Franchise Development Players: Jennifer Durham
Franchise Development Players: Jennifer Durham

The Chief Development Officer of Checkers and Rally's Restaurants Shares Her Thoughts

How did you fall into franchising?

I started my career as a public accountant, with roles at KPMG and Intermedia Communications. When Intermedia was sold to a company based in Clinton, Mississippi, I left, and while doing continuing education classes in the summer of 2001, I ran into a former colleague from KPMG who had become the controller at Checkers & Rally’s. The stars aligned and I accepted a job in the accounting department.

While I had experience from the brand from a franchising point of view, I hadn’t been involved in the development part of the business. In 2011, CEO Rick Silva encouraged me to take my skillset to the development team. This was my first opportunity to really understand our franchisees and what they’re looking for. I approached development from an accounting point of view. I understood the business model really well, but hadn’t focused my attention on what would be a compelling opportunity for franchisees. Starting with the economics of the business, we developed a proposition that worked for franchisees. We got back to the basics and focused on the brand being a low-capital investment with a superior return that is easy to execute. This positioning has served us quite well.

What makes you love franchising?

I thought my career path would lead me to being CFO. I never really saw a role outside of accounting for myself. My personality suited it -- I’m analytical in nature, detail-oriented, and I like to provide support to those around me. But what I was missing was variety, and the opportunity to help others in a meaningful way by giving them an opportunity to start their own business.

My parents were small business owners - they had a sign company called Sign Language. I saw firsthand the blood, sweat and tears that my parents put into starting their own business. That conviction and those guts are incredibly inspiring. When I moved into the franchise development department at Checkers & Rally’s, I had an opportunity to look at the business and help franchisees with an opportunity that is unique in the space. We’ve always had the opportunity; we just never positioned it in the way we are now. We have an attainable opportunity for business owners to open in compelling major markets. If you look at other brands, they’re typically sold out in those markets. We have the benefit of being 30 years old but having tremendous growth opportunities. Those two things don’t usually mix. We’re a bit unique from that perspective.

As a group, we are focused on offering a convenient experience -- we are, by and large, a service oriented group. Not a week that goes by where we aren’t jumping in to help a franchisee. We have a connection to them - we call them family. We are very close-knit, and it’s the people around me and around the brand that make it a unique place with a unique culture.

What do you wish would change in franchising?

I wish franchising didn’t have to be so litigious. There are a lot of areas that are too heavily regulated, and areas that don’t allow franchisees to be their own independent business owners. Brands are feeling constrained about helping their franchisees. Franchising is a special model that gives people guidance in starting businesses, which is so important to the economy, but there is legislation that is looking to make that relationship harder. Rules are there to support the franchisee, and I respect the rules, but I also respect the distinction between the business owner and the franchisor. I want people to understand the distinction, and that franchisees could operate with the full support of the brand and be successful without restrictions.

What makes a great franchisee?

For Checkers & Rally’s, it’s really about an undying passion, work ethic and energy. There are brands where you can be less involved and less hands on and still be successful, but that’s just not our brand. You need to be attentive to it every day. Our industry is very quick moving and very competitive, and if you aren’t on it every single moment, it will eat you up. It is exciting because it is so competitive and we are very much the underdog in the space, but because we are bold and because we have a unique place in the category, we can compete with the bigger chains. That boldness is why we have guests that are begging for new restaurants and why potential franchisees are clamoring to be a part of the brands.

What’s the No. 1 thing that sells franchisees?

Return on investment. It’s not just about earning back the initial investment it takes to start a new restaurant; it is about ROI on time, as well. Time is so valuable and so limited, especially in our space, where many of our franchise owners have other restaurants in our brand or in other brands. Making owning a Checkers & Rally’s franchise a more efficient use of their time so that every moment is more impactful is really where our focus is.

Recently, our modular buildout option has caught fire. We have different options and you can build your restaurant any way you want. Modular is part of our heritage, but also it also provides a simplicity that is attractive to our franchise owners. The modular is built 1,000 miles away, it has a fixed cost of $280,000, and it’s built in eight weeks. All franchisees have to do is prepare the foundation so that the building can be set. That simplicity is incredibly compelling and unique and unlike anything that any of the other brands in the space are offering.