Like so many who go on to make a career in foodservice, Jeff Rigsby landed a job at a quick serve when he was in high school. Rigsby worked for KFC for 15 years and eventually advanced to the role of multiunit manager, experiencing plenty of success with the brand.

After one of his supervisors at KFC left the brand to work with a California-based venture capital firm that had bought Bojangles’, Rigsby joined the chicken-and-biscuit brand in 1994 as an area supervisor in Greenville, South Carolina. He was later promoted to director of operations—a role in which he oversaw some 35 stores in North and South Carolina.

In 2001, Rigsby decided to harness his entrepreneurial spirit and become a franchisee, buying six stores in Asheville, North Carolina. In the past 14 years, Rigsby’s franchise, Bojangles’ of WNC, has expanded to 42 stores, with a growth rate of 30 percent in the last 15 months alone.

Rigsby attributes much of his success to focusing on core concepts, and suggests that even on a large scale, franchisees can operate like a small business to broaden their reach and connect with the customers they serve.

1. Do it your way

I always had the entrepreneurial spirit and knew I would eventually run my own units; I just didn’t know exactly when. I had a passion for growing and owning my own business, and I wanted to do it in all the right ways. I think my years beforehand helped groom me for the business.

I’ve operated multiunits for a while, and it’s always based on how you can deliver your restaurant model to the customer on a consistent basis. We focused a lot on execution in the beginning with that mentality in mind. I wanted to do the same things as an owner that had helped me climb up the ladder, and make sure my restaurants would be a place of thriving opportunity for all.

Franchisees should always be focusing on operating at the highest level. There’s an endless list as to how or what that level is, but as long as you’re consistently challenging yourself, encouraging your employees, and paying attention to your community, this industry will be kind to you. Managing can come very easily when you’re consistently helping others and keeping them motivated. When I became a team member, people embraced me and constantly assured me that my role had value. That notion of camaraderie and teamwork was exactly how I would run my units when the time came.

2. Maintain the mentorship

With about 1,200 employees, it’s crucial that our operators know we have an opportunity to impact our employees’ lives in some way. Obviously, the quick-serve industry might not be a career for all of our staff, but while they’re working for us, we want to develop some leadership skills and business acumen into their lives.

In developing our team members, we have a workshop series that helps them build leadership and job skills to assist them as they progress with us. The topics consist of customer service, team training skills, financials, management leadership, and marketing. Most of our managers have come through the crew ranks. We have truly been blessed by very good folks on our team.

A lot of our crew ranges from 16 to 19 years old. They’re in the process of learning, honing, and maintaining those skills for their respective future. That perspective is a win-win scenario always; the employee gains some necessary skills to use throughout their lives, and we can capitalize on that newly found skill at the present. We can really make a difference with our crew companywide by embracing that mentality.

We then measure skills and employee advancement each month in what we call our “People’s Excellence Forum.” Each unit gives us all the leadership positions, career track for each individual, and where everybody is in their training. This is extremely important to keep track of—especially when franchisees start scaling up.

We’ve always had something in place to measure our most valuable asset: our people. We instituted the mentorship program in 2007 and also put out some new recruitment efforts. Candidates have to prequalify for our interview process, and eventually our turnover went from 170 percent to about 80 percent. We cut our turnover in half almost overnight in an industry that’s constantly turning staff over, and it makes for a great place to work as a result.

3. Become a community player

Every business has a responsibility to give back to the community in which they operate, and that was in our model from the very beginning. Your customers instill loyalty in you as a brand to deliver what they like and expect, and the community should be one of your customers you are looking to please.

When we open up a new location, we tell our operators and managers to find out about the community as much as possible; find out what’s important to them and focus on that same thing when moving in. We’ll typically join with the local chamber of commerce and meet with all the applicable schools, other council members, and even the mayor. It gives us a little bit of an edge over competition.

Once we figure that out, we develop a community business plan on what and where to focus our community efforts. Sometimes we have this plan together and on the offensive before the restaurant opens. It’s crucial to our success as a brand. We make it a part of our operator’s regular business plan after inception. Each one of our stores has a quarterly business plan on what community activity and involvement they’re doing. It’s a constant stress point to make sure the communication between local schools, charities, churches, etc. stays consistent.

The best part is this really hasn’t been something that I need to force-feed as we expand. Once operators and managers start seeing how their time and efforts work in the community, it’s easy to maintain even as the number of units continues to grow.

Back of House, Breakfast, Business Advice, Employee Management, Franchising, Restaurant Operations, Story, Bojangles