Automated franchises are on the rise — in franchise businesses as well as in other industries. Health and wellness franchises like Anytime Fitness and Planet Beach Spa let customers access automatic exercise and spa treatments without having to wait for human workers. Ordering kiosks are showing up in fast food and fast casual restaurants. Automated systems in the back room cut down on the need for employees, too.
Is this a trend to watch or a flash in the pan?
Automation is on the rise.
We’re saying it again because it’s true. The Internet of Things is bringing about what many observers are calling the next Industrial Revolution. New technologies allow inanimate objects to communicate with each other, and to be controlled from a central computer program. At the same time, robots are getting smarter and motion control is getting better, with smarter sensors that can visually identify targets and robotic machinery that can work safely near human beings.
Factories that used to need hundreds of workers no function with a handful of engineers to oversee the machinery. Offices that required multiple accountants and data scientists manage with software and one person who can use that software.
The Automat was a fad, but today’s smart machinery is the culmination of a couple hundred years of development.
People are getting used to automation.
There was a time when the American consumer’s main association for robots was horror movies. Not any more. A recent study found that more than half of all consumers surveyed would be happy to use self-service devices for ordering and payment in restaurants. Among customers 18 to 34 year old, it’s 71%. Those over 65 were less willing, but about a third of people in this age group were willing to accept automatic devices.
At a fine dining restaurant, being waited on is part of the experience. The deep human connection with the guy at the counter of a burger place doesn’t seem to be as essential. Customers generally were fine with the idea of a device at the table which would take their order and their payment.
As we get cozier with our smart phones and fonder of interactive retail displays, we’ll be more comfortable with automated services.
Franchises are more nervous about human workers than robots right now.
Fast food franchise workers have been in the headlines without a break for over a year, and now employment issues for home care agencies — one of the highest growth and highest profit segments of the franchise business world — are hitting the news. With uncertainties about minimum wage, health care, “joint employment” and other hiring issues, franchises may be more willing to invest in automation than to take chances with large numbers of employees in fields that often have high turnover.
Some franchise systems have historically relied heavily on low cost workers, such as high school students looking for an undemanding after school job. If that resource is no longer going to work out, automation may be the way to go.
While you’ll know whether automated franchises are the best bet for you, it is at least safe to say that automation shouldn’t be considered a negative when you’re choosing a franchise option.