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A few years ago, I was speaking to some friends and colleagues about a vision I had for a new franchise restaurant. I told them the brand had a unique concept and could quickly be on track to 1,000 worldwide locations. The responses were fairly consistent: incredulity and laughter. And these people were supposed to be my friends!
The brand we talked about was The Halal Guys, a company I work with. After an extremely successful 2022, one in which the company opened its 100th location — and with 300-plus more in development — it was tempting to then ask them, “Who’s laughing now?”
The plan was aggressive from the jump: We’d target the 50 largest markets in North America, then go international. Most of those major metro areas are covered now, and international expansion has begun with the UK and South Korea. Pulling this all off as quickly as we’d envisioned seemed impossible to a great many, but that ambitious mindset worked.
Here are some essential strategies I’ve applied in the course of taking more than 10 such brands worldwide.
There’s nothing a failing person likes to see more than someone else fail. So, it’s okay if someone doesn’t see your vision: It wasn’t their vision anyway, it’s yours.
My story about The Halal Guys isn’t an outlier. When you’re building, many people are going to root for you to tank simply because they aren’t winning, which often means that they’ll give you bad advice, encourage you to back off and/or withhold a helping hand. That’s why it’s so important to think positively about your brand’s potential and growth plan. Because challenges arise for young franchises daily, and panic doesn’t put money in the bank.
When I was helping PayMore through its initial franchise launch, it seemed that we couldn’t sell to anyone. Despite great unit economics and a scalable business plan, many thought its buy-sell-trade model seemed too much like a pawn shop, and in truth, we weren’t doing the company any favors by presenting it like one.
Still, there was no panic. We stayed positive and altered our presentation. It’s been a little more than a year now since we launched franchising, and over the last two months have completed more than a dozen deals encompassing 60-plus units. Put simply, positivity paid off.
It’s important to have brand standards, but it’s also important to know when to bend them. You may be dead-set on only allowing multi-unit deals, for example, but the right single-unit deal can get the ball rolling for a stagnant brand, including attracting good press, which could lead to a multi-unit franchisee down the road.
Also, think about how you can incentivize franchisees to expand their territories because encouraging them to embrace affordable conversions could lead to quicker growth (keep in mind that this requires having the right design and brand standards in place). Thinking aggressively means being prepared to act fast when opportunities arise, so plan accordingly when building your business strategy.
Part of thinking aggressively is thinking big: Don’t be content with small, steady growth if your concept can handle rapid expansion. Don’t be afraid to go for it.
Think beyond yourself
Building a brand that aims to be a household name is a lot easier with a solid team in place. I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty, and I’ve never worked harder than I did for real mentors and with other people who have taught me about the industry.
Case in point: I’m working with a new brand out of Chicago called Cilantro Taco Grill. Their story is inspiring — run by a family of first-generation immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico, who built the restaurant as a tribute to their father and as a celebration of the authentic flavors they grew up with. They’ve dominated the quick-service Mexican scene in Chicago, in part because their business plan was born out of familial love. The company’s story and standards are authentic, and its food tastes better because of that.
This is just part of why it’s so vital to share your goals, and even more so to share your success. Team members should also be in line with the business plan and where the brand is headed — should be thinking positively and aggressively right alongside you. Of course, that requires the right workplace dynamic: People naturally invest themselves in people who take care of them, so incentivize success, offer quality benefits and provide a comfortable workplace.
Think about the future
The goal for any franchisee should be to get wealthy, certainly, which involves building towards an exit. This business, like virtually all others, is about growing an asset that has the potential to sell at peak value. That’s why you need to be positive, prioritize aggression and focus on building a team — with the very possible goal of attracting a buyer. A profitable five-unit franchise chain that sells at eight times its yearly income could potentially set you up for life — a return most other industries can’t offer in a comparable timeframe.
You shouldn’t be looking to create a job — heck, you can go find a job. Your future in franchising should be building generational wealth — for your family, your kids and yourself.