideas.