Cover Story November/December 2022 Previous Issues

First-Class Franchisees

From education to hospitality, these award-winning franchisees exemplify the best practices in franchise ownership in 2022

By Daniel McIntosh

The Canadian Franchise Association’s (CFA) Franchisee of the Year award recognizes top-performing franchisees who have built strong connections with their communities. From multi-unit owners with decades of experience, to new franchisees earning their first stripes, Franchise Canada spoke to our podium of winners about the beginnings of their franchise journeys, the challenges they face, and what it takes to succeed in their respective industries.

Gold, Traditional: Carolyn Genest, Days Inn by Wyndham, Saskatoon, SK

To be named a franchisee of the year is a commendable honour, especially as a hotelier contending with the hospitality industry’s downturn in the wake of COVID-19. For Days Inn franchisee Carolyn Genest, it’s a victory made even sweeter as her company celebrates its 25th anniversary with the brand in November.

Genest adopted her love of the hotel business from her father’s partnership at d3h, whose hotel beginnings “sound like a bad joke” by her own admission. “The company was started by three men named Don: an architect, an accountant, and a hotelier. One of the Dons, which was the accountant, was my father.”

From day one, Genest was immersed in the world of hotels. As the business grew and became primed for franchising, Days Inn presented an opportunity for the founders to maintain their self-starting values. “They were looking for something that didn’t exist in the market, and a franchise that was really young,” says Genest. “Days Inn became a natural fit.” The franchise team valued what d3h had to say, leading to a synergistic partnership, according to Genest.

But of course, challenges persisted. After the partnership came the issue of introducing the locals of Saskatchewan and Alberta to the new brand on the block. “There was no Days Inn in the province of Saskatchewan when we built our first hotel,” recalls Genest.

Despite Days Inn being well-known across the U.S., it was only just starting to emerge in Canada. But Genest credits the brand’s messaging as an asset in their early strides into business. “The messaging was very strong, the recognition of the logo was very strong, and they just had good standards in place. It was easy to follow through with that when we were educating the public.”

Today, Genest oversees six Days Inn locations across Saskatchewan and Alberta as d3h’s chief strategist, a fraught position to be in as the hotel and tourism industry dealt with rapidly shifting COVID protocols over the last two years. Genest wondered how a hotel franchise could stay relevant with travel limited to essential needs only. Days Inn pivoted to supporting their communities in different ways. They provided subsidized stays to families from a local Ronald McDonald House that shut down and provided long-haul truckers with essential furnishings for a quick rest and a shower.

The relative downtime also allowed them to implement new partnerships with other service-related businesses in their communities. “It was just such a breath of fresh air to have that partnership and camaraderie that we could build together,” says Genest. The brand also created the Explore Pass program, which enticed visitors to explore local hotspots safely, and provided a comprehensive list of local closures. “It was an almost daily pivoting [around] the government’s announcements,” she says. “So, it’s been a struggle, but I’m proud to say that all our hotels remained open during COVID.”

On receiving the Franchisee of the Year award, Genest says she felt honoured to be recognized by her franchisor. “It also gave us something to celebrate together. We needed something positive to keep us moving along.”

Having seen her franchise through periods of growth and contraction over a quarter-century gives Genest a unique view into the ups and downs of franchise ownership. As the advice she relays to new franchisees highlights, the marketplace has changed rapidly from then to now. Despite the average newcomer thinking the hospitality business is easy to enter, the industry can be cutthroat, and more new competition is forming every day. By contrast, the benefits of aligning with a franchise system are clear.

“Just having that knowledge base and that support system in place is key,” says Genest. “I would ask questions, talk to other franchisees, read articles, do whatever research you need to, but you’re going to learn what the franchise is like from other franchisees. That would be my biggest piece of advice: do your research.”

“We’re celebrating our 25th year franchising with Realstar and have appreciated their commitment to growth and consistent demonstration of authentic hospitality,” adds Genest. “A big thank you to the team at Realstar for the nomination and to the CFA for the award. It’s been a welcome recognition for the entire team at d3h.”

Gold, Non-Traditional: Sylvie Levesque, Paul Davis Restoration, Grand Falls, NB

The franchise journey doesn’t start with visions of sure success for everyone. For Sylvie Levesque, the opportunity for ownership came after 11 years as a Paul Davis Restoration employee. The brand provides cleanup and repair services for residential and commercial properties, which Levesque has seen her fair share of. But the shift from being a peer in the organization to a leader doesn’t happen overnight. Confidence and certainty in decision making is a learned skill, one that she has had to develop in her three years as a franchisee for the brand. “I was thrown pretty deep in the ocean,” she says.

