A native of China, Qing Hammell came to the U.S. 20 years ago to pursue an MBA at Claremont Graduate University in California. After a career in financial investment that led her across the Western Hemisphere—first to Bermuda, then to Minnesota—Hammell decided she wanted to open her own business, and her lifelong interest in food led her to become a Teryaki Madness franchisee. Today, Hammell has one location and plans to open three more in the greater Denver area over the next year and a half.
Hammell shares how her experiences around the world have helped her in restaurant franchising, and why it is important to give back to the community in which you operate.
1. Search far and wide for a good fit
I’ve always been interested in food, and when I was working in an office, I looked for a variety of lunch options, especially healthy, good ones. I think that’s what drew me to the restaurant industry. With franchising, I wanted to do something different. I came to the U.S. as a foreign student 20 years ago, and I always wanted entrepreneurial experience.
Teryaki Madness is attractive because it has good products and good support. The food is very good; it’s all-natural. It’s made to order and there are no additives, no preservatives. They really emphasize the quality of the food.
Looking at a franchise, you need to look at several things, and the first is whether they are offering a good product. The second is the support you get from the franchisor, the third thing is location, and the fourth thing is operations. Teriyaki Madness is a good brand, and I feel like I can always get support from the franchisor and that they are working very hard. They are always willing to listen to people and always want to make the franchisees successful.
I have one location right now in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and we are looking at three locations over the next year to year and a half. I will be where the restaurant takes me; you need to look where it is a good fit and whether it’s a good location or not. Colorado is like a cradle for quick-service restaurant concepts. It’s a good testing market, and there is a lot of competition. The market welcomes new concepts and the economy is booming here, so people have more disposable income and love to go out and try things.
2. Let your professional background help, not hinder
There are some skills you can carry over from the financial industry to restaurants, like management, operations, and also financial knowledge. But franchising and running a restaurant are not easy if you’re not prepared, especially at the beginning. It’s much more work than you will ever imagine.
The most challenging thing for me is managing the people. Having a good team makes a big difference. It’s all people who do it. In a market where you have a short supply of labor, that can be a challenge, too. You really need to know what the people want and how to motivate them.
Learning the internal structure and processes is also important. The franchisor will tell you something, but you still need to understand your location, your customers, and customer flow, and work around those procedures. In my location, we have a crazy lunch, so we are spending a lot of time thinking how we can meet demand of the lunch crowd.
3. Come home to your community
People from the community come to your restaurant to eat. If they do not like your product, or if you have a bad reputation, then nobody’s going to come. It’s quite important to be connected with the community. We reach out to different schools for fundraising. We’re thinking about having a corner in the store for a community bulletin board. We attend nearby events. We also supported fundraising for a local school district. These are all the things to bring the community in.
I came here with nothing, and I always had so many people help. Now I feel it’s my turn to return the favor and help other people as I was helped.
Moving has really helped me. When I came from China to the U.S., China was a far less affluent country, and it was a dramatic change for me. But the experience to survive and be successful in my job taught me something about being persistent and being optimistic. You are going to encounter difficulties, you are going to fall, you are going to cry, but you need to learn from your mistakes and just go forward. You have to stand up. If you fall, you have to stand up and go forward.
I’ve also learned that if you are determined to do something well, you probably can, if you put 100 percent of your energy into it. Also, being more compassionate and understanding is important. Because I came from a different background, it taught me to really think from other people’s perspectives, my employees’ perspectives, and my customers’ perspectives. Just trying to understand them helps me make a connection with them.
It’s preparation and hard work, respecting everybody you work with and respecting the customers and their opinions. If you don’t prepare, nothing is easy. There’s no free lunch. You need to look at the bright side, but think about what sacrifice you have to make to get to the bright side.