In nearly 30 years of franchising at McAlister’s Deli®, the fast-casual restaurant brand known for their genuine hospitality and famous sweet tea has grown to over 400 units across 28 states. Much of that growth can be attributed to consumer demand for the brand, which has spread rapidly in and around McAlister’s existing territories, but equally conducive to the brand’s development has been a growing pool of qualified prospective franchisees who are eager to partner with the brand.
According to McAlister’s Deli President Paul Macaluso, referrals from existing franchisees have been a key component of the brand’s development strategy.
“We realized a long time ago that we have this incredible development resource in our franchisees,” Macaluso said. “There’s no better validation than favorable reviews from owners who know firsthand what it’s like to run a McAlister’s.”
Macaluso says that McAlister’s has always enjoyed a certain amount of organic growth from franchisee referrals, but in recent years, the brand’s development team has begun leveraging the satisfaction of McAlister’s franchisees as a marketing tool.
“So many of our owners came to the system because they had a friend or family member who had found success with McAlister’s,” Macaluso said. “We decided that we should be taking advantage of those word-of-mouth endorsements by putting all of our prospective franchisees in touch with existing owners.”
Every prospective McAlister’s franchisee is given a list of existing owners who they can talk to or visit to learn about the experience of owning a McAlister’s Deli. Macaluso says the outreach has paid off.
“When a prospective franchisee goes out and meets McAlister’s owners, that’s when the process really takes off,” Macaluso said. “If they weren’t sold on McAlister’s before, they are after talking to our owners.”
The foremost benefit of having McAlister’s owners talk to prospects is the first-hand account of success, but Macaluso says there is another, less obvious upside: the personal connection.
“It’s not just about validation,” Macaluso said. “When prospects meet our owners, they get to meet people from all different backgrounds who share the same goals, and they start to realize that they could be part of this system of good, like-minded people supporting each other. Support is really a big part of it. Our franchisees stay connected and they help each other out, and I think that’s apparent once you start meeting them.”
Referrals also provide McAlister’s development team a shortcut to finding prospective franchisees who share the brand’s values and attitude.
“When one of our owners brings one of their family members or friends to our development team, it’s far more likely that they are going to fit in with our system compared to an investor who may be researching a number of different brands,” said Macaluso. “That’s important because we’re adamant about finding partners who have a real passion for the spirit of genuine hospitality that defines our service and who love our food.”
Beyond the expansion of the franchise system, Macaluso says franchisee referrals also serve as a barometer of how well the brand is meeting its own standards.
“We believe that the success of our brand is directly tied to the satisfaction of our franchisees,” Macaluso said. “Our entire system is designed to support the franchisee, so if they aren’t happy, then something’s not working. Fortunately, all the referrals we see from our owners are a great indication that they are happy.”