Millenials in Franchising: Baptism by Fire

In his first week as a franchisee, Jesse Roberts overcame major operational hurdles to eventually establish his Cranbrook, B.C. location as one of Arby’s top franchise units.

It’s been over five years since 30-year-old Jesse Rob­erts took over the Arby’s in Cranbrook, B.C., but it doesn’t take him long to remember the biggest chal­lenge he faced in his first weeks as a young franchisee.

“When we came in, we let the staff know that things were going to change. We were going to hold ourselves to the high standards of the Arby’s brand,” Roberts recalls.

The eventual turnover of much of the original staff allowed Roberts to start with a clean slate. What’s more, it allowed him to hire people who had both the willing­ness to learn and the high energy he needed to take the restaurant to the next level.

And take it to the next level they did. Within the past year, Roberts’ Cranbrook location has achieved some of the highest customer satisfaction scores of any Arby’s restaurant in the world.

“We took a very strong approach to customer ser­vice,” says Roberts. “It requires the entire team – both the management and our team members – to buy-in to a shared goal.”

Part of what helped Roberts connect with his new team, he thinks, was his relatively young age. Roberts was 25 when he took over the franchise, which made him close to the same age as many of his employees.

“I think my age has made it easier for me to engage our team members and see what they see,” he says. “It’s also helped me spark a level of fun in our restaurant. Working hard is easier when everyone is having fun.”

It’s clearly worked. While the average employee turnover rate in quick ser­vice franchises is around six months, the typical employee at Roberts’ Arby’s location stays for two-and-a-half to three years.

The Right Fit

Arby’s has turned out to be a really good fit for Rob­erts. Though he had some restaurant experience, he was actually on his way to earning a science degree before taking over the fran­chise. But, as sometimes happens, the right oppor­tunity appeared at the right time, and he couldn’t pass it up.

While he was in school, the Arby’s Cranbrook fran­chisees approached him. He had worked with them at another restaurant previously, and knew that despite being just 25, he had what it would take to take the reins. He didn’t have the capital to buy the franchise outright, however, so they helped him finance it.

Yet even with all of these stars aligning, it’s tough to imagine most twentysomethings having the confidence to run a restaurant and manage everything that goes into it. Roberts wasn’t like most twentysomethings, how­ever. He had an intense passion to succeed despite his lack of long-term business experience.

The other thing that made him want to jump into busi­ness with Arby’s, he says, is that the concept is so differ­ent from anything else out there.

“No one else in our category is creating meaty sand­wiches with this much variety, quality, and abundance as we are,” he explains. “Our menu creates a delicious experience for guests and a competitive advantage for franchisees.”

And in recent years that difference has clearly made a big impact on customers. In 2017, Arby’s announced plans to open 10 new restaurants in Western Canada, and it now has six new locations under development.

There are now 56 locations in Canada and over 3,400 worldwide. Between 2011 and 2017, Arby’s achieved seven consecutive years of positive same-store sales growth, and since 2011, average unit volume growth is up by 37 per cent.

The Right System

A big reason for Arby’s recent growth is the brand’s rein­vigoration efforts, says Craig Walker, director of fran­chise operations with Arby’s Canada. Launched in 2014, the rebranding includes a new restaurant design called “Inspire” which delivers an upgraded guest experience.

It includes new features and décor, such as wood tones, white brick, subway tiles, stainless steel fin­ishes, chalkboard graphics, along with upgraded light­ing and landscaping. “The design reduces development and remodeling costs, increases energy efficiency, and adapts to a wide range of site opportunities,” says Walker.

Roberts recently remodeled his restaurant to include the Inspire restaurant design, and while the upgrades are excellent, he says what’s made the biggest differ­ence during the recent brand reinvigoration is the cor­porate support he’s received. “They’ve made themselves extraordinarily available. Sometimes I’ll send out emails on weekends not expecting them to come back until Monday, but I’ll sometimes get a response even from the head of Arby’s Canada at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday,” he explains.

Roberts think that a lot of these changes come from having a team exclusively dedicated to Arby’s Canada franchises, and Craig Walker’s leadership. When Walker joined Arby’s, he travelled to every location in Canada, sitting down with each franchisee and taking the time to hear what they had to say.

“During our first meeting, he spent four hours talk­ing with me about the brand and my vision for the res­taurant,” says Roberts. “I kept expecting him to say, ‘Oh, I better take off. It’s great to meet you.’ But he was perfectly content to sit there and answer every possible question I had. He was legitimately interested in helping me succeed.”

The Right Future

Roberts says that another reason why Arby’s is trend­ing upwards is the “incredible” products they’re coming up with. Recently, Arby’s Canada showcased its Smoke­house Brisket as part of three limited time menu items, including the Brisket Poutine, the new Spicy Brisket Pou­tine, and the Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich.

“They’re introducing menu items that drive traffic, and they are finding clever ways to use ingredients that are already in the restaurant,” Roberts says of the inno­vative menu.

Taken together, all of these recent improvements mean that he has no plans to leave Arby’s any time soon, though he has opened a gastropub and craft beer bar of his own in Cranbrook called Fire Hall Kitchen & Tap. This constant drive to do more is the hallmark of a rising-star in the franchising community.

Which brings him, finally, to one piece of advice he’d give to any new young franchisee like himself:

“Do the simple things well. Take care of your staff, offer a quality product, and care about your customers,” says Roberts. “You don’t have to be a business expert to run a successful business; you just need to do the simple things well and learn from your mistakes.”


By Jordan Whitehouse