Creating a great business and successful franchise is art and science, timing and luck. While luck and timing are largely out of your control, at Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries we’ve learned a lot about the art and science of successful growth. Here are seven key elements and tools that have supported our expansion.
A great leadership team is crucial to a franchise’s success. It is impossible for one or two people to do all the work themselves, so create leaders across the organization. Kenney Moore, the CEO and founder of Hwy 55, started the franchise with one location and $500 in his pocket, and went around re-opening closed restaurants. By the time he had opened four locations, he realized he was working himself to death and not making a lot of forward progress. Around the time I joined, we had quickly grown to 40 people – people who started out working at minimum wage and building the business through sweat equity and in-house financing. As we continued to grow, we knew we couldn’t carry the leadership load alone so we identified and grew many more leaders in the company. Today, about half of Hwy 55 locations are run by former employees turned franchisees.
Deciding when to expand is a pivotal moment in the life of a business and requires a solid, scalable foundation. Processes, product, operations, and culture must be robust and very well aligned. This doesn’t happen overnight. We spent years perfecting the business before rapidly expanding over the past few years – we’re a 24-year-old overnight success. After making the decision to expand, we started as a regional concept until we were ready to franchise in a way that preserved the quality of the brand and experience. We made sure our processes and food items were in tip-top condition and our infrastructure was ready. Once all the pieces were in place, we were able to very quickly expand across the U.S. and now internationally from this strong foundation.
Maintaining and protecting the culture as you expand the franchise is an important part of the leadership team’s role. Hiring the right people and putting customers and employees at the top of the company’s value pyramid has been key to our success. Who you hire shapes customers’ experience, as does how you treat the people you hire. We take a “servant leadership” approach, focused on serving others before self. This is central to our culture and starts with the leadership team’s attitude to customers and employees. It spreads from there in a philosophy we call “loving your neighbor.” Although this culture is antithetical to the way other businesses may operate, it’s core at Hwy 55 because our people want to be a part of a big mission and in on why things work the way they do – even more than they want a paycheck. It makes for a much better customer experience and a much happier life experience.
Set, communicate, and engage employees in goals for the organization and you will likely see 3x greater operating margins than peers without goals. The goals of the organization should be clear and transparent so everyone understands how success will be measured. Our teams meet at the beginning of the year to lay out a strategic plan and big goals for the year, intended to get people mobilized and excited. But like a lot of organizations, that focus on goal achievement is lost 60 or 90 days later because those goals weren’t visible and are quickly eclipsed by email and day-to-day activities. We turned to Workboard to make goals more visible and easier for people to stay focused on work that matters. Workboard has helped us tremendously in keeping people aligned on goals. When goals aren’t visible to people, it’s impossible to remember or achieve them – goals have no power to motivate when they’re invisible. Since achieving goals is a source of personal satisfaction and drives the company’s success, everyone wins when they are ever-present and it’s clear how success is measured. Workboard has been the answer for us. It’s really neat how it works.
To identify issues and address them quickly, you need transparency and an efficient mechanism to reliably follow through from issue to resolution. It’s not surprising that customer concerns are issues we take very seriously. We use Workboard to assign issue resolution to a team member and have transparency on its status from start to finish. We can see issues and resolutions over time, with facts on the patterns and resolutions, then set and share a goal to cut customer issues by half. So not only are the current issues resolved, we make strategic improvements to reduce the number of issues. Everyone knows the goal and can see how they’re doing, anytime from anywhere.
Growing restaurant chains and franchises must stay engaged with their people. As the business grows and the leadership job grows with it, there is a tendency to become disengaged with the people who are engaging with the customers. It’s important to call or stop in to see front-line employees to say “Hi,” and to be genuine and accessible. Recognizing people’s contributions and acknowledging their efforts is more important to us than money. According to a study done by McKinsey, 83% of employees say manager and peer recognition matters more than compensation. More importantly, giving no feedback is much worse for employee engagement than giving negative feedback. Giving feedback is one of the best and easiest parts of my job. I have my phone in my hand about 20 hours a day, and if I get a Workboard notification at 12:30 a.m. that someone has just completed something important and I’m up watching TV, I can respond right then and say “Hey, good job” with a message or badge. It’s really great to be able to do that.
In the end, your leadership team and goals are only as good as what you actually accomplish. Goals need to be aspirational, inspirational, and measurable, but execution and discipline are the source of success. I follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy to make sure important actions don’t languish and that irrelevant work doesn’t get in the way of important work. The method reduces stress and overload, which is important in rapid growth and expansion. I had been looking for a way to implement it within an organizational (not just personal) context. Workboard helps me and the organization get the right things done. I love the feeling of knowing nothing’s dropped and the important things are handled. I can capture what needs to be done, decide when it needs to be done or delegate it, and then follow through easily.
Even after 20 years, I love the business that I helped grow and the people I work with. This is a common value shared across the company, from the founder, Kenney Moore, to the rest of the employees. Our passion, fresh food, authentic hospitality, and these seven keys are a recipe for success.
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