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Search Results for: sub

Urban Flats – How to Fix this Failing Restaurant

last edited: December 7, 2011, 9pm [added recommendation on beer & wine]; also edited on December 13, 2010, 1:05am [improved a few poorly worded sentences] I’ve noticed several franchised “Urban Flats Flatbread & Wine Co.” closing this year in the southeast, such as Orlando FL, Winter Park FL, Lawrenceville GA,  and Atlanta GA (pictured to the right).  Something clearly isn’t resonating with potential and repeat customers.   Many franchises suffer from this ‘surprise’ problem leaving execs scratching their heads about what is going wrong.    I’ll put on my pundit hat and give you my opinion and recommendations. HOW RESTAURANTS ARE JUDGED BY CUSTOMERS: People will instinctively judge a restaurant on three elements, and to draw repeat business you need to excel in at least two of these (and be at least average in the third) in the eyes of your local customer base: FOOD:  Is the food memorable and superb all around? PRICING: Is the pricing at or below the competition; does it provide value? AMBIANCE/EXPERIENCE:  Is the customer experience superb with a unique and comfortable interior design? A restaurant could succeed by satisfying only two of three criteria.  For example, you could provide an excellent customer experience and have great food, but prices are too high.   Cheesecake Factory and J. Alexanders are examples of this but both still generate excellent sales. HOW URBAN FLATS RATES: According to most of the reviews I’ve read online, Urban Flats rates as follows: FOOD: Average food, flats are minimalistic…not bad but not excellent either PRICING: A bit high – $10 cheeseburger, $8.50 Loaded Potato appetizer, $10 “flats” pizza AMBIANCE/EXPERIENCE: Average, some described it as trying too hard to be cool.   Music is too loud to talk.  If you have to describe your restaurant as hip in advertising, you probably are not. Other …

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Why a Smoothie franchise failed; Rule of Thumb Sales

I spoke with a former franchisee of Nrgize, a smoothie bar by Kahala Corp of Stone Cold Creamery fame.  Nrgize has very good tasting healthy smoothies and complementary healthy foods. The franchisee was open for about a year before closing its doors.  The location was in a popular suburban fitness center.  At first, the thought of exposure to all the healthy clientèle sounded like a sure win.  However, sales were lower than expected from gym members and public walkins from non-members to buy smoothies was extremely rare. It’s a good lesson on understanding visit rates from a given population and repeat visits.  I’ve heard this rule of thumb and it seems to makes sense —– If you have a great food product and are the only provider, you will likely get close to 20% of the population to visit you twice a month.  With competition and a less than unique food offering, you should figure less than 12% will visit you twice a month.  You will quickly see that a 5k regular visiting member gym would yield at best 66 transactions per day.  If your average ticket is $5 at a 12% capture rate, your sales will be $118,800/year which is probably nowhere near profitable territory.

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Are Non-compete Agreements enforceable if signed by employee after being hired?

Test time!  Is the following non-competition agreement enforceable? “Frank, a Jimmy John’s franchisee, hired his nephew, Nick, to begin working at his Jimmy John’s franchise in Ohio.  Three months after Nick started working, Frank realized that Nick never returned the noncompete agreement he gave Nick during their initial discussions about the job.  The non-compete agreement states that Nick is prohibited from participating in another sub shop within 15 miles while employed and for two years following employment. Frank has trusted Nick with recipes and procedures that are proprietary and trade secrets of Jimmy John’s, so Frank wants to be sure his entrepreneurial minded nephew doesn’t get any funny ideas about starting his own neighborhood sub shop. When Frank approached Nick about signing the non-compete agreement, Nick said he forgot and promptly signed and returned the agreement to Nick.  Two months later, Nick quits to open up Nick’s Original Gourmet Subs a few blocks away.  It’s modern decor and authentic rocker vibe is attracting Frank’s customers away, and Frank’s sales drop 40%.   Frank sues Nick for breaching his non-compete agreement.  Who wins? Hint:  The issue is whether an employee’s continued employment is sufficient consideration (is it enough benefit) for the employee to make the agreement enforceable. The short answer is… it depends what state you are in.  In Ohio, it would be enforceable.  In Washington, South Carolina, Colorado and Minnesota, the non-compete agreement would not be enforceable because continued employment IS NOT sufficient consideration, courts require more benefit such as a pay raise.  In Illinois, the outcome is uncertain.  Illinois courts have held that continued employment for a “substantial period of time” will constitute sufficient consideration.  The length of time that the employee remains on the job, along with the manner in which the employment ends, are relevant factors for Illinois …

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My Take on Papa Murphy’s Acquisition (updated April 7, 2010 @ 8pm EST)

