Coping with Covid with Lee Kleiner
Lee Kleiner, who has spent two decades in the franchise business with brands including Dairy Queen and Which Wich, has added multiple Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh locations as an area developer for the brand. When we profiled him earlier this year, he was expecting a banner year. Now, like so many franchisees, he’s having to adjust and adapt.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
As an owner of multiple Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh locations, we’ve obviously had to adjust how we do business. The first step was to look at how we will keep the employees and guests as safe as possible. We took a hard look at where we were spending our time and effort. After evaluating where things stood, we realized that we needed to restructure and optimize where and how we were investing our time. A lot of it has been on the fly, but we’ve adapted to the changes as needed. The nature of the business has changed from creating and maintaining a remarkable in-person dining experience to trying to meet guest expectations and curate that same remarkable experience—only now in the off-premises environment of delivery, carryout, and curbside pickup.
What are you doing right now to get through this?
Our first step was adapting our restaurants to new systems and processes to protect our customers and employees. We implemented new safety measures for handling cash, cleaning practices, and how we interact with our customers. Once we ensured that we had the right safety measures in place, we began working on securing the PPP to help our employees get back to work. Then we looked at how we were utilizing our marketing efforts and made adjustments to focus on online ordering. Before Covid-19, third-party delivery was often considered to be excess baggage, something you could get by with or without. Now, it has quickly become the thing that is keeping people’s heads above water. As we were analyzing how we do business, our priority was our customers and staff. We have been in constant contact with our staff to keep them up to date on all that we are doing.
Is your franchisor helping keep you afloat?
First and foremost, the Garbanzo team has done a great job of providing information, sharing where to go and how to get support, be it weekly calls or email updates, or simply alerts to recently added materials to the Covid-19 Response Resource Dropbox folder. This has been a huge help, and our local team has worked to use all of the assets where we can. Whether it’s lending an ear to our stresses and concerns or just checking in every other week, the franchisor is truly showing that they care for us—it’s an all-in mentality.
What are you doing to help your employees through this?
Following the leadership of our franchisor on the macro level, we’ve followed their strategy at our locations as well. We understand their concerns and are keeping them up to date on everything we are doing to get them back to work as soon as possible. We’re working to connect with them and share resources to best help them.
What are you doing for your customers?
If there’s a silver lining to the whole Covid-19 process, it’s been our increased communication with customers. With Garbanzo, we use Paytronix to power our affinity program. That’s our app, our rewards program, and our guest email database. We’ve been fortunate to have a very engaged base. At the onset, we played around with the different offers to let people know it was okay to order from us. We initially offered 50% off online orders to get people used to that method of ordering. Now we have backed that down a bit as the “new normal” set in. We also created a “middle” version of our catering called “Family-Style Take Home,” positioned between our individual retail and full buffet-style catering. We are also currently offering 20% off online orders, including Family-Style Take Home. Additionally, we are sharing information on community value offers to help the local community, such as bundled reduced cost or even free meals for front-line workers like nurses—plus offers for those hit hardest, like hospitality brethren and teachers. While we are in regular contact with our guests, we have amped it up, and they appreciate the correspondence. As a result, we will likely continue this cadence post-Covid-19.
How are you working with your suppliers?
With Garbanzo doing the right things on the back end, our lives are easier on the front end. With the franchisor managing these relationships, it’s a huge weight off our backs. We’ve been honest with all of our suppliers. While I’ve heard horror stories about others in the business, we’ve been as transparent as possible and our suppliers have given us some wiggle room. Everyone has been flexible and willing to work with us.
What are you doing about cash flow, PPP?
When reviewing all the relief program options, applying for PPP made the most sense. We are all working together, and our goal is to get that money to keep our employees employed. We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t completely closed down as a result of Covid-19. While our dining rooms are closed until further notice, our delivery, carryout, online pickup, and curbside assistance options are keeping us open during our normal hours of operation. With the PPP money, we will have more flexibility. Hopefully, our biggest problem will be how to keep our restaurant employees busy. Certain aspects of their jobs have become slightly obsolete. For example, you can’t go into office buildings to hand out flyers since there’s no one in offices right now! But we will find ways to give them work, even if it’s making cold calls to potential customers.
What else would you like to see from your franchisor or government?
Our franchisor has been great about regular check-ins to show that people matter—not just royalties. I hope that going forward, Garbanzo continues the rapid iteration Covid-19 has necessitated, to push the envelope far outside the norm and continue trying different ways of doing business now and in the future. Things will be different post-Covid-19, but there are other ways to handle it, and I’m excited to see how Garbanzo continues to experiment and innovate. As I’ve been innovating with the promotions on a local level, I’d love to see Garbanzo continue to be on the cutting edge.
How are you planning to reopen and rebuild your business post–Covid-19?
We will be following the recommendations of our local government officials. Everyone is playing by the government’s rules, and we are ready to play the long game. Our guiding principle in all of this is truly the health and safety of our team, customers, and community. Ideally, our Garbanzo business will rebuild the way we originally built it: executing great food and treating people right. We might lose some of our catering business, since people aren’t sitting around offices eating lunch these days. However, things will return to normal. We just need to weather this storm.
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