Franchising | June 2014 | By Bryan Reesman

The Employee Buy-In

A Tim Hortons franchisee shares how he grew the Canadian brand in the U.S. with some help from loyal employees.
Quick service franchisees create strong customer service with employees.
Tim Hortons franchisee David Beaton grew the Canadian brand’s presence in the U.S. with the help of his wife, Allanna, and dedicated employees. tim hortons
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For David Beaton, working for Tim Hortons has been a lifelong passion. The Nova Scotia native started working for the 50-year-old Canadian chain after graduating from business school in 1992 and has helped grow its presence in the U.S. His wife, Allanna, a former teacher, has been his partner in the endeavor for the last 15 years.

The couple took over their first two U.S. locations in Lockport and Amherst, New York, in 1999, and since then have steadily amassed a collection of restaurants, now running 25 Tim Hortons units in the Buffalo, New York, area.

Beaton and his wife focus on an operational philosophy that involves respecting, nurturing, and growing their employees to be the best that they can be.

Beaton discusses how he made a Canadian brand successful in a new market by investing in employees, keeping turnover down, and making smart growth decisions.

1. Learn from the veterans

As a quick-serve operator, you’re always going to put a spin to the business with your own work ethic and tactics, but by talking to other successful people, it will give you some direction as to what not to do and what you absolutely should do.

You have to have a good accountant right away. You need to have a good lawyer right away, too, because you have to have a solid foundation from the beginning, from the back end to the front end of your business. If you have good advice coming from your CPA or legal counsel, it gives you confidence and strength to know that the back end is covered.

Develop a good relationship with the company and with the franchisor. They want to see you succeed. We want to succeed. In the beginning, you have to experience a little bit of tough love along the way to get you over the hump.

2. Create demand for your brand

I’d first seen the success of this brand in Canada, and I wanted to be a part of it. We got started in New York in 1999, and at the time we took over two locations that were corporately operated. We created the demand for the goods and things took off for us. It was great timing.

I think the brand would work anywhere; it’s just a matter of getting it out there to the public. At the store or restaurant level, you have to have a good team and execute service and the playbook you learn at the training center. I learned all the jobs in the business and translated that at the restaurant level for the customers and the team.

The special thing about Tim Hortons is that we see our customers anywhere from two to four times a day. I can walk into a store at seven in the morning and see a group around a table, and I may come back around lunchtime and see that same group back at the table; I may see them dropping by the drive thru at three o’clock in the afternoon for an iced coffee or cappuccino.

It’s amazing the loyalty that we see. We have the great products and the hospitality customers really appreciate. That’s what creates that loyalty.

I also have locations in the University of Buffalo in New York. Within the universities, you’re reaching students and faculty that are coming in from all parts of the world and all parts of the United States, and then you’re exposing the brand to them.

3. Get in the trenches alongside your team

It’s a people business, right? You’re only as good as your team. If you have one location and your employees are buying into what you are doing, then you can identify a leader out of that group that can become a manager. Then you can leapfrog into store No. 2 and duplicate that success and duplicate that to store three, four, and five. That’s what we did.

We have worked really hard to make sure that our team that we had in place would execute our business properly, and we were working side by side with them in the beginning. We led the way, set an example, raised the bar as to what the expectations were, and when you operate with a high level of standards of operation, new employees and the customer base can identify with that. That makes it become a place that they want to come to more often.

We’ve been fortunate in our time here, and I’ve averaged roughly 70 percent employee turnover the last 15 years in an industry that’s typically running 200 percent turnover. From my original locations, I still have nine of the original 30 employees I hired that day. Some of them are in management positions, some of them are in senior management positions, and some of them are still customer service ambassadors on the front counter or working in the drive thru. They meet the customer demands and the job fits their lifestyle. You have to have a steady employment base, and that steady employment base gives you terrific customer service.

When you’re working as a business partner with a spouse, you also have to be a great listener and build a team together. If your marriage isn’t as strong, it’s very challenging, and egos can get in the way.

Ultimately, that affects your business, too, because if there’s no leadership direction as to what way you’re going to be taking your entity, you’re going to be locking horns all the time and your team will start suffering. Then your customers suffer, too, because they see it themselves when they walk through the door. They can identify the environment of your business.

4. Treat your team right to foster growth

One of our keys to success that we identified right in the beginning is we wanted rested and healthy managers. We give our managers four weeks vacation right out of the gate. We’ve done it since we started in 1999.

I want my managers healthy and rested. They work hard during the day and have a lot of stuff to deal with, but if they want to take some time with family or a three- or four-day weekend, I want them to be able to use that time over the course of the year because they’ll make better decisions—and with better decisions you get better results.

So when someone’s away on vacation, you have the next person that can step in and operate your business at a particular location and do a great job. It’s also a launching pad for the next manager and the next location for us. It’s worked out very well for us.

Do you have tips you'd like to share with other franchisees? E-mail them to FranForum@qsrmagazine.com.