Cover Story March/April 2018

Mary Brown’s: New and Improved

What came first – the chicken or the franchise?

Newfoundland’s own Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters is truly a Canadian success story. Originating in St. John’s in 1969, Greg Roberts, a Newfoundland entrepreneur, bought the company from the previous owners in 2007. With vision and savvy, he quickly grew the company from 67 regional stores to the 140 that exist across Canada today. East Coast hospitality is proudly entrenched in the Mary Brown’s brand.

“Over the last 49 years, Newfoundland & Labrador has definitely made its mark on the brand, and vice versa. A lot of our franchisees across Canada are from Newfoundland, and are very passionate to share their brand with the rest of the country,” says Hadi Chahin, President and COO of Mary Brown’s.

After carefully assessing the company’s branding, the team at Mary Brown’s came to the conclusion that it was time to update the franchise’s look, while still maintaining the considerable equity and trust the brand has garnered over the years. The current logo, which was introduced in 2000, has only had minor changes since its inception.

“Rejuvenating the basic elements such as colour and logo can honour our past and embrace our future,” explains Chahin. “With so many choices available for our customers, we must stay relevant and noticed.”

“Moving Mary Brown’s into more urban areas demands a modern and fresh look to ensure the brand engages savvy customers who have virtually unlimited dining options,” he adds.

The new look pays tribute to the brand’s heritage, while achieving a more contemporary vibe. Chahin says it’s fresh and fun, with a maple leaf added to reflect the brand’s all-Canadian focus. The updated logo will be used in all promotional materials, and accompany new in-store design elements and finishes.

This rebrand will roll out in early 2018 for any new store openings, and existing locations will be refreshed over the next two years. “A rebrand enables us to elevate the Mary Brown’s brand, without losing our current charm or straying from who we are,” says Chahin. While the logo may change, the commitment to their product, and their hospitality, will remain.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the Mary Brown’s on the other side

Chahin says that the system success is owed in part to its product, which is made from scratch with fresh ingredients. “We hand cut, marinate, bread, and cook our chicken at each and every store. We cook our food in small batches in our proprietary cookers throughout the day to ensure superior quality and taste, and of course, freshness,” he says.

Another strength of the system is the franchisees. “We truly have operators who care. They care about their guests, their teams, and their communities, and are very passionate about the brand and what it stands for,” explains Chahin. “Most of our franchisees are owner-operators who are engaged in their business and are very hardworking, dedicated individuals. It feels like a family.”

One such franchisee is Rob Sills of Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. Mary Brown’s has been in his family for 40 years. “My grandfather, my uncle, and my father were franchisees of Mary Brown’s,” says Sills. While he did move out of province for a number of years, the plan was always for him to follow in his father’s footsteps. When his father passed away suddenly, he felt like it was time to take over the business. “I love being back in Newfoundland, and this franchise has provided me with the life that I want. I can provide for my family and live a comfortable life.”

Sills says that there are many benefits to being a franchisee, but the one that stands out to him is community involvement. As a franchisee, he’s participated in initiatives like events in partnership with the Special Olympics, contributing to local food banks, and hiring local Newfoundland artists to play music in the store. “I’m involved in the community in ways that I wouldn’t be able to be if I was in another line of work. And that makes the job really rewarding,” he says.

Sills says he’s excited about the upcoming changes to the brand’s look. “Updating the look is really a move to go after a younger demographic and a younger audience to grow our business. I believe that’s what it will do. I’ve seen some of the materials already, and I’m excited about it.”

A big part of Mary Brown’s growth and success is due to franchising. “Adding 50-plus stores in the last few years would not have been possible without franchising, and with every new store that we open, we grow our brand awareness and our customer base – and that supports existing and new franchisees alike,” explains Chahin.

The franchise model, which allows individuals to own their own business with the support and help of an existing franchisor, can give franchisees a leg up on business success. “Many of our existing franchisees are now growing into their second, third, and even fifth locations. It works!” affirms Chahin.

Birds of a feather

The Mary Brown’s ideal franchisee has a passion for customer service. “Ideally, the candidate has some ­­­­­food background and restaurant experience, but we have successful franchisees who did not come from the foodservice industry,” says Chahin. “Finding new franchisees who are the right cultural fit for Mary Brown’s is also a critical component for future success and future growth. We look for like-minded individuals who can help us extend our brand while maintaining its integrity.”

Head office provides a four-week training program leading up to the store’s opening day, and there’s a turnkey option for store construction. Additionally, “We have a dedicated team who supports the franchisee in the opening, and then our field operations and marketing teams will take over and provide ongoing support and planning,” says Chahin. In the case that the franchisee is an investor, the store manager or part owner will go through the training process to make sure that someone on site can train the team on how to deliver a great product and hospitality-driven service.

Sills has only positive things to say about the support he’s received as a franchisee. “There’s been growth in the number of support people and marketing people who have come on board in the last seven years. Store visits and support have gone up significantly.” Additionally, regular conference calls are used to explain marketing initiatives, and regional directors are available to come into stores and help with challenges that arise.

One issue that Sills encountered was with staffing in his store. “In this type of business, the challenges that you face are recruiting and motivating a great staff and a great team.” To address this area of difficulty, he’s used the technique of trying to understand what an employee or potential employee wants out of their job.

“If you’re taking the job as a stepping stone job, then you have my complete resources to help you get to that point,” he says. “In doing so, I get the best of the employee while they’re here, and I’m able to attract a better employee.”

While there are always problems that can pop up, the ongoing support, in combination with some great advice, helps paint a picture for how to overcome them. “Follow all procedures meticulously,” advises Sills. “Give your guests the best Mary Brown’s experience they can get, and you will be successful, and most importantly, take pride in making the product.”

Pursuant to his own fulfilling franchisee experience, Sill recommends that franchisees also get involved in the community. “Use every opportunity you can to get your product into the hands of prospective guests. Include charity and a sense of community-mindedness in your guest experience.”

Flying forward

Looking ahead to the next 50 years, Chahin sees a lot of growth for the franchise system. “Our goal is to reach 200 stores by 2020,” he says. While this growth will be mostly in Ontario and British Columbia, certain areas in other provinces, as well as the international market, will also see expansion.

“We opened a store in Florida in 2007, our first venture into that market. We are considering future expansion in that area and potentially overseas, as well,” he explains. “We firmly believe a superior product and outstanding guest service can take us anywhere.”

Learn more about Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters franchise opportunities

By Karen Stevens