Finance to Franchise Development: A Q&A with Jennifer Durham
Finance to Franchise Development: A Q&A with Jennifer Durham

Jennifer Durham currently serves as Vice-President, Franchise Development at Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc., but she comes from a background in finance. We asked this CPA-turned sales pro about her career path.

When did you first learn about Checkers?

I grew up on the Southside of Chicago.....

Jennifer Durham currently serves as Vice-President, Franchise Development at Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc., but she comes from a background in finance. We asked this CPA-turned sales pro about her career path.

When did you first learn about Checkers?

I grew up on the Southside of Chicago, where, unfortunately, there were no Checkers. When my family and I moved to Florida when I was in high school, there was a Checkers across the street from my school. Because it was an open campus, I began my passion and love for this brand based on those lunch trips. My passion for Checkers continued when I attended the University of Florida, where I would ride my bike across campus and town to visit several locations throughout Gainesville and enjoy a Champ burger and those famous fries. So I’ve always craved Checkers, but I never thought I’d end up working for the company.

How have you embraced your franchise development role at Checkers/Rally’s?

Having worked for Checkers for more than 10 years, I’ve helped strengthen financial performance by generating better processes, budgeting, forecasting, compliance and analysis in roles including Vice President and Corporate Controller and Vice President of Finance and Information Technology. When it was time for the company to put more emphasis on growing the brand through franchising, I was presented with the opportunity to take over franchise restaurant growth initiatives and accepted the challenge as the Interim Chief Development Officer. After 11 months, that role was transitioned into my current position, Vice President, Franchise Development.

In this role, it was apparent that many important organizational and process changes needed to be made immediately to help set us up for future growth. During the past year, I led an in-depth review of our franchise processes and developed a growth strategy and key metrics to ensure we are focused on aggressive and profitable restaurant development. I also brought in the right type of vendor partners specializing in marketing, website development and public relations to find interactive and creative ways to bring so much more energy to our national brand.

How did your background in finance affect your approach to franchise development?

Two large parts of a franchise business or any business are accounting and metrics. My background and understanding of the many aspects of business financials ensured a conservative and calculated approach to making decisions and seeking out opportunities in franchise development.

I added an experienced franchise sales team and introduced a new approach to recruitment and public relations, which resulted in an over 100 percent increase in franchise inquiries this year compared to 2010. I also introduced innovative web-based tools to help us drive results. For example, our RMS Commercial Real Estate site selection tool is specifically tailored to our brands and will allow us to fully grow our existing and new markets, while the BoeFly financing tool will allow us to efficiently match borrowers and lenders.

What 2011 Checkers/Rally’s company highlights spurred development deals and renewed interest in the brand?

With 800 restaurants and over 25 years of experience, Checkers is consistently ranked highest in overall value by guests in the burger QSR category – thriving in both booming and retracting economies. Our company owns and operates nearly 300 restaurants to ensure products and initiatives are tested before rollout to the franchise community. In fact, Checkers locations have enjoyed some significant sales successes, which can be attributed to adding big, bold flavor product lines, such as Classic Wings and Cold Creations, while preserving its craveable food and menu simplicity.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="375" caption="Checker's new single drive thru option requires a smaller plot and a redesigned interior."][/caption]

Prior to three years ago, Checkers offered one restaurant format—a double drive thru restaurant. In three short years, Checkers conceptualized and built four new restaurant formats, dramatically reducing the required investment and helping restaurateurs of all sizes own a business. These formats include a new freestanding prototype option, an inline option, an end cap/single drive thru option and even a conversion of an existing restaurant. These varied restaurant formats allow restaurateurs to fit Checkers on any site with compelling returns – as defined by sales to investment.

Armed with these options, the franchise development team and I have the flexibility to work with all types of franchise prospects. Essentially, having these build-out options available has been integral in signing many new development deals.

What are your 2012 growth expectations for Checkers/Rally’s?

Checkers is positioned for significant growth in 2012, and it all started with a holistic approach we’ve been developing over the last 3 to 4 years. With our seasoned leadership and support teams, Checkers has had strong consecutive same store sales performance. Our company owned restaurants were second only to McDonalds in the hamburger QSR category (FY 2011). In 2012, company and franchise owned restaurants are leading the category in same store sales performance.

All these impressive growth statistics have been very attractive to entrepreneurs, and we have received a significant amount of interest from franchise prospects wanting to join the Checkers franchise system.

--Greg Avdoian

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