As you’ve probably heard, Papa Murphy’s was acquired by a private investment firm for $180 million, about $150,000 per store.  I think it will turn out to be a good acquisition even with the steep price.  Papa Murphy’s has a combination of economic advantages that no other pizza chain has – 1)  it doesn’t have the overhead and capital costs of in-store baking, AND 2)  it is gaining strong penetration in grocery stores. I admit, from the consumer’s stand point, a take and bake concept is a little confusing at first. “You mean I have to bake my own pizza?”   But that impression soon fades.   The pizza in its raw form looks fresh and the final product cooked in the home oven is as good as pizza delivery.   One hurdle overcome by the industry was the difficulty of using a home oven to cook a pizza because it doesn’t brown up well with the ordinary pizza dough recipe.   To solve this, chains like Papa Murphy’s increase browning by increasing the sugar percentage and providing a disposable reflective baking tray. Another potential acquisition target is Homemade Pizza, a regional 25 unit chain in IL, MN and DC of classy take-and-bake stores where the average price of an “unbaked” large pizza is almost $20.   It seems to be doing well and has great branding.  Homemade Pizza pizzas are still priced on the high end because it is made with fresh and local ingredients.  The dough is prepared in a commissary to simplify store operations and reduce size requirements. _______________________________________________________ Update:  Below is more interesting history on Papa Murphy’s from a November 2009 article in Portland Business Journal.  Average store sales are about $535k. Papa Murphy’s is a holding of Charlesbank’s Equity Fund V, a $590 million private equity fund that …

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Does Discounting Work?

Discounting hasn’t worked so far for Chili’s and  Applebee’s who began offering 2 for $20 meal deals.  The problem is total customer traffic is off and these discounts tend to amplify the problem because profit margins are reduced on the customers that do come in.  Even P.F. Changs, and Benihana are seeing 10%+ slowdowns in sales just from a quarter ago.

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Suing the Franchisor

This article details the legal disputes and subsequent law suit between franchisor Quaker Steak & Lube and a franchisee in Pennsylvania.  The franchisee claimed: [franchisor] lied to him about the restaurant’s prospects for profitability; approved too large a restaurant for the State College market; forced him to use a select list of food vendors and menu choices that hurt his chances for profitability; and did not provide adequate training, startup marketing or operational support. The franchisee claims a projected $100,000 weekly gross sales ($5.2 million annually) was given to him by the franchisor, when actual revenues were $80,000 a week in 2006, $61,000 a week in 2007 and $45,000 a week in 2008.  The judge agreed with the franchisor that the projections were simply that – projections and not historical fact or earnings claims.All other claims were also denied by the judge.  That’s how these law suits usually end unless there is real “smoking gun” evidence of a breach of the franchise agreement or fraud.

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IT: Data Transfers to the Franchisors

Franchise IT tech guy Todd Michaud wrote an very thoughtful piece on the overlooked issue of data collection and usage by the franchisor.  He address the problems of the overt burden on franchisees to subsidize this data collection, and he exposes the fuzzy usage policies of the data.  His recommended solution involves compromises in the data collection costs and also urges franchisors share the data and analysis back with the franchisee.

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Increasing Royalties Because of Economy

I received this email the other day from Goin’ Postal.  Goin’ Postal is rather unique in that it charges franchisees a flat monthly royalty payment of $315 for 2009, regardless of gross sales, and that rate increases annually at 5% per year.   So in 2009, if you had gross annual sales of $250,000, your royalty converted to a percentage was effectively 1.5%.  In the email, it details plans to peg the royalty for new franchisees based upon a rate indexed to inflation even though it already increases the royalty 5% each year.   This will add a few thousand dollars of additional expenses when other expenses are also increasing, but given the overall lower royalty system it shouldn’t be a deal killer.   From a public relations perspective, I would have expected this email to include a plan to assist franchisees in harder economic times, rather only stating how we’re going to increase your costs when times are toughest. ———————————————————————  We would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know that sometime in the very near future our royalty system may be changing slightly for new franchisees.  As the country starts to pull back out of the recession and the government implements its stimulus packages, we are almost guaranteed to see some major inflation which will seriously devalue the flat rate royalties that we charge our franchisees. While we will keep our flat rate royalty system going forward, instead of increasing at a flat 5% per year, our royalties will increase at a rate indexed to inflation (or 5% if inflation is under control), then rounded to the nearest $5.  Franchise Agreements that are already in place are not subject to change, but we are currently working on the new FDD/Franchise Agreement that will be uploaded to the site …

