To ensure the strength of more than 400 restaurants throughout their franchise system, McAlister’s Deli® has built a team of franchise business consultants who work closely with each franchisee, making sure they have the resources needed to apply the brand’s business model effectively. Led by the franchise’s director of franchise operations, Aron TenEyck, McAlister’s FBCs adhere to a strategy of trust and relationship-building with franchisees, prioritizing people over policy.
TenEyck said one of the most important components of training for new McAlister’s FBCs who have come from other brands is calibrating their attitude toward the relationship with franchisees.
“Some of the folks we’ve hired as franchise business consultants had similar positions for other brands, and it took some work to change the way they saw the job,” TenEyck said. “They had policing roles where they were visiting franchisees and checking off boxes, and if a box didn’t get checked, that was a mark against the franchisee. So we have to retrain them. We try to show them that we are in the people business first and foremost. We’re here to support the franchisee, and we need them to trust us, which starts with building a relationship.”
Each of McAlister’s seven franchise business consultants works with 10–12 franchise owners, each of whom may own up to 70 restaurants. According to TenEyck, the FBC’s primary concern is building a two-way partnership with each franchisee so that they are comfortable reaching out to FBCs for everything they need and are eager to implement the guidance FBCs offer.
“There has to be implicit trust,” TenEyck said. “If some guy in a suit comes and tells you how you should be doing things, you are going to be resistant, but if a friend or a family member gives you advice, you are going to take that to heart. That’s the kind of trust we want to establish with our franchisees, and to build that trust, it has to go both ways. The franchisee has to know that if they call us up with a question, request or complaint, we are going to be there to take action.”
McAlister’s FBCs work with franchise owners to optimize virtually every aspect of the business, from vendors and food sourcing to food preparation and daily operations to finance management and administration. They even coach managers on how to hone the more subtle cultural details like McAlister’s genuine hospitality guests have come to find in every restaurant.
TenEyck said with the FBC role in place, McAlister’s has seen results reflect in its unit-level operations.?
“We’ve seen a huge difference in the satisfaction and effectiveness of our franchisees,” TenEyck said. “That really comes from the relationship. Franchisees are happier because they have a go-to person from corporate who they know personally, and we’ve been able to make sure that our franchisees are applying the model effectively because they trust us and want to take our advice.”
A more effective application of McAlister’s operational model is the FBC team’s primary concern. TenEyck said much of the advice his team gives to franchisees are reminders on how to follow the details of the system.
“Many of our owners are very sophisticated, experienced entrepreneurs, and they have a lot of ideas about how to run things,” TenEyck said, “We try to encourage that mindset to always want to improve things while at the same time showing them in very concrete ways how our model has been refined to produce the best results for the least expense. It’s not a hard sell. Most of our owners came to McAlister’s because they saw the value of that model, so our job is often just to remind them exactly how to apply it throughout their business.”
McAlister’s operational model is indeed the brand’s biggest selling point for potential investors. The franchise’s president, Paul Macaluso, said the model has been refined to offer a robust menu for customers while maintaining a lean, less expensive kitchen operation for owners.
“Our restaurants are built around operational simplicity,” Macaluso said. “Our owners aren’t maintaining fryers or dealing with a million different vendors. Our restaurants are cost-effective to build and maintain, and there is a level of ease in operations. A lot of other brands in our segment would be thrilled to see the kind of margins our owners routinely report.”
Most of that operational efficiency comes down to the menu, which Macaluso said has been crafted to offer a wide variety of appealing options while using a few, simple-to-prepare ingredients.
“We make all of our ingredients work hard for us,” Macaluso said. “Our menu has been carefully designed to cross-utilize just about every ingredient. All of our produce is used in multiple menu items, so even though our menu is larger than most other restaurants in our segment, we’re working with the same vendors which allows us to refine our food costs.”
By helping owners take advantage of that streamlined operational model, franchise business consultants have become some of the most effective tools owners have at their disposal, and TenEyck says that support system is a natural extension of the values that inform every facet of the McAlister’s franchise system.
“The work we do—building strong, personal relationships with our owners to help them thrive—I think that comes from McAlister’s roots. We’ve always been about people first. If you treat people great, you get great results. That’s been our philosophy from the get-go. McAlister’s started in Mississippi, and we’re still all about that kind of Southern hospitality. And we believe that attitude rolls downhill. If we treat our franchisees right, they’ll treat their staff right, and the staff will treat the guests right. That’s how we are developing a culture of care and respect in every corner of our franchise."