I have represented many franchisee associations over the years, and have had a chance to observe and be a part of many that provided true value to its members, and unfortunately a few that fell short. I'm asked by franchisees quite frequently whether they should join their systems association, so let me lay out what I feel are some key points.
Franchisee associations should be independent; their purpose, in part, is to level the playing field and provide the franchisees with leverage in dealing with the franchisor, as well as to vet programs, or champion changes to the franchise system. This is not to say they do not work cooperatively with the franchisor, because they should, but their interests should always be focused on enhancing the system and franchisees bottom line and equity.
Independent associations provide a means for many franchisees to join together and provide a single voice and support for those issues and propositions most impactful to their system. The leadership of the association is typically volunteer based, and franchisees themselves. There should be opportunities for franchisees to become involved in the association and it's inner workings.
Associations must be excellent communicators and disseminators of information, keeping the members informed of the processes and initiatives that are being proposed by the franchisor, and allow for polling and feedback of the membership, to insure the positions taken by the association can be coalesced into affirmative action and support or opposition when necessary.
Successful associations may have an affinity program, one that provides group discounts, programs, and in many cases products and supplies, at a discounted price, thereby allowing members to monetize the membership and get a return on their membership investment. Larger associations, independently or in cooperation with the franchisor, may have an annual meeting, or convention, showcasing education and training, as well as vendor or trade shows.
One of the key features to the success of the association, and its endeavors, is the engagement of its membership. As a member, you should stay informed, ask "what have you done for me lately?" and take stock periodically of whether membership is positively impacting your operation and that of the entire system.
A strong, well managed association, can balance power, provide oversight and camaraderie to an otherwise disconnected system, and that is a powerful tool.