Dennis Waldron Takes Ruby's to the Northwest

Seattle's Dennis Waldron is still in the early stages, but he's by no means an amateur. For 10 years he was president of Cinnabon, where he introduced franchises and grew the chain to 400 units. After Cinnabon was sold, "I looked at a number of opportunities and finally settled on being a franchisee," he says. More than that, Waldron set out to be a multi-unit franchisee.

"I love the franchise business format, and decided I wanted to franchise something in the northwest," he says. His final choice: Ruby's Diner, a 35+-unit restaurant franchise based in San Diego that has been in business for 20 years but just started franchising a few years ago.

"I wanted to bring something to the northwest we didn't already have. It was difficult to find something as unique as Ruby's Diner. That was what drove me originally; there's really not anything like it here. The diner seems to be a hot idea; an old one that has been resurrected and rejuvenated."

"My experience is building companies," Waldron says. "Growing multiple units is what I do and what I wanted to bring to the state of Washington. At Cinnabon we had 200 franchised units and 25 franchisees. Some had just one unit, and that was probably all they should have had. It's such a gigantic step to go from one to even two, much less six or more."

Every multiple-unit operator will say the same thing: One store is a different animal from any number more than one. Multiple units require an organization that can handle payroll, real estate, accounting, human resources, and operations management centrally. "You can't do it all yourself," says Waldron. One of his first hires was a director of operations-"it was the smartest thing I did."

Waldron thinks his market area will hold at least six units, perhaps up to 12, "so we're building a base for that kind of growth."

One of the things that Waldron likes best about Ruby's is how the franchisor has managed the brand: "They've done a marvelous job. It is far and away the highest quality among the diners."

Brand management is the key to success in a franchise: "That's the No. 1 reason you're buying the franchise. So you expect that to be managed very closely and strongly."

Secondly, he says, "You're buying the support systems. So you expect those to be in place: operations, training, marketing, design, accounting. You expect those to be maintained and continually improved and be accessible. Even though Ruby's has been around 20 years, they're just getting their feet wet with franchising. They've been working very hard to build those support systems that can be accessible to a guy like me. Our best franchisees at Cinnabon, the ones who did the best in growth, sales, and profits were the ones who did everything exactly the way we did at company stores. And that did not go unnoticed by me. And I'm attempting to do that with Ruby's. I'm talking to someone there every day."

Published: November 10th, 2004

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