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Quiznos CEO Interview

Current CEO Rick Shaden in a Fox Business interview talks about his competition with Subway and the new torpedo sandwich.  A few notes: Blames slowdown on “economy and increased costs” Says customers want cheaper sandwiches Touts the $4 Torpedo sandwich, claims it is the “first portable sub”, “modern sandwich” Head to head to Subway, more innovative and edgy Frames Quiznos as a “challenger brand” to Subway If I’m a franchisee, and my problem is low profit margins, I do NOT want to LOWER my prices…it just makes the problems worse.  However, from a franchisor’s perspective, earnings are based on TOTAL system sales.  So if forcing lower-priced sandwiches increases total system-wide sales but still lowers the franchisee’s profitability, some CEO’s may think that is necessary tradeoff.   Their short-term financial rewards often pave this path.  The interest between the franchise and franchisor are unfortunately are misaligned.If you haven’t seen the torpedo sandwich Shaden speaks of, here is a commercial for it:The Million Sub promotion left many customers upset when many stores refused to honor the “free sub” coupons, including a member of my family. The franchisees apparently are not reimbursed by corporate for the coupon – OUCH!Quiznos is in a tough spot. Their toasted sub concept is no longer unique, and the food and operational costs are still inflated due to franchisor imposed required purchasing.

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Free Lease Renegotiations From Quiznos Corporate

Quiznos is helping franchisees renegotiate leases at no cost to the franchisee. Good move. Since the teams have been in operation, Quiznos has negotiated more than 40 leases thus far, with an average reduction of 15-20 percent in lease payments Here is one franchisee’s experience in the press release Thomas Mihailovich, a franchise owner in Rochester Hills, MI, participated in the lease renegotiation program in late February. Quiznos and a third-party team worked with Mihailovich and his lessor to arrange a reduction in rent of more than 20 percent, a cost savings of $50,000 over the term of the lease. “I began the process and within one week I was saving nearly $500 per month on my rent,” said Mihailovich. How do you renegotiate a lease? If you are currently leasing a space for your franchise and want to renegotiate the lease, you do have a few leverage points. First, the landlord doesn’t want to lose a tenant because it will usually mean unrecoverable expenses and vacant space for a period of time. Second, along the same lines, a long-term stable lease makes landlords smile, so offering to extend or renew a lease for a longer number of years is very attractive, even at a reduce price per square foot. Here is a sample approach. Find another space nearby that fits your needs equally well and is less expensive. Then approach your landlord and ask him to match the rent or you intend to move. See what the response is. From that point, ask permission to sublet. Depending on how long you have on your lease, ask also offer to sign a longer lease in exchange for reduced lease payments. Getting the assistance of a real estate broker or better yet an attorney is usually well worth the money …

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Potbelly’s Growth Slows…For Now

Potbelly’s Sandwich Works with its core markets being Chicago, Washington D.C., and Texas, is walking away from some potential new locations, and renegotiating leases on existing locations to “reflect the new market conditions.” In recent months the sandwich chain has walked away from at least two prospective deals in the suburbs, in Hillside and Romeoville, and local real estate sources say company executives have told them Potbelly is pulling back its growth plans here. Potbelly founder Bryant Keil said last year that the chain could double its Chicago-area stores to more than 150, and hired former Sears CEO Aylwin Lewis to spearhead growth nationwide. Mr. Lewis said he wanted to accelerate expansion and at the very least maintain Potbelly’s growth rate of about 40 new restaurants a year. But the dramatic drop in the economy over the last six months has hit even the private Chicago-based company known for its kitschy décor, toasted subs and fresh-baked cookies. Potbelly’s costs to build its stores are higher than its rivals’, sources say, so the company can’t afford too many mistakes in a climate where sales are likely to be slow.

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BBB Says Wendy’s Meat Never Frozen

Burger King complained to the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of the Better Business Bureau regarding “Wendy’s, Always Fresh, Never Frozen” burger claim. Long story short, Wendy’s substantiated their assertion. Fresh is possible, Burger King.

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Geeks “Off” Call

A group of Geeks on Call franchisees are suing their franchisor for essential competing against with an telephone/online service.   I’m sure the FDD permits this.source All of the suits were filed by the counsel for a recently formed franchise association. The suits, all substantially identical, claim that Geeks on Call is responsible for a financial downturn allegedly experienced by the Plaintiffs. The suits point to the recent introduction of CalltheGeeks.com as a cause of diminished revenue. CalltheGeeks.com, remote technical support, is not offered in areas currently served by franchises. Company records show that many of the franchisees who filed suit are, in fact, showing year to date revenue exceeding prior year revenue.  Current economic data indicates that the small business community is choosing to repair rather than replace computers, a trend that bodes well for our franchisees within the IT sector. Unfortunately, rather than working with the Company to seek out and capitalize on this opportunity, these franchisees chose to file suit. Mark Baumgartner, General Counsel for Geeks On Call Holdings, Inc. stated “the allegations in the Complaint are without merit. Numerous Plaintiffs had previously been notified that they were in breach of their franchise agreements. We know that many of these Plaintiffs have been more focused on disparaging the Company than on building their business. Unfortunately, their disparagement harms the Company and the Geeks on Call franchise community as a whole.” It’s always hard franchisees to imagine the nice salesman’s boss would ever dilute your sales by competing against you, but it happens all the time. If you see a clause permitting the franchisor to compete with you even though they won’t open a location within your territory, negotiate that point before signing!!   Insist on restrictions on how they sell in your territory, even when the zor …

