Karan Arora finds employment growth and franchise opportunity with the growing WingsUp! brand
By Suzanne Bowness
For franchisee Karan Arora, immigrating to Canada from India in 2011 meant searching for an entry-level job to help him get established in a new country while he braved the steep learning curve of a new culture. Fortunately, he landed at WingsUp!, a Canadian chicken wing restaurant franchise founded in 1988 that focuses on delivery, takeout, and catering.
Working for the franchise gave Arora the chance to learn the business from the ground up, while sampling every staff position as he moved from line operator to associate manager and then manager in the Guelph, Ontario restaurant. The experience also inspired him to make what may have been the second biggest move of his life: into franchising. In 2016, he took over as owner of the Guelph location. Today, he’s looking forward to opening a second location in Guelph.
Besides his years of experience working for the franchise, Arora says he also decided to take the plunge because he found the investment level reasonable as a new Canadian. “The footprint is smaller, the expenses are smaller, it’s more affordable for a new immigrant,” says Arora. At the same time, he saw opportunity. “This business has potential to make money.” He also liked being a part of a growing brand, and that franchising provided a system to follow (one that was already very familiar to him!)
Furthermore, with his in-depth knowledge of the operations and long-time relationship with the franchisor, he shared the brand’s values, particularly its focus on positioning the food as a premium product by using fresh ingredients. “For me, it’s the quality product. Some places today use pre-cooked chicken but that’s not as good for the customer. As a salesperson in the franchise, I knew the quality of the product, so it makes it easier to sell,” says Arora, noting that using fresh chicken equates to a much better texture in the wings. He’s also proud of the variety—there are 18 flavours ranging from classic to spicy (his personal favourite is Honey Hot).
Arora’s strong belief in the product and seeing how the franchisor made decisions made saying yes to ownership even easier. Through his work, he also developed a personal relationship with the franchisor, which built a lot of trust, something he’s grateful for. “Working with Darren [the brand’s president], he saw potential in me, as well. And he supported a lot back then. So, I made the decision to not start my own business but to go in as a franchisee with him because I had been dealing with him for so many years,” says Arora.
Primed for growth
Working with the franchise has also provided a chance to watch it grow and grow with it. As an owner, Arora says he quickly learned that the key to growing the business was to be a hands-on franchisee, particularly in the early months of ownership. The restaurant opens at 11:00 a.m., meaning operations start around 9:30 a.m. WingsUp! locations typically stay open for 10 hours, although the hours are adjusted based on community demand. In the university town of Guelph, that can sometimes mean later weekend nights to accommodate students. The franchise also caters, serving a lot of corporate clients.
As an owner, Arora divides his time between being present in the restaurant, working on marketing, making connections in his community, and hiring and managing staff. As his business grew, he brought on an assistant manager, which made his own schedule more flexible. With his plans to open a second location, he’s been hiring even more staff. “Since the population of Guelph has grown, with people from the south coming to the north side of the town, we want to serve people on their lunch break who do not have time to commute,” explains Arora.
In terms of handling challenges in the business, Arora says that one of the best attributes a new owner can have is patience. “Every business takes two or three years minimum to get to the position you want. A good businessman knows to have that patience, to give it their best, and have a good relationship with the customers. That pays off in time,” he says. Initial challenges included brand awareness in the community, which Arora says he tackled by approaching local businesses with food tastings and discount catering options.
Arora is also pleased to have benefitted from the growing regional brand awareness of WingsUp!, which has continued its expansion through Ontario and now has restaurants in communities from Kingston to Toronto to Niagara Falls. He says that WingsUp! has added 30 new locations since he’s been a franchisee. He also sees several other potential challenges that can be lessened by being in a franchise system, including the fact that the franchisor sources the suppliers, and their buying power can mean better rates.
For incoming franchisees looking at WingsUp! as a potential partner, Arora says that having sales experience is useful, as is having the patience to do the work and grow. “There’s a lot of competition, but the more competition there is, it’s better all around,” says Arora, noting that in his plaza location, there are about 10 other restaurants.
That’s why he’s so resolute about the importance of the consistency of his product and the growing brand recognition. “I have seen restaurants open which are not franchises, like independent, local business owners, but once they slip on the consistency of the product, then they see a decline.”
In terms of advice for new franchisees, Arora says to stay focused, pay attention to the financials, find good customers, and continue to build relationships in your community. “You have your flexible hours, but you can’t neglect your business. You have to be here to make sure everything runs smoothly. If your customers are happy, you are happy.”