Current Issue January/February 2023

Socially Centred Franchising

Three franchises with social responsibility and eco-friendliness at the heart of their brands

By Georgie Binks

Being a part of a successful business is great, but partnering with one that also takes social responsibility seriously is even better. These three franchises do everything from helping others to making everyone feel included and promoting sustainability with their products.

A&W Food Services of Canada

From delicious Teen Burgers to fundraising for MS, A&W Canada is a 100 per cent Canadian-owned and operated brand that has become a leader in the QSR industry, differentiated by its commitments to doing what’s right for people and the planet. Also known as “The Home of the Burger Family,” the franchise has expanded its offering to include blended frozen beverages and espresso drinks with the A&W Brew Bar.

As for social issues, Ryan Picklyk, senior director, real estate & franchising, says the company focuses on making a positive impact in five key areas: food, environment, animal welfare, people, and community. “We believe sourcing simple, great-tasting ingredients, farmed with care, is the right thing to do,” says Picklyk. “From using compostable packaging to fundraising, to supporting Canadians living with multiple sclerosis, in partnership with our franchisees, we strive to make a positive impact nationally in all the communities our restaurants operate in.”

Picklyk says the system is unique in its close, longterm relationships between head office and its franchisees. “We value franchisees’ input. They are an instrumental part of key decision making for the future of our business. One of the biggest benefits to any new A&W franchisee is the community they immediately join by becoming a franchisee.”

With more than 1,000 locations, the franchise is made up of drive-thru operated locations, urban stand-alone locations, locations in shopping centres, and more.

An ideal franchisee must possess strong leadership and communication skills to help connect with everyone from guests to staff. Picklyk’s advice to future franchisees is to ask a lot of questions and never hesitate to ask for help. A&W offers both online and in-restaurant support for franchisees at any time.

In addition to local initiatives, the company has a national partnership with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. A&W also began partnering with Second Harvest in 2016, donating unused ingredients from the company’s supply chain to charitable organizations. The company is also committed to reducing single-use waste.

“The benefit of these initiatives to franchisees is it’s easy for people to get excited about our brand,” says Picklyk. “They also help franchisees attract and retain staff. These initiatives resonate with many Canadians across the country and are simply the right thing to do. This desire to make our world a better place by giving back to the communities our restaurants serve is inspired by the guests we serve. Canadians want to do business with brands that have a positive impact.”

COBS Bread

The best part of the day at COBS Bread might just be the end of the day, but that’s not because work is over. It’s because the franchise’s “End of the Day Program” kicks in.

“At the end of the day, all unsold bread is donated to local charities and our bakers start fresh again the next morning,” explains Vevette Villahermosa, director of marketing for COBS Bread. “In 2021, an approximate retail value of $63M was donated to local charities across the country. We are so grateful to the organizations who work with us to distribute our product to members of our community who are in need.”

Going forward, Villahermosa notes, “The franchise will continue our longstanding End of Day Giving program, as well as our annual Doughnation Day campaign, where bakeries fundraise for a local community charity.”

COBS Bread has more than 150 locations across Canada. Villahermosa says, “Our bakers rise early in the morning to prepare and bake hand-crafted bread and flavourful treats fresh every day.”

Villahermosa says the franchise works with many suppliers across the globe, and they review their environmental and people management practices when deciding who to partner with. “We request they recognize our goal to reduce our carbon footprint and help us achieve our goals.”

In terms of sustainability, COBS Bread’s goal is to use only recyclable packaging at all of its bakeries by 2025, as well as LED lights in all new bakeries as they open and renovate, in order to reduce electricity consumption.

The benefits of owning a COBS franchise include a robust franchise network, built-in training, and support from the very start, says Villahermosa, adding that it also offers flexibility. Franchisees can concentrate on operating their businesses while the support office provides advice and resources in all areas of the business to help them excel, including customer engagement strategies.

COBS Bread franchisees are hands-on in all aspects of their business, including baking, but don’t need any previous baking experience. They receive a full baking education, alongside comprehensive sales and business management training.

Villahermosa says the ideal franchisee is a self-starter who takes a hands-on approach to growing a business and building a team. “They commit to high-quality results and have a passion for fresh baked bread and treats!”


For Mark Jameson, FASTSIGNS’ chief development officer, the brand’s 2022 convention was a crowning
moment, when the brand showcased its recently formed diversity and inclusion committee.

“We introduced the committee on stage, we talked about what diversity meant for individuals, and we created this amazing video about diversity and inclusion,” says Jameson. “We set up signs people could pick up: ‘This makes me comfortable; I love everybody; I want to feel welcomed.’ It was a series of words that let people make their own statement on why diversity was important to them, their business, their employees.”

FASTSIGNS, which has been in Canada for more than 20 years, has 750 locations in eight countries. It sells signs, graphics (wall, floor, and vehicle), and visual solutions to businesses. The diversity and inclusion committee is comprised of a diverse group of eight FASTSIGNS franchisees from across the brand’s global network, with a goal of helping to promote diversity and inclusion.

“A number of our franchisees felt with a lot of things happening in the world and with a very diverse employer base, very diverse customer base, it was time to have some very open conversations around diversity and inclusion,” explains Jameson. “We launched it in August/September of 2020, and it has really allowed us to have conversations about why diversity and inclusion is so important to really every business.”

The company also posted a diversity and inclusion statement on its job board. “With everyone having a difficult time hiring, we thought what better way to communicate that FASTSIGNS was a great place to work for everybody.” For franchisees, the company added it to its website.

“The benefit is it makes our franchises a great place to work,” says Jameson. “Our customers come from all sorts of diverse backgrounds. We want to welcome everyone.”

Jameson says there are many other benefits for franchisees looking to join the FASTSIGNS network. For example, the company has daytime hours from Monday to Friday, which means few nights and weekends. “Our franchisees have an amazing work-life balance.”

The company also offers 50 per cent off franchise fees for veterans and first responders, and provides four weeks of training, webinars, and online learning.

The challenges in operating a FASTSIGNS franchise are similar to most businesses: hiring and retaining good employees, and working around supply chain issues and rising costs. At the same time, sales are growing. “Even with COVID, they (the franchises) were considered essential in most markets. Everyone needed a way to communicate with their customers,” says Jameson.

Going forward, Jameson notes the company is trying to offer green products that are more environmentally friendly.

As for diversity and inclusion, “It makes FASTSIGNS feel like we’re welcome to everybody, it’s good for business, and it’s great for recruiting and retaining employees.”