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Overregulation in Iowa

A partner in the law firm DLA Phillips Fox in Australia cites Iowa as an example of what happens when a government over-regulates franchisors. “We have seen the effects of over-regulation in various countries and notably also the US State of Iowa where the franchising sector shrunk substantially and franchisors deliberately avoid franchising into Iowa, resulting in lost contribution to GDP and job creation. Various attempts were even made to have the 1992 Iowa Franchise Act declared unconstitutional as it is considered to unlawfully interfere in contractual relationships,” Conaghan said. Is Iowa overreaching?  You be the judge.  You can read more about the drama in Iowa franchise law over the past 15 years here. Iowa (link to current regulations) has gone to great lengths to protect the franchisee.  Below are examples of the protections: restrictions on the franchisors ability to refuse a transfer, imposes financial liability on franchisors who permits encroachment that adversely impact a franchisee’s sales, restrictions on “good cause” for terminating or not renewing the franchise agreement, franchisors cannot require franchisees to sue in another state, good faith required in honoring the franchise agreement, independent sourcing must be permitted, very limited non-competes  after the franchise agreement is terminated, and franchise agreement must apply Iowa law Some of the current political debate in the United States revolves around regulations, which really means imposing rules on private contracts.  Governments must balance regulations with encouraging businesses to operate in your region.  In Iowa, many franchisors simply choosing not to do business there.

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More Quiznos Franchisees Can’t Turn A Profit

Quiznos seems to be in perpetual defeat.  Here is another money-losing franchisee from Quiznos:   “We can’t make money,” said Quiznos franchisee Marty Tate, who said his Erie, Pa., store leads the region in sales. Mr. Tate, who is not part of the lawsuit, said 40% of his sales go directly into advertising, royalties and food for the next week. He added that three of seven locations in his county have closed in the past year. Mr. Tate said that when his contract expires next spring, he will open his own independent store. Advertising funds are always somewhat of a mystery. Typically, the franchisee will pay about 5-8% into an advertising pool that is supposed to be leveraged across all applicable markets. Unfortunately, there is often not as much bang for the buck as the franchisor would like you to believe, particularly in the creative production and media buys. Quiznos example: Then there’s the issue of advertising. Quiznos’ agency is Cliff Freeman & Partners. According to TNS Media Intelligence, the chain spent $83 million in measured media in 2007 and $55 million in the first half of 2008. Despite the increase, many franchisees said that they rarely see their own ads, and most say the work isn’t memorable. (By comparison, Subway spent $361 million in during 2007, according to TNS. “The last good Quiznos commercial was Baby Bob, and that was 2004,” said Mr. Tate, who said he’s complained to executives about the creative. “I would challenge anyone to remember the last Quiznos ad they saw.”

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Dream Dinners Hammered by Forbes

Dream Dinners is an example of good idea but profit challenged business model.   It’s just too expensive to attract and retain customers. A Forbes article looked through the Dream Dinners FDD from the state of Washington, and focused on the required audited financial statements. As of Dec. 31, the company boasted $2.9 million in assets, against which it carried $3.4 million in liabilities. (Such negative book value implies that if Dream Dinners were unwound today, shareholders wouldn’t get much.) That’s a snapshot, but here’s a trend: Last year, the company lost $628,000 on $7.5 million in sales; compare that to 2005, when it earned $928,000 on sales of $4.5 million. …. Typically, new business concepts need up to five years to season before they can be franchised successfully. Dream Dinners–along with its next largest competitor Super Suppers, now with 165 stores–both began franchising in less than two years. Franchisees accused the franchisor of false promises and unsubstantiated financial projections. A major point of contention has to do with rosy promises Dream Dinners seemed to have made to its franchisees. Under the Federal Trade Commission’s franchise law, franchisers are not permitted to make “predictions” about franchisees’ financial success–unless they do it in the Uniform Franchise Offering Document, which typically contains a host of disclaimers. Dream Dinners “totally disregarded these regulations,” says Garner. It not only posted financial projections on its company Web site, he says, it also put them in a Power Point presentation given to potential franchisees. Jennifer Hemann, a former Dream Dinners franchisee in Maryland and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, alleges that she was shown that Power Point presentation–which included estimated profit margins for a given volume of customers–when interviewing with the founders. “They told us, ‘Our lawyers said not to show this to …

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