Franchise Button: Red 100% Canadian stamp on white background
100% Canadian Franchises Company Profiles March/April 2021

Home-Grown and Locally Owned: Konz Pizza…in a Cone, Starks Barber Company, and Transition Squad

By David Chilton Saggers

Franchise systems find success through a team effort; everyone should follow the same script at the same time. But as with any team, a few players excel. For the systems profiled here, their entrepreneurial and all-Canadian founders certainly stand out. 

Konz Pizza…in a Cone®

Whether it’s round, rectangular, or a triangle, the world’s favourite food – pizza – is something you can buy everywhere. But now those traditional shapes have a competitor: pizza in a cone from Konz Pizza®.

Kris Lawrie, founder of Konz, opened his first location in Kelowna, B.C. in 2014 and in 2016, the first franchise opened for business in Edmonton, Alberta. There are now six stores operating in the system, with seven new locations due to open by March 2021 (four in Ontario, one in Manitoba, and two in Saskatchewan), and a further seven locations to be opened by summer of this year. These are areas where the company plans major expansion, and he’s also looking further afield – specifically to the U.K., where Lawrie, a Canadian, worked as a chef for a number of years.

Lawrie says he looks for two attributes in a potential franchisee: experience in the hospitality business and the ability to get along with others. “We need to know we can work with you and you can work with us; it’s [about] being part of a team.”

Konz franchisees are a diverse group, comprised of men and women of all ages and experience. Training takes three weeks in the store closest to where the new franchisee intends to open. The cost of a franchise ranges from $230,000 to $250,000, and although Konz has food trucks, the typical sweet spot for a food court turnkey store is 1,000 to 1,200 square feet. The Konz target market is broad, with a menu that appeals to a wide range of consumers.

Two store builds have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, says Lawrie. When the first wave of the infection hit, “it really shut things down, and the September-October second wave created more problems.” However, Konz adjusted accordingly. “We’ve had an incredible year. [COVID-19] drove us to improve our takeout and delivery platforms.”

Lawrie says joining the Konz franchise offers numerous benefits, one of which is that the franchise family comes first. “It means a lot to us,” Lawrie says of supporting franchisees without dictating to them. Another benefit is that the proprietary concept of pizza in a cone means it’s not going head-to-head with traditional pizza restaurants. Konz locations also have lower build costs than traditional restaurants and most franchises.

Lawrie concludes, “With life moving ever faster, food choices must keep up.” And the unique concept of pizza in a cone does just that.

Starks Barber Company

Steve Tallis and Ryan McLaclan wanted more from the barbershops in their Markham, Ontario hometown. So, they decided to start a company to provide the sorts of haircuts that they wanted as young executives – and to take advantage of a great business opportunity.

That was in 2013, and by 2019, Starks Barber Company had four franchises in Southern Ontario, located in Toronto, Aurora, Stouffville, and Peterborough, with a fifth location scheduled to open this year. The Markham and Whitby locations are corporately owned. As for expansion, there are a “bunch of no-brainer markets” available, Tallis says from his Toronto office: Toronto itself and suburban Mississauga, Oakville, and Vaughan. He says he wants to open 50 to 60 locations in the next 10 years.

Starks’ positioning puts it far from the old-fashioned barbershop and above what Tallis calls, “the budget brands.” The company also offers shaves, hair colouring, and clay mask facials. And a touch of cool. “We’re cool enough for the young kids, but not too cool for the established executive,” says Tallis about his customer base.

Further, every one of his street front locations offers customers Starks Gentlemen’s Supply, a made-in-Canada range of premium hair care products and toiletries, a membership plan, and a mobile app to book appointments. A location’s sweet spot is about 1,500 square feet, and seven barber chairs are optimal. A franchise costs $350,000 including construction expenses, and training lasts three days with Starks staff in-store during opening week.

Tallis says he looks for investors “who can dive right in and have fun while doing it.” But, he adds, franchisees will “work on the business, not in the business.” In other words, they don’t cut the customers’ hair. Instead, the two biggest haircutting schools in the Greater Toronto Area supply him with barbers, and others are hired via social media and online classified ads. His franchisees come from every industry, but they are all from the corporate sector and well-educated.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Starks was forced to temporarily shut down. But, Tallis explains, closure enhanced the company’s thinking. On Zoom, they offered free tips and tricks from their professional staff to anyone stuck at home who had to cut their own hair. “We got national public relations (coverage) from the program,” says Tallis.

As for the benefits of becoming a Starks’ franchise, Tallis lists three principal advantages: industry leadership, a business that’s easy to understand and evaluate, and the right amount of flexibility.

Transition Squad

Viraf Baliwalla wears several hats at Transition Squad: founder, owner, and president. Transition Squad, as its name suggests, is all about change, specifically for seniors and family members settling an estate, but also includes others such as divorcees and those relocating, who have to downsize their homes’ contents.

Baliwalla began Transition Squad in 2006 as an essentially in-person estate sale business before realizing that there was an easier way to do things. So instead of coping with a large crowd coming to view a home’s contents and haggling over the price, Baliwalla moved his operations almost entirely online.

“We’ve created a local online marketplace where buyers compete for the sale items, which drives prices up,” he says, noting that Transition Squad can sell 70 to 90 per cent of the items on offer through their own online auction platform. Unsold items are donated to women’s shelters for their clients who have suffered domestic violence or need to get a fresh start.

Clearly, this model helped moderate the effects of COVID-19 on his system. “Online shopping has seen a huge increase (during the pandemic),” he says. And now, Transition Squad also offers a Coupons and Deals Club free to local merchants to provide their buyer members new products and services to bid on while promoting local businesses.

Baliwalla’s Toronto location is corporate, and his first investor franchise is in the Durham Region, east of the city. “We’ve taken a ‘ready, aim, fire’ approach to franchising, with our first franchisee as a model to simplify and improve,” says Baliwalla, who began franchising in 2014.

However, his expansion plans are national and international. “We’re looking at scaling up across the country,” he says, noting that he also has an eye on the U.S. market. Transition Squad sells franchises by territory, each typically comprising 300,000 homes. But, Baliwalla points out, he won’t sell an adjacent franchise until that territory is making “decent money.”

Purchasing a Transition Squad franchise costs $25,000, and the system was charging $5,000 for on-site training, but due to COVID, new virtual training processes have been implemented, which reduce the time and training price to $2,000. Potential investors can stop after the training if they feel Transition Squad is not for them. Those who choose to continue then undergo a six-month evaluation before they become a franchisee.

More women than men consider this type of franchise, says Baliwalla, and are usually professionals between 35 and 45 years old who display the necessary people skills and empathy for their clients. In return, they benefit from a low cost of entry and a work-from-home business, says Baliwalla, with a simple system that, if followed, allows franchisees to start making money very quickly.

Transition Squad Downsizing Services
Transition Squad Auction House