There’s a lot of excitement buzzing through the halls of Inspire Brands’ Global Support Center in Atlanta. But for all of the optimism at the corporate level, it might be outdone by the more than 700 franchisees spread across Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic, and Rusty Taco.
Chief executive Paul Brown has been careful to cultivate a positive relationship between the corporate staff and franchisees. The first thing he did after becoming Arby’s CEO was to visit with and listen to dozens of franchisees, and he’s done the same thing with each successive brand.
“We want to be known as the preferred franchisor,” Brown says. “Our objective is, if anybody is thinking about franchising in the restaurant industry, they want to do business with Inspire and one of our brands because they like the brands, but also because they also really like us and they believe that we are a great franchisor.”
One of the things that differentiates Inspire from restaurant holding companies like Yum! Brands and Darden is that it operates thousands of locations. Having this perspective gives the company a leg up when it comes to selling the franchisee base on any major changes, such as new store prototypes.
“They’ve got skin in the game—I love that,” says Wray Hutchinson, a Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee with 75 locations. Hutchinson says the years of turmoil plaguing the brand before its acquisition by Arby’s had quashed franchisee optimism. But Inspire has re-energized the group by sharing their concerns for the direction of the brand.
“Every single one of these guys has been so enthusiastic and so encouraging about what great assets we have to work with that have been under-utilized and under-managed,” he says. “Finally, someone agrees with us that we can be doing better, we should be doing better, we need to evolve, we need to be different.”
Inspire franchisees benefit from the company’s collective resources model just as much as the corporate team. They have access to extensive thought leadership, data analytics, and purchasing power. But it’s not just access to assets that excites Inspires franchisees—it’s also the access to the other brands. With all four of Inspire’s brands to date being franchised, there is an opportunity for franchisees to kick the tires of their new sister chains.
Guillermo Perales is one of the bigger franchisees within the Inspire system, with nearly 100 Arby’s locations. He says franchisees all want to grow their businesses, and having an umbrella like Inspire means a more streamlined process for new brand opportunities.
“They know me; they trust me,” Perales says. “That trust really pushes you forward. If they don’t trust you, you won’t get anywhere. Knowing that they trust you and you will do what is right for the brand, having that opens the door for the other brands.”