Despite only being six months into her tenure as a franchisee before the pandemic struck, she says that the enforced changes were quite similar to issues she deals with on a regular basis. “You walk into a sewer backup, you’re bound to be wearing your PPE, you know how to don and doff, you know how to use disinfectant.”

Levesque says no two days at Paul Davis are ever the same. “Whatever emails come in, whatever files get on my desk, is what I tackle that day.” On an average day, she’s dealt with calls regarding mold, asbestos, water and fire issues, damage from hail the size of golf balls, and at least one bat infestation.

She relies on the network of Paul Davis corporate staff and franchisees to stay afloat. “There’s always somebody somewhere that can lend a hand or that will be an ear to listen or be a sounding board. That’s probably what I enjoy the most about being part of the Paul Davis network.” Whatever issues they face, it’s clearly worked in their favour as gold winners of the Franchisee of the Year award.

 Levesque says the award, and the national attention it brings, allows people in her community to see them as “more of a professional company and not just a construction company.” With the award also comes endorsement for her team. “When they do get to those jobs that aren’t necessarily the most fun, having that validation, having that team spirit and knowing that we’re doing good work and we’re being appreciated not just by our clients, but also in the industry.”

For prospective Paul Davis franchisees, Levesque says diving in and learning from experience is the best course of action. “It’s a great network, we’ve got a lot support and you get great results, because you have those people around you that can help and lead you and you develop great friendships through all this, as well.”

She adds that she’s seen continuous growth and success with the network’s support. So much so that her team has been designated as a mentorship office for onboarding new franchisees. As for the future of her franchisee journey, she intends to keep up her mentorship for incoming business leaders and recommends speaking to franchisees to learn from their experience. “I want to keep being one of those mentorship offices and guide people to make the best decision for them.”

Silver, Traditional Winner: Chris Vlemmix, SpeedPro Imaging Canada, London, ON

Chris Vlemmix, a SpeedPro franchisee from London, Ontario, won the silver traditional Franchisee of the Year award. He says the benefits of franchising were clear and appealing to him before he left his previous job in 2008, in the engineering department of an automotive supplier. Meanwhile, the 2008 recession raged on, and many companies, including his, were downsizing. “All of this was happening at the same time as I was looking at franchise opportunities—including the Speedpro franchise.”

As Vlemmix weighed the options of going into business for himself, he saw the benefit of Speedpro’s proven system, citing the great management team, their stellar marketing and training programs, and the positivity of other franchise owners with the brand. The latter point is especially important to future franchisees. “Do your research,” asserts Vlemmix to prospective franchisees. “Make sure you speak to a good cross-variety of owners at different stages of building their business … and trust your gut.”

Silver, Non-Traditional Winner: John Bailey, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Canada, Toronto, ON

There’s a consistent mantra that runs through the world of franchising: you’re in business for yourself, not by yourself. John Bailey, a Toronto-based franchisee, cites the adage in reflection of why he joined TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Canada. Even when working from his office, he says, “If I needed help with something I knew I could count on someone to help me.”

During his early interactions with the company, Bailey noted the supportive nature of the franchisor team. “It seemed like they cared about people and wanted everyone to succeed.” The shared success runs through the organization from the top down, meaning franchisees lean on each other and everybody wins. “We can work with other franchisees to develop our brand and our business at the same time,” says Bailey. “If we have a problem, we can count on someone else to be able to help us work through certain challenges.”

As for advising prospective franchisees, Bailey says the best asset new members could bring to TWO MEN AND A TRUCK is a desire to work hard, work smart, and think outside of the box. “Be a good listener,” he says, “and by doing that you can come up with some creative ideas to be successful.

Bronze, Traditional: Naghmeh Razmpoosh, Oxford Learning, Milton, ON

For Naghmeh Razmpoosh, joining Oxford Learning as a franchisee went hand in hand with her family needs. “It was more about helping kids, than owning a franchise business,” says Razmpoosh, of her Milton, Ontario-based business. She was inspired by the needs of her own child’s immuno-compromised illness. “I needed to either homeschool her or find an education centre for her that could provide the right environment.”

Oxford Learning provided an established brand she could use to help parents in similar situations, and guarantee the tools for building a successful business from the outset. As an engineer by profession, Razmpoosh is used to seeing things in a procedural and methodical light, and the philosophy behind Oxford Learning, as expressed by founders Lenka and Nick Whitehead, aligned with her thinking. “What started out as admiration and awe has grown into a passionate desire to use this learning system to help all children in the Milton community and beyond,” adds Razmpoosh, “particularly those with their own unique learning needs, which were not being addressed by the public school system.”

For prospective franchisees looking to break into the field of education, Razmpoosh says alignment with the franchise mission is invaluable. “Make sure you speak to existing franchisees. If you put in the effort and you believe in the mission, then the sky is the limit!”