Staying Ahead of the Curve
Innovation, collaboration, and community connections continue to feed McDonald’s Canada’s success
By Kym Wolfe
If you live anywhere in Canada, chances are you’ve seen the Golden Arches and know that they mark the location of a McDonald’s restaurant. Although the chain was established in the United States in 1955, it has been an iconic part of the Canadian landscape since 1967, when the first McDonald’s north of the border opened in Richmond, British Columbia.
McDonald’s has always stayed ahead of the curve with its branding, menu, and use of technology, says Jonathan Greenway, senior director of franchising for McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada. “We have a robust system, and we can innovate, adopting tried and tested products and systems from around the world. We also truly believe in our philosophy of the three-legged stool – corporate staff, franchisees, and our suppliers, working collaboratively.”
All of these factors have helped fuel McDonald’s Canada’s constant growth for more than 50 years, and last year, they helped minimize disruption to business in the face of COVID-19 restrictions.
“We are constantly reinventing ourselves – that’s one of our strengths — and were able to adapt throughout the pandemic” says Greenway. “We launched ‘experience of the future’ in 2016, which included significant digital adoption, including kiosks, so a substantial portion of our restaurants had digital, drive-thru, and McDelivery in place, all of which have been essential.”
“During the lockdown peak, we benefited from the resiliency of our people and system, and this meant working closely with franchisees every step of the way, to ensure every move of our transition was made at the right time. We see the crisis as an opportunity to build market share and partnered with our franchisees to accelerate the recovery to come out ahead,” he adds.
Opportunities for growth
Across Canada, there are more than 1,400 McDonald’s locations, with new ones built each year. “We own or lease the land that every McDonald’s sits on. One of our specialties is finding great real estate,” says Greenway. Since this is a mature system, new franchisees are most likely to acquire one or more established locations, which may require them to relocate, given the limited number of opportunities available. “There are opportunities to grow and reinvest once you get in the door. Once they have established themselves, many franchise owners acquire or build additional restaurants over time.”
That’s the route that Penny McDonald took, starting with two locations in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland & Labrador, purchasing from a retiring owner. McDonald was later offered the opportunity to purchase another location in Lewisporte, a smaller community about 65 km away.
Although she had experience working at McDonald’s when she was in high school, the one she now owns, becoming a franchise owner meant going through the same training as any new franchisee. “A lot of things have changed, especially the menu. I had to learn every aspect of the business, starting from the grassroots as a crew member, working hands-on at all the stations in the restaurant,” says McDonald.
That included stints at the cash register, drive-thru window, in food prep, and cleaning tables in the dining room. She also completed comprehensive management training courses and attended Hamburger University in Chicago.
“Yes, it does exist!” she says. “In the beginning, it was a huge learning curve. And the training with McDonald’s never stops, from conferences and seminars to one-on-one coaching. You feel like a valued member of a larger McFamily who are always there to support you. The franchising system is built on the premise that McDonald’s can be successful only if their owner/operators are successful.”
The McDonald’s training program for new franchisees is best in class, says Greenway. “The applicant will train at an established location in the market they live in. It is long and extensive training – nine months full-time or 18 months part-time – enough time to equip them with all of the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful.”
The franchise system is also unique in that new franchisees aren’t required to invest any money until they’re ready to operate their location. “By the time they complete their training, they will know if McDonald’s is the right fit, and they will be fully ready, capable, and comfortable running the business,” says Greenway.
Setting the tone
“Being a franchisee has many rewards, but it also has challenges,” says McDonald. “Success does not come easily, especially in the beginning. It requires long days and hours. No one can run your business like you. You have to be present and visible, setting the tone from the top and leading by example. McDonald’s philosophy of offering quality, service, cleanliness, and value to our guests is critical to the success of our business. It’s important to set your expectations and standards and cascade it through communication and role modelling on the floor with your managers and staff.”
McDonald says that her background in social work has been quite beneficial. “I quickly realized that people are my biggest asset and the backbone to my business. Listening, relationship building, trusting my people and supporting their learning, growth, and career development are always at the core of what I do each day. You start by hiring the right people, and once you find them, it’s important to take care of them. I only had to lay off a few of my staff during COVID, but within a month, I was able to call them back.”
McDonald’s looks for franchisees committed to being hands-on owner/operators, who have a passion for the brand, a growth mindset, a strong work ethic, and the ability to manage and lead people. Previous experience in the food industry or management is not required, says Greenway. “This is a 24/7 business – it requires energy, commitment, and stamina. We move quickly!”
That speediness was evident when the pandemic hit, says McDonald. “McDonald’s, like all other franchise systems, had no playbook to deal with this unprecedented event. We were in uncharted waters. It was remarkable to see how quickly the system, along with its partners, including owner/operators and suppliers, came together as one team to navigate through this crisis while ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our people and our guests.”
“At the same time, we stood strong with our communities and continued to help during this difficult time by giving back through many initiatives such as Fries For Good, a national initiative where a portion of proceeds from all fries sold in Canada went to the Canadian Red Cross, supporting Canadian Emergencies and COVID-19 Response Fund. And for three months, we thanked all frontline healthcare workers by offering them free coffee or tea,” she adds.
That commitment to “give back to the community that supports you and your business every day” is something that both McDonald and the company value. “It’s woven in the fabric of our brand,” she says. “Ronald McDonald House is just another example of this. It is near and dear to all our hearts as it gives families with a sick child what they need most: a home away from home while being nearby to take care of their child.”
McDonald is also involved in her local communities, supporting different organizations and activities like local minor hockey, and this past year sponsoring the printing of Healthy Teens magazine, a publication focused on youth addictions and mental health issues for Lewisporte Collegiate high school.