Mark Dalton says franchising taught him the meaning of hard work. Thirty-four years later, Subway is like a second family. Roger Dalton was the first-generation franchisee owner and business development agent with the world’s largest restaurant chain. Mark was the second.
Today, they collectively own five stores throughout Texas and in parts of Louisiana.
The Daltons chatted with QSR about the franchising life, Subway’s recent changes, and growing with one brand across more than three decades.
Talk about those early days with Subway? What inspired you to get into franchising with the brand?
Roger: Before becoming a Franchise Owner at Subway restaurants, I held a management job in manufacturing. The job exposed me to all the facets of that business, so I was confident in my ability to own and run a business. I searched for a concept that satisfied a niche in consumers’ lives that I could believe in. My wife and I had recently moved from another city where we had a favorite Hoagie/sub shop that we really missed. This gave us a direction, an idea, and Subway offered an affordable cost of entry for us as first-time entrepreneurs. Therefore, Subway made the decision easy for me!
When you say Subway taught you the meaning of hard work, what are some examples?
Mark: As a child, I watched my parents work at their first restaurant. They instilled in me that the business of running a restaurant is what you make of it and its success or failure depends on your own initiative, planning and organization, customer service, employee engagement, and community involvement. I remember seeing them work the line all day, and then afterwards dad would sit down at a table to do inventory and other paperwork. And often, he would go out to a local business to drop off coupons on his way home. They worked every day to build something solid and sustainable with long-term family and financial goals in view. Subway was and still is a great vehicle to help us all achieve those goals.
How can you share that with younger workers now? How do you communicate with employees that working in a restaurant can set them up for life success?
Mark: By encouraging our employees to take a long-term perspective and showing them how the technical and interpersonal skills they’re using now can benefit them no matter what they may choose to do later on in life. Something they do while working at Subway—be it making a sandwich, talking with a guest, prepping product, or taking inventory, etc.—may spark an idea or trigger an emotional connection to the business or the brand that could lead them down a long and successful career path—either with Subway or something totally unrelated.
What was the biggest difference back then versus today in terms of running a restaurant?
Roger: In the early days, a strong entrepreneurial attitude was required because at that time, in the mid-1980s, people in our area did not know what a “Sub Sandwich” was. We had to sell them and train them on what our product was and what to expect. Today, everyone has an expectation and it is important that we are meeting and excelling our guests’ expectations.
What would you say is the most exciting opportunity in today’s franchising world? How has technology really changed the conversation?
Roger: This is an opportunity for a new generation of entrepreneurs to take the pros and cons of the past (our history) and add their energy, creativity and drive to build and make it relevant to their generation—put their mark on it! Technology has changed everything from the speed of service and customer service, to the way we get our message out through the advertising world. Newer generations understand the needs and desires of their generation. It will give them not only an opportunity but also an advantage in the business.
How have recent changes from Subway, from design to menu rollouts, really impacted the business?
Mark: When we initially rolled out the remodel package in restaurants across the country a few years ago, it was just enough to let guests know that something was different and unique, and to spice up what was otherwise becoming outdated. It signaled to guests that the times were changing at Subway, and it gave our employees a renewed sense of pride in their workplace. The restaurant redesign and remodels have really amplified the changes in how guests perceive our brand. In some areas, it’s even expanded the labor pool by increasing the number of candidates who are interested in joining the Subway team.
What’s the top challenge facing restaurants? And how are you tackling it?
Roger: Labor retention is a major challenge we face today, but we are working on increased efficiencies with and for our Sandwich Artists, as well as learning to engage more with not only our guests, but also with our employees.
Talk about community involvement. How important is that to running a successful franchise business?
Mark: Community involvement is at the core of our values. Thirty years ago, it was important to get the word out about the brand and who we are. Now, our focus is providing the community with a variety of better-for-you meal options, as well as staying top of mind in a constantly changing and hyper-competitive world. We want our guests to know that we are a part of their community. We want the local high school football coach to know he can count on us to provide delicious meals for his team.
What advice would you give a perspective franchisee looking to get into the business?
Mark: Be idealistic, but realistic with your goals and expectations. Always do more than what’s required, because what you put into it, is exactly what you get out it. Do your due diligence in advance (on the real estate, the customer base, the nearby competition, etc.) to avoid unpleasant surprises later. Consider the history, current management, and likely future trajectory of any brand before taking the plunge.