Millennials in Franchising: A&W

Barmil Mallhi embraces entrepreneurship as A&W’s first-ever Urban Franchise Associate

Picture of A&W franchisee

When Barmil Mallhi says that she loves change, she really means it. It’s a trait that she attributes to being part of the millennial generation, and it’s what drove her to pack up and leave Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and five-year-old daughter to pursue the dream of opening her own restaurant.

Thirty-year-old Mallhi came to Toronto in 2016 to receive training, before opening her A&W Urban Restaurant in February of 2017 in the Junction neighbourhood. It was a unique franchise opportunity that caught Mallhi’s entrepreneurial eye and inspired this major life change.

“I always liked the idea of working with people – I’m a people person. I’m a foodie, as well, so a restaurant made sense to me when I started thinking I wanted to run my own business. When I looked at the various options, A&W stood out to me because of the Urban Franchise Associate program, which required a lower investment and provided total training to open the business,” explains Mallhi, who moved to Canada 10 years ago, and has spent time working in the quick service food and retail industries.

After many Skype calls and meetings between Mallhi and the A&W franchising team, the perfect match was made, and Mallhi became the first-ever A&W Urban Franchise Associate (UFA).

A fresh approach to franchising

“The Urban Franchise Associate program is something that we developed specifically based on the idea that millennials are very entrepreneurial. For a lot of millennials, it’s ‘when they can,’ so we really took the approach of ‘what if we could make it today?’” says Susan Senecal, President and Chief Operating Officer of A&W Food Services of Canada Inc.

The UFA program provides a financial model that requires a lower equity contribution from the franchisee ($125,000-$150,000), along with a complete training program that includes a three-to-12 month paid work experience program that helps Urban Franchise Associates learn the ins and outs of the quick service food industry in general, and the A&W business in particular.

Bringing younger entrepreneurs on board also helps A&W better serve its millennial customers, which is the major demographic in urban areas like Toronto, where one of the first Urban Restaurants designed for high pedestrian traffic was launched in 2010.

“We thought this would be a great win-win, where we’d get the benefit of someone who really understands this guest and the dynamic, and has the energy, time, and commitment to really run a restaurant well, but may not have the equity or the business experience they need to get going. We thought that if we could bridge that gap between the desire and the reality, we’d have a winning concept, and so far it’s turned out to be extremely positive for both sides,” says Senecal.

While the UFA program was a major draw for Mallhi, she says brand power is another big reason she got behind the idea of franchising with A&W.

“A&W has been in business [in Canada] for more than 60 years, and it’s a name that people recognize, so that’s one of the advantages. When I was planning to start my own business, I wanted to look for a brand name that’s already in the market. The advantage of going with A&W in particular is that they provide help with all of the steps, all of the way through the process.”

This support from the franchise system was a big help for Mallhi as she made the move to Toronto and set out on the path to open her own restaurant location. “There are business managers who guide you in your day-to-day operations, and you get proper training, and access to established standards,” notes Mallhi. “Also, there’s a proven track record of successful franchisees, so I thought that I would be more successful if I went into franchising. It takes the pressure off of you.”

Other benefits of the A&W system, according to Mallhi, are the focus on natural food products, an advertising program that focuses on social media to attract young customers, and the extensive training. “There’s a work experience program, so you work in another A&W restaurant. You’re there day to day, so you know what challenges you’ll face when you’re running your own location.”

Yanick Morin, National Director of Franchise Development with A&W Food Services of Canada Inc., says A&W is planning to open eight UFA restaurants by the end of 2018, focusing on the Toronto area. He notes that it’s relationships with young upstarts like Mallhi that give A&W a unique advantage. “It’s a great opportunity to learn from the younger entrepreneurs in our business. They bring new ideas, and we often develop new products and new concepts from those ideas. We can probably learn as much from them as they can learn from us.”

Seizing the opportunity

So far, Mallhi says the biggest benefit of being a business owner is taking charge and calling the shots, something that balances nicely with the regular support she receives from the A&W system.

“I can control my own hours, and make my own schedule. I also like decision making. You’re controlling everything – you’re hiring your own people, and controlling the service you provide to your customers. If you’re a people person and you want every guest who visits your restaurant to be happy, you’re in control, and that’s the best part,” she explains.

While many may consider moving to a brand new city to start a new business a major challenge, Mallhi only sees it as an opportunity that keeps on giving. “I’m a millennial – I like change in my life! I like the fact that in this industry, something is changing all of the time, whether it’s your people or your menu or just your schedule – one day you might be working for just two hours, and another you might be working overnight. I’m always doing something new – every day I’m helping a new guest, and that’s what I like.”

As A&W looks to award more than 200 franchisees with restaurants across Canada by 2020, Morin notes that it takes a lot of work on both ends to ensure that the franchise relationship will be a successful one. In fact, when A&W was looking for its first UFA, the team considered more than 200 prospective franchisees before finding the right partner in Mallhi.

“When you become a franchisee, you’re given the tools to be successful, but it’s not for everyone. As a franchisee, you want to be an entrepreneur, but not too much of an entrepreneur – it’s a fine line. That’s why we do a lot of assessments to try to get to know people better to see if they’re going to like it. Because what we don’t want is to see people investing their life savings in a business, only to figure out that it’s not what they want,” says Morin.

“Think twice about who you are and what you want to be doing with your life, and then select the right franchisor. You need to look at a franchisor that shares the same values and will be able to help you find success going forward,” he adds.

Mallhi says her experience with franchising has been nothing but positive, and she encourages other young entrepreneurs to consider taking this path to building their own business success.

“Franchising is definitely the way to go, because you get all of the support that you need from the franchisor. You don’t have to worry about selecting your site, you don’t have to worry about training all of the staff, and you have standards to follow, which have proven to be successful for other franchisees. If you have the determination, you can do it,” she says.

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By Lauren Huneault