A company exec tells us about the business plan
In the February issue of F&H, we sat down with Joel Friedman, senior vice-president of Franchising and Real Estate at Toronto-based Shoeless Joe’s, to talk about a variety of topics, including the family casual chain’s new smaller-concept units, the state of the Canadian franchise sector coming out of the recession and how the company selects its franchisees and finds them the right locations. We’re happy to bring you some more of that conversation.
F&H: So what I’m seeing with your new, 3,300-square-foot smaller-footprint units is the desire to have a varied portfolio of concept sizes to fit into different spaces. Not only do you want to make yourself accessible to all types of consumers, but different types of franchisees as well.
JF: Yes, that’s correct. It is looking at where we can fit into communities. If a new, 3,300-square-foot unit is the not right fit for one community, we’ll build a larger one. We have a standard prototype, and then we have customized Shoeless Joe’s. We’re putting one into the Eglinton and Laird area now, which is another great community. It is 3,300 square feet, with a basement, so it’s going to seat a bit more.
When you say “customizing the units,” does the franchisee ever have special requests, and will you try to cater to those wants and needs?
At the end of the day, we work with our franchisees. So they come first, and then the real estate comes after. So a franchisee will have an idea of where they want to go, or grow. Now they may want to put a 5,000-square-foot unit in a certain area, and we may say to them, let’s go with a 4,000-square-foot one; we work together to make sure it is the right fit.
What if they just want a few extra seats and jiggle things around a bit?
Well, if you look at our new prototype, it’s all very typical. The horseshoe-shaped bar is going to be in the middle, they will have the high-top tables and booths on the bar side and regular tables and booths in the dining room. So we’re going to have that mixture of seating. As long as it fits within that guideline, they can add and subtract seats. Now, if they wanted no booths at all, we would come back and tell them they need booths, because people like sitting in them. We use our 25 years of experience and knowledge of what works.
I guess that way they can have a bit of input in the process?
Yes, it is a relationship. The way I look at it when I do my franchisee selections, is that it is like a funnel. When you first meet someone, then you funnel it down …You have to fit them where they want to go. Now, some franchisees are a bit more open. When we found our franchisee in Leamington, he was just looking in Leamington. He was there for 23 years and that’s where he wanted to go. Other guys will relocate.
So do your designers, MacKay Wong, look at the floor plan of a specific location and figure out the best, most efficient use of the space?
Yes. They get the floor plan and go in and do their thing, but only after a lot of talk and board-room meetings about it on our end. But they also have a lot of input on it, too because of their experience in restaurant design. They know what to do, and they know our input, and that’s how it happens. It’s about how to get the most seats in a limited amount of space.
And not make it seem like everyone is on top of each other.
Are you open to new franchisees with no experience?
Our goal is to always have people with restaurant experience, but we look at each case individually. We will assess their strengths and their weaknesses, and then we will match them up accordingly. If they lack kitchen experience, we will make sure they hire a great kitchen manager, to ensure they have a great team. The best franchisees know where they are lacking, and we can then pair them up with people that have been in the business. If a successful business person comes to me and says they want to get in the business, but they have no restaurant experience, I will team them up with a great GM. When they ask for one, without me saying it, I know they’re going to be successful in our chain.
You’ve said Shoeless did OK during the recent downturn. How did Shoeless grow during the recession?
When times were bad, we were hiring people. We added more positions as we grow, and we will continue to do so because we know we need strategic growth. Internally, a franchisor has to be ready for that growth, so we’ve been planning for this. We have been adding bodies, adding training, adding operations. I have been adding people, too, and you don’t see that in many companies.
Any plans for national expansion?
Over time, yes, but not right now. There are still a lot of opportunities in Ontario, but if the right thing came up in the East or West, we would look at it.