Best Practices for Expanding Your Brand in a Region
Never stagnate or forget why you’re where you are today and how you got there.
By Seth Lucas
Growing a brand throughout a region is not an easy task, especially for those with no previous business experience. It takes time and dedication, but when you have the right group of people working together with the same goal in mind, anything can be achieved.
Since purchasing our first East Coast Wings & Grill franchise in 2009, my younger brother Jared and I have been able to open a new location each following year. Sharing an interest in the restaurant industry from an early age, we joined the restaurant scene after college and after moving up the ladder into management roles, began looking into launching a restaurant of our own. We thought about doing it ourselves, but once we looked into franchising, we quickly realized all the benefits that come with an established brand and business model.
There are so many concepts to choose from once you decide to go into franchising; yet even with the vast options, Jared and I found exactly what we were looking for right in our own backyard. When we came across a local East Coast Wings & Grill restaurant, we instantly fell for the concept, even though it was a young company with less than 12 locations at the time. Not only did the brand align with our values, but also provided the business model and food quality which we were looking for. Once we spoke with current owners, the positive feedback we received only confirmed our decision. We were sold and decided to invest in our first franchise before we even had the financing arranged.
We were aware of the risk of failure as we had no prior experience in franchising or growing a business on our own; however, we were determined to build a successful restaurant and create a legacy that we could pass to our children. In less than five years, we’ve established five successful locations throughout the Carolinas and have become the company’s first area representatives by following the steps and protocols provided by the franchisor. We’ve also expanded our brand throughout the region by practicing various lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Based on our experience, the following are a few tips for fellow franchisees to keep in mind when expanding a brand regionally.
- Location is Key. Before entering new markets, it’s important to find a location in a high-traffic area. When we opened our first restaurant, our strategy was to move into a busy shopping center as a way to bring people in, or at the very least, get our name out. The first six months were tough, but opening in a congested area within a smaller market helped us grow our brand quickly. We opened our fourth East Coast Wings & Grill location in a military town that provided a great customer base for the business and our fifth location in a smaller market with no other concept like ours. Another key to our success has been opening restaurants in second-generation locations. For example, we took over a building that previously housed a popular restaurant, which allowed us to focus our efforts on building our brand in a new market. When you start with a solid foundation, it should enable you to spend less time recreating the wheel for kitchen and store layout, and construction expenses. Rather than worrying about what type of equipment you should buy, or designing an effective kitchen, you can focus your time on improving operations and training employees. Furthermore, an existing restaurant typically comes with an established customer base which makes it easier to market your brand.
For our third location, we opened the company’s first “on-the-go” model across town from our original location to capitalize on the large student population at a nearby university, and to provide a more convenient option for customers on the opposite side of town. While East Coast Wings & Grill was already an active and integral part of the area, we knew that establishing a second restaurant in the same market would serve as a tremendous opportunity to reinforce our community commitment and build a relationship with a new demographic of customers.
- Never Stop Improving. As a business owner, you should constantly work to improve your brand. The underlying factor that drives the success of our restaurants is a collaborative mindset to never stop improving. We look at our business daily and evaluate how we can build upon our success and reach our “big picture” goals by continuously evolving the look and feel of our restaurants and by putting money back into each location. More importantly, never stop enhancing your team and management skills. A strong team of employees and managers is essential to growing a brand, especially a restaurant which depends on accountability and customer service. Because of our hard work and ability to successfully grow with the right employees, we are now able to spend more time with our families and be in better control of our own business.
- Lead by Example. From the beginning, we knew that as long as we were hands-on in the business we would be successful. Whether it’s taking over the cash register, busing tables, greeting customers or scrubbing dishes, a good manager must also be willing to do it all. No matter how business-savvy you are, you won’t gain the respect and drive of your employees if you’re not an expert in all realms of your respective industry. When it comes to managing several hundred employees at multiple locations, it’s important to stay apprised of what’s happening at each location. We strive to stay engaged and actively involved as much as possible by working closely with our general managers and visiting each location on a weekly basis. We also do our best to lead by example and show each employee how their roles and responsibilities — even the simplest tasks — impact the success of our brand. Showing your employees that their work is recognized and appreciated will instill a strong work ethic in your team and lead to inspiration for further achievement.
- Become an Integral Part of Your Community. Every business owner should strive to give back to his community in some way, shape or form. Whether it’s helping a local basketball team by selling coupon books, which is one way our stores have given back, or by supporting a local charity, you’re making a difference in the lives of others. Not only is it rewarding on a personal level, but also on a financial level. Giving back to local sports teams shows the community that we care for our schools and our neighborhood, and also serves as a reputation booster by attracting customers to the restaurant, at which point we can introduce them to our product and hopefully win them over.
To be successful in expanding any type of business throughout a region, you need to first find a franchise system and concept that fits your lifestyle and personality. It’s hard not to get excited about a company that shares the same ethics and values as you. All companies have different values, so make sure it’s what you truly want and believe in. Most importantly, never slow the momentum. Continue looking forward to what the future has to offer and constantly look for new ways to innovate and grow with the company. Never stagnate or forget why you’re where you are today and how you got there. n
Seth Lucas, along with his brother Jared, own and operate five East Coast Wings & Grill restaurants in the Carolinas. They are also the company’s first area representatives. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.