By David Chilton Saggers
There’s a big difference between knowing you’re hungry and knowing exactly what you want to eat. Fortunately, these three all-Canadian franchise systems can help customers decide. Their expansion and loyal customer base highlight their brand power, which provides food for thought for those considering investing in this industry.
There are two kinds of beaver tails. There’s the one attached to that furry Canadian icon. And then there’s the BeaverTail, a fried pastry that’s an icon in its own right. The BeaverTail is a fried whole wheat pastry that’s hand-shaped to resemble the paddle-shaped tail of the famous critter. Toppings can be sweet or savoury. Store menus also offer poutine and other items like the BeaverDog, a wiener wrapped in a BeaverTail. Pam and Grant Hooker introduced this sweet treat in 1978 at a community fair in Killaloe, west of Ottawa, Ontario.
Franchising for BeaverTails began in 1992 and ran until 2000, says Patrick Marcovecchio, the vice president of business development, from head office in Montreal. It was paused during a change of management and began again in 2006. There are now 196 franchises in all provinces except Newfoundland & Labrador. The national expansion will continue, with 25 new franchises planned per year.
BeaverTails also has more than 50 food trucks operating nationally. Customers and growth for BeaverTails come from high-volume tourist areas such as Jasper National Park in Alberta. However, Marcovecchio says that there’s also a focus on grocery-anchored plazas, with the first non-tourist venue location opening five years ago.
The profile of BeaverTails’ franchisees varies. “We’ve got pretty much everyone in there, and there’s a strong appeal to women [as franchisees],” says Marcovecchio. Potential investors must be a fan of the system’s food, he continues, and be able to demonstrate that passion. They won’t need a business or restaurant background, but a customer service focus is very welcome.
Training takes two weeks, with one week on site in Montreal and another week in a mobile unit. A turnkey BeaverTails franchise starts at $500,000, and the ideal location size is 1,000 to 1,200 square feet. Service is takeout only. A truck franchise runs $175,000 to $225,000.
Marcovecchio says that COVID made 2020 tough for franchisees in theme parks. However, shops and trucks fared well. On the mobile side, a month or so into the pandemic, some trucks stationed themselves in grocery store parking lots, where they found success. That success has continued. “The first five months of 2022 have been outstanding,” says Marcovecchio.
He sums up the benefits of franchising with BeaverTails this way: “We have a happy product. We have a happy culture. Our operations are simple, our margins good, and our costs competitive.”
DoughBox Wood Fired Pizza and Pasta
Tony Visca and his business partner, Fernando Colavecchia, had two things in mind when they decided to expand their Niagara-based pizza shop: to use the quick service model to launch restaurants that were smaller than those they previously owned, and to bring a premium product to a quick service setting.
This was in 2016, and by 2019, they had opened their flagship location in Hamilton, Ontario and were considering franchising. Then the pandemic struck and “there was quite a shift,” says Visca, president of DoughBox Wood Fired Pizza and Pasta, from head office in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
That flagship location, across from McMaster University, lost access to its customer base of students and families and had to switch gears. That meant going online, with delivery from the likes of SkipTheDishes. “In fact, our online [ordering] went crazy. COVID taught us to be great online,” says Visca.
Despite the move away from dine-in and takeout, sales were maintained by a strong online presence, and
Visca and Colavecchia considered adding restaurants. By 2021, franchises opened in Oakville and Mississauga, Ontario. Others are due to open in the province this year in Guelph, Woodstock, London, and Toronto,
and there are plans to add another 10 DoughBox franchises by the end of 2022. “Ontario is really where we
want to be,” says Visca, who is also interested in expansion to Western Canada.
One benefit of investing with DoughBox is its successful franchise model, says Visca. Another is that the system allows franchisees to find a balance between work and family, and a third is recognizing that franchisees need to be more profitable than the franchisor.
As for the qualities he looks for in a prospective franchisee, many of them being newcomers to Canada, Visca says he wants those who understand business and what it takes to be successful. Business exposure is a bonus. He also meets every prospective franchisee, because joining the DoughBox system “is like a marriage.”
Training takes place at the corporate location in Hamilton and lasts four to five weeks, with another two weeks of on-site instruction for staff and a further week on-site for the franchisee. A typical DoughBox restaurant has seating for 30 people, and is in the 2,000 square feet range. The cost to open a franchise is between $500,000-$650,000, and DoughBox locations can be found in strip malls and at street front locations.
There is just one Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay, Ontario – the massive rock formation in Lake Superior. In 1975, there was also just one Robin’s Donuts in the city. Since then, Robin’s has grown to 140 franchises, with locations from coast to coast.
Tariq El-Noqrashy, director of franchising and real estate development, says the Robin’s empire is still growing, with 25 to 35 more franchises planned in the next five years. “We’re looking to expand our presence in Ontario,” he says, “and we have master franchisors in Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada, and Manitoba.” Robin’s was already franchising when Chairman’s Brands Corp., which also owns Eggsmart and 241 Pizza, acquired it in 2006.
El-Noqrashy says the brand is looking for franchisees who are outgoing, have a passion for customer service, and appreciate the fresh food Robin’s offers, including all-day breakfast and a lunchtime sandwich menu, as well as coffee and donuts. Some business exposure would also be welcome, he notes.
Training is hands-on, and Robin’s recommends that the franchisee take the instruction, rather than a manager. “We train on the floor,” El-Noqrashy explains from Robin’s head office in Toronto. “It’s four weeks, all shifts. We train on all aspects of managing the business to increase revenue and manage resources and the team.”
Robin’s offers three different concepts: drive-thru, street front, and express. The first two are usually between 1,400 and 2,000 square feet. The express, typically found in gas stations and pharmacies, is 200 to 500 square feet. The two largest cost up to $500,000 to start operations, and the express location varies based on size and offering – from only beverages, to hot and cold beverages, and baked goods and beverages. Robin’s either finds the appropriate real estate for its franchisees or lets them do it themselves—and is even open to self-construction.
Operating during the COVID pandemic was a challenge for the brand and its franchisees, with even the essential
coffee industry impacted, says El-Noqrashy. “COVID was a shock. After all, coffee is the fuel of humans.”
To deal with the difficulties, Robin’s offered immediate royalty concessions for 10 months and rationalized the menu to adapt to the new restrictions imposed and health requirements. As a result, not a single store closed, even during the height of the pandemic. Although same store sales “took a hit” throughout the pandemic, Robin’s is now performing better than it was pre-pandemic, notes El-Noqrashy.
As for the benefits of investing with Robin’s Donuts, El-Noqrashy says the brand offers wide appeal to all market segments and the franchise team provides strong continuing support. “We don’t just sell a store and wish them [franchisees] luck.”