Van Jakes played cornerback in the NFL for eight years, routinely pestering receivers up and down the field while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Green Bay Packers. Jakes says he enjoyed playing football at the professional level and thrived on the competition.
When it came time to retire from the game in 1991, he wasn't looking to sit back and take it easy. He felt that there was more to do. The budding entrepreneur started investigating business opportunities that eventually led him to franchising, and eventually to the McDonald'sbrand.
"I knew I wasn't done building my nest egg," says the 54-year old Jakes. "And I wanted to be a good steward of my financial resources." But, he says, he didn't foresee himself doing so by opening "Van Jakes' Hamburger Stand." That's because he had researched small independent businesses and discovered that only a small percentage of them actually make it on their own. That's when the door to franchising opened wide for him. He walked through and hasn't looked back.
His first McDonald's was in Palm Harbor, Fla., and opened in August 1994. Two years later, he invested in four more restaurants in the Atlanta area, where he lives. Today he operates three McDonald's in the Greater Atlanta area. He's the former president of the National Black McDonald's Operators Association Atlanta chapter and founder of the Jake 22 Management Company.
As a franchisee, he understands the importance of being a part of his community. "I have been operating in Atlanta for 21 years, providing jobs, offering great customer service, and serving hot, fresh food. This is something we live by," he says. His company has been involved in the Wheels of Dream Youth Foundation, working with high school juniors and seniors to provide mentoring and educational opportunities.
He also has developed a program that allows college students to come in for an eight-week internship opportunity, where they learn about business operations and marketing. "I ensure the interns understand that our founder, Ray Kroc, started his career as a blender salesman who had a dream that has turned into a billion-dollar company, and they can do the same thing."
Jakes isn't content in just serving his community, operating his own franchises, and watching the profits roll in. He recently started a consulting business called My 5th Quarter, which offers business and franchise consulting to other former and current professional athletes who want to get into business and have something going after their playing careers end.
"I work with them to teach fundamentals like getting into franchising, starting and staying in business, taking your business to the next level, and how to make your money work for you," he says. "It's rewarding to share with others things that I've learned and to watch them succeed and grow."
Name: Van K. Jakes
Company: Jake 22 Management Company
No. of units by brand: 3 McDonald's
Family: Wife Chrystal, 4 children: Leigh, VJ II, Jasmine, and Jordan
Years in franchising: 23
Years in current position: 23
Body shop, cleanup
Staying out of gangs (which were highly prevalent) and being involved in sports, which kept my attention and focus during a time I could have easily gone the other way.
My family and my eight-year NFL career.
Biggest current challenge:
Next big goal:
To help current and former athletes make a successful transition into the world of business.
First turning point in your career:
Realizing that I had to learn every detail of the business.
Best business decision:
Moving to Atlanta.
Hardest lesson learned:
Going from 1 unit to 4. (More isn't always better.)
My work week generally goes from 50 to 80 hours per week--non-stop!
I work out 3 to 4 days a week.
Best advice you ever got:
Put money, savings into a black hole... deep!
What's your passion in business?
How do you balance life and work?
I balance life one day at a time, with a three-month plan.
Ginger snap cookies.
Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.
What do most people not know about you?
I can't swim and I love my pool!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
An NFL player, a running back.
Person I'd most like to have lunch with:
I'd love to have lunch with President Barack Obama.
The numbers don't lie.
Management method or style:
My management method is permissive. Get the right people in the right seats.
Working with physical and mental stages of life.
How do others describe you?
As kind and loyal.
One thing I'm looking to do better:
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment:
I suggest a few things to get the desired result.
How close are you to operations?
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor?
Trust and support.
What I need from vendors:
Timeliness and the best pricing.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
Yes, we have become more mobile and digital.
How is social media affecting your business?
Social media is the future. It is where our customers are going, so we have to be right there with them on it.
How do you hire and fire?
We use a central hiring process that starts with all applicants applying online. Then they complete a virtual interview. After that they are granted a face-to-face interview and are then selected for hire by my training manager, supervisor, and store manager.
How do you train and retain?
We have systems in place that we utilize. Additionally, we spend a lot of time giving one-on-one, shoulder-to-shoulder training with each employee. We are able to retain employees by having an open-door policy and by creating and fostering a good work environment and culture that makes our employees want to continue on with us.
How do you deal with problem employees?
By allowing them to find employment elsewhere.
Fastest way into my doghouse:
To misuse my people or my money.
What skills or experience from sports have carried over to operating a business?
Which do you find more competitive, sports or business?
Why did you choose franchising as an investment option?
The success rate.
How did you transition from sports to franchising?
What was your greatest achievement in sports?
When I played with the Green Bay Packers and intercepted a pass in a game against my former team, the New Orleans Saints.
What has been your biggest accomplishment as a franchisee?
Acquiring my first McDonald's at the age of 31.
Retire from the day-to-day.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
By "What have I done today?" and "Who have I helped?"
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
In 5 years consulting athletes and assisting them in acquiring restaurants. In 10 years to be consulting with 20 to 30 athletes per year, helping them to enjoy the success of becoming a franchisee.
How is the economy in your region affecting you, your employees, your customers?
Atlanta is a great place for business currently. The job market is strong and competitive, but we have no shortage on customers. Customers are loyal. They continue to go to places like McDonald's because they can rely on the consistency of quality, service, cleanliness, and the value.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market?
In the demographic that my units are in, we are constantly seeing economic growth.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business?
In many ways. I am more cautious and concerned than ever before about how I spend money, what my budgets are, who I do business with, and making sure that I am always getting the best value and pricing on every single thing that I purchase.
How do you forecast for your business?
I forecast quantitatively on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis by looking at the previous sales and at other variables like upcoming promotions, market competition, weather, holidays, etc. and make my projections from there.
What are the best sources for capital expansion?
I've found that it is easier to fund growth in an existing business than it is to fund a startup. Developing and maintaining great relationships with your local bank, credit union, and/or nonprofit financial intermediaries helps a ton. The best sources for capital expansion will ultimately be dictated by the very specific circumstances of the business. Line of credit loans, installment loans, interim loans, and SBA loans, to name a few, are all great sources.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
I've had good, bad, and great experiences with all of the above. As I said, maintaining key relationships is a major factor in successfully facilitating business with these institutions, once the direct or immediate contact is no longer in place. I can say that I have experienced many challenges. It doesn't matter if it is a local or a national institution.
What are you doing to take care of your employees?
I have implemented many benefits and incentives, from cash bonuses to paid vacations, health insurance, life insurance, 401(k) programs, access to many scholarship opportunities, and child care assistance to name just a few. We celebrate high school and college graduations, holidays and birthdays, and really show our employees how much we value and appreciate them on a continual basis.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)?
One of the things that has had the biggest impact on our business is the impending talk of minimum wage increases. If and when this does happen it will definitely affect the way that we do business. We will hire fewer young people, have fewer employees working in general, and really attempt to maximize the unit production of the employees who are working.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
By providing them with cash bonuses. They are highly motivated by this type of incentive.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
The recent development of my new company, My 5th Quarter, is my exit strategy. My 5th Quarter will function as a consulting company to aid and assist current and former athletes into making their transition into the 5th quarter of their lives in business.
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