For Sunny Ghai, the key to multi-brand franchisee success is creativity. The founder of family-owned Ghai Management Services operates 7 brands, including 60 Burger Kings in 4 states. His ability to leverage the power of strong brands to make smart development decisions earned him the 2016 Multi-Brand Leadership MVP Award.
"The biggest fear most franchisors have regarding their multi-branded operators is that they will lose focus on a single path to grow that brand," Ghai says. "We have solidified their faith in our loyalty and we wear our logos with pride. We've shown our faith in our concepts by developing aggressively for them, sometimes opening three to four units per year for the same brand."
Ghai worked for Burger King as a restaurant general manager before becoming a franchisee in 1999, just four years after immigrating from India with his family. He built the base of his company by successfully reimaging the Burger King brand, and later by constructing and acquiring high-quality Taco Bell sites and expanding into the convenience and gas business. Along the way he has weathered economic, franchise, and industry changes with innovative branding ideas.
"Logistically, having such strong brands works extremely well for growth," he says. "In projects like our development in Winters, Calif., we were able to put an Arco ampm, Burger King, and Taco Bell on the same parcel, creating a major stop for travelers and drawing more traffic than we would with a single concept. We call these "Power Pumpers" and they are the ultimate multi-branded businesses."
More recently, in a move to continue expanding his company, Ghai has turned his attention to the fast casual franchise segment. "We're looking forward to determine which brands have the horsepower to be relevant in the future," he says. "We're not necessarily looking to make money in this segment right away. Instead, we're looking to create a strong infrastructure for a medium- to large-sized operation in each concept. The upside to fast casual is that the concepts are willing to give you a protected territory where only you can grow and have full control of making the brand relevant. This makes things more fun."
Ghai plans on having that fun with his family, a driving force in his continued mission to build his business even more. Many extended family members work for the company, led by his son Harsh Ghai, who oversees operations as COO (for his profile, see the Q2 2015 issue on our website.)
"My children are my business partners, and their input into our growth is most important when making a decision," Ghai says. "I grow our company with pride, knowing that it will be in good hands and that we don't need an immediate exit plan. When I do decide to retire I know all I have to do is hand over the reins."
Name: Sunny Ghai
Title: President/CEO, Ghai Management Services
No. of units: Burger King (60), Taco Bell (9), Corner Bakery Cafe (2), Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza (1), Chevron (3), Conoco-Phillips 76 (2), Arco ampm (2)
Family: Wife Tina; daughter Ritu, and son-in-law Harsha; son, Harsh and daughter-in-law Gurbir
Years in franchising: 22
Years in current position: 20
Burger King 2010 True North award for development; Taco Bell 2013 award for development; growing from 1 unit in 1996 to 70-plus in 2016; developed 22 new units in that period; achieving 90 percent up to date image across all brands.
Seven days. I'm extremely passionate about my work, and unless I'm spending quality time with my family, I'm usually catching up on work. Weekends are the best time to catch up.
What are you reading?
Other than emails, The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire by the brand's founder. The book is extremely important in understanding the roots of our brand and business. We can often get sidetracked and distracted from the ultimate goal, which has never changed: to serve the best hamburger possible.
Best advice you ever got:
To pursue the American Dream. After I married, my wife and I raised our family in India for 10 years. We always knew we would one day want to pursue life outside India and ultimately chose to come to the United States, understanding how great the opportunity was here. And that's exactly what happened. I was able to grow with no ceiling and achieve something that's impossible in most parts of the world.
What's your passion in business?
Development has always been my passion. I find it much more satisfactory to grow through the act of building something completely new from the ground up. It gives you immense pride to see a successful business that you built. I involve myself heavily in the development process, from the planning portion to the construction site.
The success of our operation has come through our people. We have instilled the value that in order to serve our guests best, we have to ensure that our partners in the field (from operations directors to crew members) have the best experience possible working for and in our organization.
What do you consider when evaluating additional brands?
The two biggest things we look at are product and people. The most important thing is that you can't sell something you don't like. That was the first thing that attracted us to Taco Bell, a brand my family has thoroughly enjoyed for years. When choosing Blaze, we compared it to its top competitors and the product was clearly far superior. In fact, we were on the verge of going with a different fast casual pizza concept when a chance meeting brought us to Blaze. It is a decision we feel privileged to have been able to make. The people portion is sometimes more important than the brand. We look to see whether the people leading the concept have an evolving vision of the future, rather than settling for what has worked in the past. Are they engaging Millennials? Are they open to new and creative ideas, or are they stuck to a cookie-cutter model? What growth potential do they offer? For example, is there acquisition opportunity? Is there opportunity to develop outside the given region? The last question we ask ourselves after conducting our due diligence is, "Can we make this business profitable?" The "we" portion is most important, as you have to consider many aspects, including real estate costs, our experience in the industry, whether we have the capital to support growth, etc.
Management method or style:
I consider myself an integrator or unifier. We look to hire people with creativity who bring new and innovative ideas to the table. And we give them the freedom to use new ideas to achieve success.
Starting from scratch. In the beginning it was difficult to break into the industry with lack of experience and not having the high net worth that others in the industry did. But through development and running good restaurants I was able to grow to 70-plus restaurants.
How do others describe you?
A perfectionist: although true perfection is impossible, people know that I always strive to perfect the process to achieve greater results. Always plugged in: most people who know me or work with me know that I am always plugged in and often receive communications at odd hours.
How do you hire and fire, train and retain?
The best way to hire is to promote from within. We have found the greatest success in giving growth opportunities to people within the organization. Loyalty is earned over time while information and processes can be taught.
Annual revenue: $90 million (food, convenience, and gas).
2016 goals: Grow our number of units through acquisition and development. We opened five new restaurants in the first half of 2016 and hope to open at least two more.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? In the next 5 years we would aspire to grow to 100 restaurants. In the next 10 years I hope to retire as president and allow my children to take over the family business.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? Because of the fact that we are always growing, the greatest thing we offer our employees is growth opportunity. To drive our employees, we use existing examples of people within our organization who have grown from crew member to district manager.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? My exit strategy is through succession planning. My son Harsh is the chief operating officer of the company and will take my place. My daughter-in-law Gurbir is the controller. My daughter Ritu is currently practicing law in New York and eventually plans to assist us with the family business as well.
Multi-Brand Leadership Award
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