Making the Switch from Restaurants to Service Brands
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Making the Switch from Restaurants to Service Brands

Making the Switch from Restaurants to Service Brands

In this newsletter, we’ll be asking service brand franchisees why they chose to invest in this sector, why they selected the brand (or brands!) they did, and for their advice to anyone considering investing in a franchised service brand – whether as a first-time franchisee or as a veteran operator seeking opportunities to diversify their portfolio.

Name: Mike Meilleur

Title: Operating Partner of Sola Salon Studios and Goldfish Swim School franchises

Brands: Sola Salon Studios and Goldfish Swim School; previously worked with Tim Hortons on the corporate side for 20+ years

Units: 6 Sola Salon Studios with a 7th in construction; 6 Goldfish Swim Schools

Years in franchising: 27; became a franchise owner 5 years ago

Why did you choose to franchise with a service brand?

I came up in McDonald’s franchises and then worked with Tim Hortons on the corporate side for just over 20 years. I started as a restaurant manager and operations representative, eventually working my way up to executive vice president. Working with foodservice franchises for the majority of my professional career afforded me the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant industry and business model. I also learned all the work, passion, and care that goes into providing a quality meal and an exceptional experience to guests.

When I left Tim Hortons in 2014, I made the decision to look beyond what I was already familiar with in restaurant franchising. That’s when my business partners and I found the brands we’re with today: Sola Salon Studios and Goldfish Swim School. While the ongoing cost structure of service brands can be more enticing than that of a restaurant brand, what it really came down to for my business partners and me was seeing an opportunity to take the same dedication and passion that’s relevant working in restaurants and translating it seamlessly to the two service brands in our portfolio. We believed we could operate really well and excel.

How did you choose the sector and brand you did?

Sola and Goldfish fall into two completely different sectors, but the common theme they share is that they’re both high-reward concepts. With Sola, it’s a high-support business model that provides not only space, but marketing resources, technology, education, business tools, community, and much more to licensed beauty professionals. That high level of support has been the thing that has always resonated with me because in some small way, we’re allowing people to realize their dream. Some of the people who come into our locations might not have been able to own their own salon business without the guidance and support that we provide them. Whether it’s a stylist coming from a big salon working as an employee or a stylist who has been with Sola for a few years and their business has grown so much that they’re moving out of our location and into their own larger space – being a little part of their story is so rewarding for us. It’s similar with Goldfish. Drowning is the number-one cause of death among children 12 years and younger. So to be able to provide education and an environment that helps kids be safe in and around the water is something we feel really good about.

What different skill sets are required for service brand franchising?

In both the restaurant and service segments of franchising, I think being hands-on is important and, as clichéd as it might sound, I find that there’s a lot of merit in servant leadership. Being able to work with all different types of people and doing what you say you’re going to do goes a long way. Being in a service brand is being in the people business, so being responsive to all your constituents – no matter who they are – and making sure they feel seen, heard, and taken care of – is key to success. Working in a restaurant environment (or any environment where you’re providing a product) there’s some leniency with this. You can go to a restaurant, have bad service yet a great meal, and things could still be okay because you still got a great meal out of it. On the other hand, you can’t blow service, because that’s what you are. Prioritizing attentiveness, integrity, and building trust and rapport has been paramount to the success my business partners and I have achieved with both Sola and Goldfish.

What are the advantages to choosing a service brand?

When you choose a service brand, in a way you’re betting on yourself. You are the product in some sense. So if you embody those innate attributes or characteristics that lead you to a service brand, you can really succeed in the competitive set because you’re relying on who you are and what you’re doing. You are your own competitive differentiator.

How does having a service brand complement your other brands?

I’ve only been a franchise owner of service brands, but my Sola and Goldfish concepts complement each other well. They’re both purpose-driven businesses that strive to better the lives of the people they serve, and skill sets in each brand can be applied to one another. We’re able to manage all the locations by having operating partners in our Goldfish Swim Schools. And at Sola, the licensed independent beauty professionals subleasing salon studios in each of our locations are similar to operating partners themselves. Life is all about people and the people you surround yourself with. Finding like-minded people that share your passions will help your businesses grow.

What would you recommend to anyone considering a service brand?

Make sure to look at the competitive set in your local market; look at your competitors and determine if you can out-execute them. At the end of the day, your execution is around the service you’re able to provide. What you can do differently or better is key to success.

Published: May 15th, 2021

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