Culture is something that can't be measured by Google analytics. But it has inherent value and it makes a tangible difference. Creating, implementing, and maintaining a strong culture that reflects your values and beliefs can pay off in employee and customer satisfaction - not to mention the bottom line at your franchise locations. Creating a culture is just what Brent Collier has done.
He operates 14 restaurants from 6 different franchise brands along a 25-mile stretch in the tourist mecca of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and faces a nice kind of problem: his restaurants compete for the same customers. But that's not really a problem, since the area draws more than 11 million tourists a year.
The way he figures it, most visit for an average of three days, which he translates into "nine meal opportunities." So whether it's the buffet at his two Golden Corrals, the fondue at The Melting Pot he operates, or the finger-lickin' treats at his Corky's Ribs & BBQ, he has it covered. His three TGI Fridays and a Quaker Steak & Lube round out his franchised brands, but wait, there's more! He also owns eight Flapjack's Pancake Cabins, has a catering contract with the Gatlinburg Convention Center, and oh yes, don't forget his campground.
With 70 percent of the U.S. population within a 12-hour drive, people visit two or three times a year to see popular attractions ranging from Dollywood to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "They don't wear it out," he says. And they have to eat. Collier estimates that about a third of the 11 million yearly tourists eat at one of his restaurants. "We try to cross-brand inside, offer a little bit of a discount to my other restaurants," he says.
To keep them coming--and coming back--he offers what he calls Deep South hospitality. "We have a people culture. The tourists are our guests and we make sure they're welcome. We want to take care of them, help them, answer their questions--even about the weather."
How does he transmit all that to his front-line employees? "All the chains have excellent training tools--videos, bilingual, etc., the basics," he says. "But it really comes down to our history, our culture, our managers and assistant managers." Collier himself started busing tables at a Trotters Restaurant in Pigeon Forge when he was a youngster, and knows the ropes.
He encourages his staff to take smaller sections and spend more time with the customers. "I tell them that if they take care of the customers, treat them nice, they'll get a better tip. Everybody's working to make money. They have a family and kids and have to make ends meet." The end result, he tells them, is that the customers are happier and that they'll make twice as much money and enjoy their job a whole lot more.
What about working with the distinct cultures of his several brands? He has that figured too. "Even though they all have a different culture, they have a baseline similarity to them," he says. "In the restaurant business you stick with the core stuff: hot food hot, cold food cold, and fast, friendly, courteous service. This transcends all brands, and it works."
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