Franchisees Who Give Back: Roy Leslie of Shoney’s Knoxville, Inc.
Franchisees Who Give Back: Roy Leslie of Shoney’s Knoxville, Inc.

The CEO of the brand’s Knoxville franchisee company on the importance of investing in your community.

About 180 miles east of Shoney’s corporate headquarters in Nashville, Roy Leslie oversees the brand’s Knoxville franchisee company, which owns and operates nearly 20 locations throughout the area.  Shoney’s of Knoxville, Inc. has been in business for more than 55 years, and Leslie attributes that longevity in part to his stalwart dedication to supporting each of his restaurants’ communities.

1851 talked to Leslie about the importance of giving back and why he recommends franchisees “start small” with their outreach efforts and grow their commitment along with the business.

How does giving back to your local community help grow your business?

Leslie: As a locally owned business, it’s very important to contribute to local causes in your community. However, a business can’t contribute to every cause, or it will quite simply break your business. There needs to be a focused and thoughtful process on who you support and why. When your message is clear about what organizations you support, there is understanding and support from your guests, especially when you sometimes have to decline donation or sponsorship requests.

What local charitable efforts have you pursued to connect with your local community?

Leslie: Shoney’s of Knoxville, Inc. is an employee-owned and operated franchise, and we’ve been in business since 1962. Early on, the company decided to focus on children’s causes, especially school-related events and our local children’s hospital. We’ve established a great reputation for focusing on kids in our community.

For the past 24 years, one of our top annual events has been the Shoney’s KidCare Photo ID program. The event provides free KidCare Photo IDs for children, which enables parents to have information readily available for authorities in the event their child is ever reported missing. The IDs include a color photograph, fingerprints, a medical profile, a 24-hour NCMEC hotline number, and other important information, such as height, weight and date of birth. The program has successfully provided more than 40,000 children with IDs. Each participant also gets to visit the Shoney Bear.

What are your best tips for marketing a local business?

Leslie: We believe in traditional mass media, including radio, TV, billboards and some print. And we are now incorporating social media into the mix. However, ongoing positive word of mouth and our loyal guests may be the biggest benefit to our marketing. Partnering with organizations and events is another great way to market Shoney’s, but we believe that keeping our guests happy is the best way to market the business.

How effective are charitable efforts in growing your business?

Leslie: We wish we knew! So much of our public relations, goodwill and community service is very difficult to measure. It’s hard to know which sales increases are solely based on our charitable efforts. However, we know we receive positive guest comments every day. We continue to put forth the effort, regardless of the difficulty in measuring the direct impact on sales.

What advice would you give to other franchisees who are just starting their businesses to best set themselves up for success on the local level?

Leslie: Learn about what’s important to your guests in your community. Start small, be focused on the charities that mean the most to you, your guests and your staff. Then, let people know where you stand and why. Eventually, you may be able to grow the number of charities you can help. And when you do, don’t be shy about letting the community know about your support.